Kwanele Kunene believes that being an academic scientist has to some extent exposed her to everything that she was intrigued by while she was still considering career options after completing her matric, which includes being a writer, actress, teacher, interpreter, traveller, scientist and an artist.
“Now, looking from my present perspective, I realised that having become an academic scientist has allowed me to be all of the above. When I put together a scientific proposal, a paper, or a grant application, I am a writer. When I present talks at international conferences, I feel like an actress on stage. When I give lectures or seminars, I am a teacher. And then, travelling extensively and learning other languages have simply followed as a welcome by-product of all these activities,” said Kunene.
Kunene who will going to the prestigious Montpellier University in France later this year for a fellowship, which is linked to her PhD in Chemistry, said she is excited by this journey and the prospects it will bring for her. “I’m planning to leave South Africa this year in September and return in February 2019, I will spend six months at Montpellier University and six months at DUT for the period of three years. I have many different emotions. Credibility has been bestowed upon me, I feel energised, motivated and little bit nervous but I am also happy that years of sleepless nights have come to fruition, it took a while to sink in but then I enjoyed my moment of glory,” she said.
The Dannhauser-born Kunene said she always had an ambition to study abroad, and last year she travelled to Riga, Latvia to study her Masters. “My supervisor Prof K Bisetty sent the email to me last year (2017) in November. I started the application in December because it was my dream to study abroad. During the application it was very difficult, but I managed to overcome the difficulties together with the help of Cecile Garcon (International Relation and Social Cohesion Project Officer, Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment. I will study at both universities (Double degree, co-tutelle agreement) DUT and Montpellier University,” added Kunene.
Kunene said she is looking forward to learning the French language and understanding their cultural dynamics. “The experience will give me the upper hand when pursuing an international career and it will give my CV a competitive edge. Conducting my studies in France will definitely enhance the value of my doctoral degree as it will demonstrate potential to go an extra mile and be able to adapt to new environments and cultures,” she said.
Furthermore, she believes that this experience will unlock other opportunities for her career. “Since the selected University have a large number of international students intake, this will enable me to network in a multinational environment and establish contacts for the future collaborations. It is worth mentioning that prior to this application I have gained wonderful experience of establishing firm contact with senior researchers such as Prof Donalts Erts and Dr Roman Viter from University of Latvia and Dr Mikhael Bechelany from Monteplier University,” said Kunene.
Kunene said she is grateful for having a good support structure throughout her academic journey, including her family and academic supervisors. “My family has been my pillar of strength by supporting me in anything that I need. The thing that hurt me the most is that my dad died before I could make him proud and that saddens me. My twin (Dasie Kunene) has the greatest impact on my academic journey, she encourages me for years to continue with my studies while working at Tongaat Huletts as amechanical engineer, she supports me. She puts her dreams on hold in order for me to pursue my dreams first. My academic supervisors are (Prof K Bisetty, Dr S Kanchi and Dr M Sabela). They played the most significant role by supporting me through my first journey as the B-tech student up until now as the PhD student. They make a huge impact on encouraging people to empower themselves through education,” she said.
She also urged other young aspiring academics to work hard in order to achieve their dreams, using a quote from renowned performer Lady Gaga, which says, “Some women choose to follow men and some to choose to follow their dreams, if you are wondering which path to go, you must remember that your career will never wake up one day and tell you that it doesn’t love you anymore”.
Pictured: Kwanele Kunene will study in France for her PhD.