UP celebrates record-breaking PhD graduation for Department of Informatics

Posted on May 15, 2024

The Department of Informatics at the University of Pretoria (UP) celebrated a record number of PhD graduates on 13 May 2024, when a total of 17 doctoral candidates received their degrees during UP’s Autumn Graduation ceremonies.

Whereas the department delivered eight PhDs in 2023, 2024 has already delivered 17 (this number will likely be added to at the Spring Graduation in September).  

Professor Wynand Steyn, Dean of UP’s Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and IT (EBIT), which houses the Department of Informatics, said, “The Faculty is proud of this achievement and its impact on the South African industries where these alumni work. We also celebrate the hard work and dedication of our staff towards the students in achieving these results. When you add in last year’s number, this brings the total to 25 PhDs in just two years – an accomplishment that speaks volumes about the dedication of both students and faculty!”

Professor Hanlie Smuts, Head of the Department of Informatics, said the department is now reaping the benefits of its implementation of a preparatory seminar for PhD candidates. The programme is offered by professors and associate professors in the department and includes a six-month course during which the PhD candidate develops a research proposal together with their supervisor. “Throughout the six-month period detailed feedback is shared with candidates, and they continuously improve their proposal as their work is submitted for review and evaluation,” Prof Smuts said. “PhD candidates finally defend their research proposal to a panel of senior staff in the department, after which they get detailed feedback and, if successful, register for their PhD studies.”

She added that such a record number of graduates will impact the department and the field of informatics in general, and will likely lead to more enquiries about PhD studies as the new graduates share their graduation news and experience on social media. “The contribution of the PhDs is also meaningful for practice… The outputs [of their research] may be applied in organisations, and the PhD candidates often focus on topics that will also add value to their organisations. This is aligned to our departmental research focus of ‘Information systems and organisations’.”  

Prof Smuts also pointed out that several UP PhD supervisors have industry experience, which creates a good balance between industry and academia and supports inter- and transdisciplinary research.

She said the department offers a strong support system to its students, and one of the main aims of the preparatory seminar is to create a community among the PhD candidates. “The advantages of such a community are that students hold one another accountable, do not feel isolated, and they are able to engage with others that understand what they are going through.”

PhD candidates reflect very positively on this support structure, and they manage it themselves through a WhatsApp group which provides moral support, resources and sound-boarding options.

“We also check in with the PhD candidates in person and workshop solutions to their barriers, to provide suggestions to optimise and balance work, life, family and studies,” Prof Smuts concluded. “The specific departmental goal is three-fold: to source good PhD candidates, to sustain a good pipeline, and to maintain a good throughput.”

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