Throughout her PhD journey, Dr Danita van Heerden has learnt that it can be dangerous to overthink things. “When you overthink, it is difficult to take action. Without action, you cannot move forward. Sometimes, taking action also means that you will make mistakes, but what matters is that you learn from your mistakes and move on,” she stresses. Read more about her topical PhD thesis, the most rewarding aspects of her current job, and her career and personal goals.
Q: What was the topic of your PhD thesis and why did you specifically select it?
A: The topic of my PhD Thesis was: Exploring online engagement within Facebook brand communities.
I found the concept of engaging with other like-minded consumers in an online environment quite intriguing. Virtual communities are increasingly playing a role in our everyday lives. Even though I completed my PhD before the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become even more evident with the increasing impact of COVID-19 that human beings want to feel that they belong. With the lack of physical community with friends and family, consumers can reach out to others in virtual communities. So during this pandemic, a virtual community is essential to fulfil this need of belonging.
Q: In your opinion, to what extent does a PhD ensure/boost business/career success?
A: I believe that a PhD or any degree, for that matter, is only like a driver’s licence. If you do not make the conscious decision to ‘go for a drive’ after you get it, it will never take you anywhere. A degree gives you the right tools and has the potential to open doors for you, but you have to take your licence and go for a drive to see where the road will lead.
Q: Are you happy with the way your career has evolved?
A: When I was a fresh first-year in varsity, I dreamed of becoming a game ranger and saving wild animals. I studied BCom Tourism Management and completed my degree. However, my life took a different turn and I found something that I am even more passionate about – academia. Teaching and facilitating classes and being involved in research projects compel me to keep learning and growing – what a privilege!
Q: What are the most compelling/rewarding aspects of your current job?
A: I feel very fortunate to be involved with students. It is very rewarding to see all the growth that takes place – both academically and personally. At an institution like the University of Pretoria, students’ minds and thoughts are shaped and these students are the future of our country.
Q: To what extent did your studies at UP benefit you in your career and contribute to your success?
A: The development of my career and to a very large extent, my personal development, is because of everything I have learnt at the University of Pretoria and the people I interacted with. Every lecturer in some way impacted my life and career, some more than others. Because I am in academia, the interaction with lecturers, classes, team work projects and assignments shaped me to become who I am today and to perform my job to the best of my capabilities.
Q: What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learnt from your studies/lecturers at the University of Pretoria?
A: Throughout my PhD journey, I have learnt, mostly thanks to my supervisor, Prof Melanie Wiese, that it can be dangerous to overthink things. When you overthink, it is difficult to take action. Without action, you cannot move forward. Sometimes, taking action also means that you will make mistakes, but what matters is that you learn from your mistakes and move on.
I have learnt to persevere. There are times when giving up feels so easy. However, if you have a dream, achieving it makes it all worthwhile, so keep going. Just do it, once it is done the reward and – more importantly – what you have learnt along the way is all that matters.
Everyone has the attributes to do so much more than ever thought possible. You just have to try.
Q: What is your “golden guideline” in life, in other words what keeps you on track?
A: I believe that the people we surround ourselves with, shape who we become. I surround myself with people who I can look up to and take lessons from. Most of all, I try to live a Godly life and to treat others with respect.
Q: Going forward, what are your career and personal goals?
A: Career wise, I would like to become a recognised researcher in my field and I would like to make an impact on the lives of the students in my class. As a lecturer, I have the opportunity to make a difference and I cannot let that opportunity go to waste.
In my personal life, I would like to wake up every day and be thankful to be alive and healthy. I would like to be the best wife, daughter, sister, friend and neighbour I could possibly be.
Q: How is the SA economy, and business in general, likely to be reshaped post COVID-19?
A: I hope to see the rise of many small businesses and entrepreneurs using opportunities that will emerge after the pandemic is under control. I hope that we, as South Africans, will support local and create employment opportunities that did not exist before COVID-19 – making use of our own resources to empower our citizens and advance our economy. I hope that our country will start seeing beyond race and gender and unify to become an even stronger triumphant country than before.