From Drama undergrad to a PhD in Rural Development Planning

Posted on June 07, 2019

Elizabeth Mkandawire, who holds BA and honours degrees in Drama, a master’s degree in Sociology and a PhD in Rural Development Planning, is a Research Assistant with the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Well-being at the University of Pretoria (UP), but also works on her own gender research. As a postdoctoral fellow who coordinates the UN Academic Impact Hub for Sustainable Development Goals 2 (SDG 2), she is responsible for informing all interested parties on research and innovations aimed at achieving the SDG 2. She admits that she is fascinated by research that is focused on food security and nutrition. 
‘On 7 June 2019, World Food Safety Day will be celebrated globally and it makes me happy to see that African governments are beginning to take food security more seriously,’ she said. ‘There is still a lot to be done, but at least it is on their radar and is increasingly forming an integral part of policy. We still need to make consumers more aware of their rights and provide them with platforms to enable them to establish constructive engagement with their governments.’
Elizabeth Mkandawire says she received a lot of support throughout her transition
Elizabeth said that one of the main highlights of her PhD research was being able to bring four people from the rural community where she had conducted her research to a policy dialogue in the city. Their participation in the dialogue emphasised the important role of communities in developing solutions to problems that policymakers have grappled with for years. Another highlight was the day she defended her PhD research and passed. However, with her background in drama, she had to work extra hard to prove that she was capable of excelling in another field. 
During her transition from drama to rural development planning she could not imagine herself doing anything but acting. Crossing over to the other side of the career path meant that she had to work hard to bridge many gaps. Fortunately the drama degree had provided her with a solid foundation for critical thinking. She admitted, however, that she had received a lot of support along the way. ‘Dr Charles Puttergill, my supervisor for my master’s degree, was open-minded enough to support me during my transition from drama to sociology and my PhD supervisor, Prof Sheryl Hendriks, recognised the value of transdisciplinary research and probably had a clearer vision of my success than I did when I first started. She continues to provide me with the mentorship I need to bring the different disciplines together and really focus my efforts on driving the African development agenda,’ she said.
While UP has equipped her well and has enhanced her research skills, it is the opportunity to learn from different experts that the institution has offered her that she values above all else. She hopes to contribute more actively to driving the African agenda forward, particularly in terms of gender equality, food security and nutrition. The African continent has great potential and she would like to be actively involved in efforts to ensure a positive African legacy for the next generation.
- Author Xolani Mathibela

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