‘Keep moving forward, no matter how small a step you take’ – CA, mom and now UP PhD grad chats about her academic journey

Posted on May 13, 2021

During the University of Pretoria’s (UP) autumn 2021 graduation session, Tumeka Matshoba-Ramuedzisi became the first black woman to complete a PhD in Leadership at the institution.

A charted accountant by profession, Dr Matshoba-Ramuedzisi says that since she obtained her master’s degree in 2012, it had been her dream to complete her PhD.

“It just took a few years, as well as some very powerful motivation from my husband, Denga, for me to find the courage to finally go for it,” she says. “Part of the reason it took me long was also that I had to figure out what I would find interesting enough to engage with, not only for the numerous years of reading for the PhD, but also thereafter as an area of interest for research. Fortunately, a friend introduced me to the Albert Luthuli Leadership Institute at UP (ALLI), and the rest is history.”

Dr Matshoba-Ramuedzisi adds that being the first black woman to complete this PhD is noteworthy because it signifies the growth in leadership as a field of study and the opportunities that exist for those who are interested in higher degree studies.

“I really was not aware of that until I was informed by the University recently,” she says. “I don’t really have a feeling about it; I just take it for what it is. It is good to be recognised as such; however, I don’t doubt that many more candidates will continue to explore that area of research and take it even further.”

She highlights discipline and time as being the two things that if not managed properly can cause major challenges on the journey towards attaining a PhD qualification. Being a professional, a mother of two as well as a wife also brought its own set of challenges.

“I had to continue full-time work during my studies as I could not afford to take a sabbatical,” she explains. “This meant I often had to make time after-hours to focus on my studies. This required a lot of discipline, as often I’d just want to rest. Another challenge was having less time to spend with my family or to socialise, although I did my best to strike as best a balance as possible. I was also affected by ‘mom guilt’, the feeling that the PhD was taking time away from my children. I felt bad about that, but Denga really assisted in this regard by doubling up his parent time to make up for my half.”

Dr Matshoba-Ramuedzisi says one of the things that kept her motivated during her studies was thinking about how chuffed she’d be of herself once she’d completed the degree.

“I used to imagine how proud I would be, having achieved a goal that I had set for myself,” she says. “I also often reminded myself that I was doing this for nobody but myself, and that it is part of my self-actualisation journey. I also used to remind myself of how tough training for, and running, the Comrades was, how I felt during the really tough parts, yet how I continued putting one foot in front of the other – and that, that is the only way to get to the end. Keep moving forward, no matter how small a step you take.”

For postgraduate students who are thinking about furthering their studies with UP, Dr Matshoba-Ramuedzisi advises that the University is a good choice because there are good supervisor options.

“Based solely on my experience, I believe UP has some good supervisor options. I had an extremely positive experience with my supervisors, who guided me towards producing the best work of my life to date, and also gave me further affirmation to back up my confidence that I could actually do this. I was supported in researching the lesser-explored area of followership, which really stretched me. My supervisors were very understanding of me having two really young kids and a full-time job, and so didn’t have unrealistic expectations about how long this journey might be. In general, I had a really good experience with UP and have no regrets about having chosen it as the institution with which to read for this degree.”

- Author Masego Panyane

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