Securing our future with Agrometeorology and Climate Science

Mendy Lisa Ndlovu

BWIS alumni and contributing author  for our article about student debt and finances “Paying” the way towards academic success, Mendy Ndlovu has chosen a unique career in Agrometeorology. Find out more about her academic background, her endeavors to use her scientific knowledge to benefit the communities she works with, her personal interests and what makes her more than just a scientist below.

Tell us a bit about your background, who is Mendy?

Mendy is a young lady, born and raised in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal. I am my mother’s first born, followed by two brothers (19 and 5 years old). My late father passed on just before my first birthday leaving me and my mom under the care of my grandparents who then sent mom back to school and raised me themselves.

I have always been top of my class. My principal  (in primary) always forced me to represent the school in maths and science Olympiads and when I was in grade 6 I ended up representing the entire district I grew up under and one thing lead to another. In 2007 I found myself being selected for the Oprah Winfrey Academy for girls (first group in S.A following the official introduction of the school) and I ended up meeting Mam Oprah herself , even though I had no idea who she was (blame it on the rural living and lack of resources). At that point, I wanted to be a pilot and a fashion designer/guru, I honestly wanted nothing to do with Science but I couldn’t afford to go to go train to be a pilot after matric and my mom wanted nothing to do with me getting a BA in fashion.

Fast forward to today, Science chose me. I have an undergrad in Geography and Environmental management and a Master’s degree in Agrometeorology (focusing on extreme weather events and community resilience under climate change). I am currently proposing for a PhD focusing on Climate modelling and Climate Information Services for South Africa (more specifically marginalized rural areas) for adaptation and mitigation to climate change under the same discipline (Agrometeorology).

Tell us about your previous education, where did you study and why did you pursue a post-graduate degree (what is the benefit?)?

I did both my undergraduate and postgraduate studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa). When I completed my first degree, I did not feel ready to go out there and work. My degree was more theoretical than practical and that was really scary for me because what’s in the books and what’s actually done at work are different things and I have a fear of not knowing what to do or how things should be done. I decided to stay in school, pursue an honours degree and get a research assistant position to expose me to the more practical side of things. I started working with communities then, identifying knowledge gaps and trying to find solutions and in that way gaining some work experience in different disciplines including agriculture, food security, and climate science.  Having completed my honours degree, I had interests in extreme weather conditions and I proposed for a masters and my supervisors helped me link that to community resilience and I started working with the Umngeni Resilience Project then.

The main benefits of pursuing a post graduate qualification are mainly related to growth. I grew as an individual, as a researcher, as a scientist, as a leader and as a project manager (which helps a lot for those who want to start organisations and businesses).

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What does the subject of your current research and why did you choose this?

I am currently focusing climate science (Climate modelling and climate information services). I chose to focus on this because climate change is real and the impacts that come as a result of climate change are affecting our communities, which are not capacitated with relevant climate information to help them build resilience and adapt to climate change. The climate science knowledge and information gap between the scientific community and the general public in Africa as a whole is huge and growing which is a big problem because I do not see how people are expected to build resilience to and around something they do not understand.

Mendy

What are the main challenges you face conducting your particular research? Are there any challenges in particular that you face as a woman?

Environmental Science and Climate science to be specific are “white” disciplines in South Africa. I went for a job interview earlier this year and when I got to the venue, not only was I the only female, I was the only BLACK female being interviewed alongside 7 white males. Their interview slots were, at an average 20 minutes long and mine was exactly 8 minutes, after waiting for hours for my turn to be interviewed. Yes, I was interviewed by 3 white males, 1 white lady and 1 black male who was shocked to see me walk in.  I still give myself a hug each time I think about that day. We as women have a lot to do to address unfair situations within the science industry. Oh and no, I did not get the job.

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If you could restart your post-grad career again, would you do anything differently to better prepare yourself?

I would take some time off after completing my under-grad degree to prepare myself mentally so I can be more tough, confident and resilient in my pursuit of post-grad career. I do not think there’s anything, so far that has required more of my mental strength and energy other than my post-grad career. Honestly it is a crazy environment. Working with different personalities, racial boundaries, the unnecessary competition amongst us women (put race aside), delayed funds to conduct research and the list goes on. I would definitely take some time off to prepare myself and there after build more confident in myself to better represent and pave the way for all my sisters to come after me in this department.

Do you have any advice to share with young female scientists following in your footsteps?

Firstly you need to be passionate about being a scientist (even if science chooses you like me, find a branch you’re passionate about). Being a female scientist is tough, really tough.  This means that you have to be tougher in pursuit of your career in Science. Follow your passion with confidence! You are going to need this because most disciplines in Science are male-dominated. Also, find a mentor, I really cannot over-emphasize this point. Build resilience around what you are doing, so to say have both plan A and B even when you have 80% chance of making it the first time around. Lastly take risks, face your demons heads on, network (this is hard, I still struggle but it is very very important) stay humble but reach for Mars!

“And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it”- Paulo Coelho but to add onto that, you have to be in line with YOUR purpose! I don’t see the universe giving you what was never meant for you.

