If ever somebody has proven that nothing is impossible, it is Dr Sipho Makgopa. Growing up in a dusty town in rural Limpopo and starting his career as a mini-bus driver transporting kids to day care, he went on to become a lecturer, then senior lecturer, and Curriculum and Learning Development Specialist only a few years later. On 15 April 2020, he was awarded a PhD during a virtual graduation ceremony at UP. Read more about the most rewarding aspects of his current job, his future plans and thoughts on the economy post-COVID-19.
Q: What was the topic of your PhD thesis and why did you specifically select it?
My PhD thesis was titled The influence of service innovation practices on business performance
. I chose this topic as it is relevant to many businesses to remain innovative as a result of competition pressures, globalisation, frequent technological changes, market turbulence, and a need to improve business performance. Another reason I chose this topic is that service innovation as a form of innovation has not sufficiently been researched as most previous studies focused heavily on product innovation.
Q: In your opinion, to what extent does a PhD ensure/boost business/career success?
A: It has always been my aspiration and dream from my teens to pursue a doctoral study, despite it being a frightening task. I have learnt that this journey required personal commitment, effective time management, and the sacrifice of social time in order to progress. This PhD research project was an eye-opener to me: it provided me with an augmented experience, as I have learnt to review a huge amount of literature on the topic of interest; learnt different research designs and methodologies; learnt to conduct academic field research with rigour; learnt to analyse data with the aid of different software packages such as Atlas.ti, SPSS and Amos. I also learnt to interpret raw data, discuss and make recommendations to scholars and industry practitioners; present research limitations and future research recommendations; and to accept constructive criticism from my promoter.
Q: Are you happy with the way your career has evolved?
A: I am excited with the way my career has evolved. Growing up in a dusty, rural village in Limpopo, starting as a minibus driver transporting kids to day care, becoming a lecturer after years, being promoted to a senior lecturer position after a few years, then appointed as Curriculum and Learning Development Specialist, and successfully completing a PhD in Business Management within a reasonable time of three years, I believe my career has started from humble beginnings and culminated in a success story.
Q: What are the most compelling/rewarding aspects of your current job?
A: My current job as Curriculum Learning and Development Specialist offers me an opportunity to share my experience with academics in both blended and online module writing and programme development. In addition, my current job offers me an opportunity to learn more about different teaching strategies in an Open Distance Learning environment and the integration of technology. Lastly, my job offers me the flexibility to continue engaging in research for the generation of new knowledge.
Q: To what extent did your studies at UP benefit you in your career and contribute to your success?
A: My role as Curriculum and Learning Development Specialist involves advising academic staff on module development, module writing and selecting appropriate teaching strategies based on research on the profile of students. The PhD journey has enhanced my research acumen as I have learnt to be open-minded and to accept different views from colleagues, and I am always willing to learn from others.
Q: What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learnt from your studies/lecturers at the University of Pretoria?
A: I would like to thank my supervisor, Professor Alex Antonites, for being my supporter during my studies, and the confidence he instilled in me by encouraging me to persevere when I felt tired and confused. Again, I would like to thank him for his constructive criticism when I did not meet expectations. He kept pushing me hard to meet strict deadlines with minimal flexibility, and I believe he taught me to have good time management. I can say that I have experienced a healthy relationship with my supervisor as he was always there when I needed the support.
Q: What is your “golden guideline” in life, in other words what keeps you on track?
A: My golden guideline is: “Never will your unfavourable background determine your destination.” I believe that there is always a way out when everything appears to be dark. We have the power to change unfavourable situations to our own advantage by building hardworking character.
Q: Going forward, what are your career and personal goals?
A: My personal goal is to engage in further research to apply for an NRF rating in the next 12 months and to start my own foundation to support disadvantaged students with mentorship and financial support to access tertiary education. It is also my goal to continue with supervision of master’s students and co-supervise at least two doctoral students to successful completion in the next 48 months.
Q: How is the SA economy, and business in general, likely to be reshaped post COVIC-19?
A: Beyond COVID-19, South Africans must focus on innovative solutions and come up with new economic and social policies for the country to emerge from its economic crisis. Governance and ethical leadership are required to avoid further state capture and corruption in public institutions. In addition, the local production of necessities needs to be prioritised to minimise the import of products that can be produced and manufactured within our borders. This will support the local economy and contribute to the protection of jobs and further create new job opportunities. Moreover, schools and tertiary institutions need to adopt technology in developing teaching strategies, and both learners and students should be exposed and further be taught on how to use technology (computers and smart devices) as part of the curriculum. Lastly, both the private and public health systems need to be reformed and be prepared for any further unknown pandemics that may emerge in the future.