How do you manage academics and your personal life?

Time management! I think this has been the most important skill I’ve taught myself.  I have had to learn the hard way that the anxiety that comes when I am behind in my academic work will definitely ruin the time I spend with my family, friends, business partners and outreaches. So I manage my time the best way possible so I can have time for and proper state of mind for my personal life.

DISCLAIMER! This is not always effective and I sometimes find myself having to choose between the two and academics come first most of the time because there’s a lot at stake and trust me, you’re always being watched as a black woman.

What other activities interest you?

  • Climate Action and awareness, I was part of the organising committee for YOUTH4CLIMATE ACTION Durban, find more details here.
  • Agriculture (Controlled environment sector).
  • Community outreaches and development (this is very close to heart and that’s why I started an organisation focusing on this after working with the street store for 2 years): Click here for more information.
  • Being around the ocean (this helps me calm down and realign myself).
  • Reading (The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho remains a favourite).
  • Travelling, music and nature photography (Day dreaming is real most of the time).
  • FASHION! FASHION! FASHION! (I owe it to myself to do something big in this industry).

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

Well this is exciting! I’ll be Dr. Ndlovu in 5 years’ time (Insert the victory dance move). I would have built my grandmother a home she has been dreaming for.  I’d be one of the most influential women in South Africa, even the world (maybe). I do hope to be one of the Forbes 30 under 30 humans (laughs).

Mendy Ndlovu

Our mantra as BWIS is “In Our Element”, are you in YOUR element? What does this phrase mean to you?

Being in my element means being in line with my purpose, using all my potential (before I depart) serving in my field, giving back and empowering communities and being the best version of myself each time I show up. And yes, I do believe I am in my Element.

Where to search for student financial resources?

Continuing on from our previous conversation with BWIS alumni Mendy Lisa Ndlovu (access  her article here and her profile here), how can one further their studies amidst a financial crisis? Well, there are plenty of financial resources available, however, searching can prove to be quite the tedious task. We have compiled a list of a few websites to start your search and shared some advice and ideas. We have also included search engines providing you  with even more opportunities not on this current list, your search can be tailored to your specific needs. Have a look at the list below and click on the highlighted text to be redirected to the relevant websites.

Bursaries and Scholarships

Start by approaching your campus and exploring faculty scholarships and bursaries. Higher education institutions often reward students achieving high academic excellence. Also look into companies that are involved in the scientific discipline, they offer bursaries, internships or job opportunities to graduates.

South Africa

 

 

National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS)

National Research Foundation (NRF)

Be attentive to the Department of Science and Technology (DST), and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to be updated with the available financial support bursary programmes, grants and awards.

Mandela Rhodes Foundation

Some great directories to search for updated bursary opportunities in all fields:

Go Study: tailor your search to your specific needs.

Bursaries South Africa updates you on what is available from private companies, institutes, universities the government and many other public bodies. The website also covers various other fields of study so be sure to tell your friends.

International

 

 

BWIS supports international scientific collaboration and formulating strong international academic relations. Those of you interested in crossing the South African boarders have many options to start your search.

The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) provides a list of international scholarships and fellowships for South Africans, a quick search through their website will lead you to a number of options.

This is a little secret that not many people know about, you can explore the embassy websites of your prospective country of study. Embassies often advertise available scholarships and bursaries for students wanting to study in their country.

The French Embassy in South Africa and Campus France for example, offer a number of scholarships for students wishing to pursue their Masters or PhD studies in France (English are courses available). You can view these here and here. Explore these options for your country of choice.

Erasmus+ offers scholarships for students to study abroad, staff training and teaching opportunities, traineeships and apprenticeships and youth exchanges. Learn more about their opportunities here.

Interested in travelling within Africa for your studies? Click here to access the Intra-Africa Mobility Scheme of the European Union and take advantage of opportunities at top universities across the continent.

A great website to search for scholarships, short-courses and training available within Africa and across continents worldwide is After School Africa, here you can search for all scholarships available for developing countries.

Student Loans

 

Bursaries South Africa provides a details and information regarding student loans. Click here to be more informed about the loaning process and to see what student loans are offered by the four major banks in South Africa.

We advise all students to take caution and understand the terms of your student loans from banks and financial aid. Pay attention to the overall costs involved such as interest and the conditions of repayment, know how these will affect your finances once you start earning an income.

A 2017 IOL article by Martin Hesse (click here) provides more insight on NFSAS and the bank loan options available to fund your studies. Hesse covers details we often neglect such as, eligibility or qualification criteria, the student expenses covered, details regarding the repayment of loans and the associated charges. He also offers advice for students to consider prior to making a commitment.

Refer to this Parent24 article by Carin Bevan here, to better understand the different government and university bursaries and financial aid opportunities available to at tertiary institutions across the country.

Some Advice

If the closing date has already passed, do not despair. Use this as an opportunity to better prepare for the next call. Take note of the scholarships that interest you and have another look in a few months.

Observe the scholarship criteria and start preparing some aspects of your application in advance. The application process can be demanding which could be discouraging and lead to an incomplete application, many scholarships have not been awarded due to a this fact.

Subscribing to mailing lists and paying close attention to social media notices will ensure that you don’t miss out on the next call. Stay alert!

Word of mouth can be highly beneficial, speak to your supervisors, lecturers, friends or anyone relevant about your desire to gain financial support for your studies.

Do not stop your search here, there are many more resources to explore.

Pay attention to you student notices, these will keep you updated on what is available.

Student Debt, let’s talk about it.

This month BWIS alumni Mendy Lisa Ndlovu has contributed to our conversation regarding student financial resources, our student needs and expenses, and the predicaments we find ourselves in along the journey. Mendy graduated her Masters degree in Agrometeorology where her focus was on Drought and Extreme Temperature events. She is currently a PhD Candidate in Agrometeorology, focusing on Climate Information and Support Services.

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“Paying” the way towards academic success

Mendy Ndlovu

Five years into my career as an emerging young, black, female researcher; research funding remains the greatest struggle in varsity. The University of KwaZulu-Natal goes on strike at least twice a year seeking to address issues related to higher education and money. That’s a standard. However, for the first time since I first became a student at the UKZN, this year (2019), postgraduate students shut two campuses down, protesting against the financial injustices black postgraduate students have had to endure within this institution. Postgraduate students protest? Shocking right? But the conditions are bad! Government funding is gradually taken away from postgraduate students to try and accommodate undergraduates and the NRF is decreasing the number of students who receive funding each year and it’s a sticky situation.

As a black, person, a black women to make matters a bit more tricky, we face a lot of injustices within our communities,  chosen higher education institutions and within our chosen fields of study and departments in science which remains a either a male dominated, white male dominated or white dominated. With this, being persistent and pushing through, progressing and reaching higher levels within your field comes with a lot of emotional strain. That’s not it! To add onto the emotional, physical and sometimes spiritual costs and strains that come with being a black, female scientists conducting research is the financial burden.

So to recap; the cost of doing research, in science as a black woman involves emotional capital, physical capital, spiritual capital and financial capital. Don’t ask me why I suddenly decided to capitalise all of these, it’s just easier to conceptualise the costs that way. Oh! How did I miss social capital? We lack a lot of the “social element” as black female researchers. Well at least in my case because I’m always in the field, helping rural communities build resilience to climate change; at the lab or in my office writing reports, in a school or community somewhere giving small talks about climate change or on the roads peacefully protesting against certain actions that puts south Africa more at risk (once in a while).

Back to funding, research is expensive! This is one of the reasons why most people, particularly black women discontinue their studies as soon as they get a “degree completed” for their undergraduate degrees. They leave academia to go try and find jobs, which are unfortunately rare in South Africa. Students who remain on the system to pursue their postgraduate degrees struggle to make ends meet and to finance their research. By the end of honours, more emerging researchers leave the system. At masters level 20/365 students who enrolled for undergraduate degrees remain and of that 20, only 7 or 8 are black women. Because of the “Kanti uqeda nini ukufunda” alongside many social, financial and cultural issues, some of these women don’t get to finish their Masters degrees and they end up amongst the unemployed graduates of South Africa (maybe we should make this a reality show).

I was lucky enough to be recognised as a student of the year by the Rural Development Foundation (LIMA) for the years 2017 (honours)-2018 (masters). Adding to that, in 2017 I was recognised by the Golden Key International honours society to be amongst the top 15% researchers / students within my region and that keeps on opening doors for me and will continue to do so because the GK membership is a lifetime long membership.

Putting that aside, what helped be ease my financial burdens when I started doing research as a postgraduate student  was to link my research to certain projects that had similar research interests (thanks to my supervisor who suggested this). These projects then had to cover my research costs and needs financially and most of my living expenses. Also it helps to work as a research assistant within a certain discipline because you get a monthly stipend for your services while you get some ground experience.  I am now done with my masters and was nominated by another project to do my PhD with them which means that once again, I’m partially financed to do my research, well at least for the first year of PhD and they’ll take it from there. Exciting! I know but the R354 682 worth of student loans which financed my undergraduate studies remain! With 80% interest rates, I’m positive I’ll be owing millions by the time I’m able to pay back.


Click here to find out more about Mendy’s academic journey, her research, personal interests and what message she has to share with fellow scientists and those interested in the field.

Graduate Student Loan Debt2 Cs6

Debt. This is the unfortunate predicament of many students and young professionals in South Africa and internationally. How to finance your studies then? By exploring all of your options and making a commitment from an informed position.

Taking out a student loan is the reality and sometimes only option for many of us. We therefore cannot ignore this possibility but rather educate ourselves about the liability of this commitment. According to the article accompanying the below image on the Prudential News website (read here), their study showed that many American college students are misinformed about their study loans and as a result, debt has lead to many impediments in their post-graduate, professional and personal lives. We cannot deny that this is the case for many South African students too.

In the Dark About Student Debt

BWIS has taken the liberty to compile a brief list of the financial resources available to students, this includes scholarships, bursaries and loans both local and international. Click here to access this list and educate yourself.