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The Science Of Moving Forward

Scientist Ndoni Mcunu plans on getting more women into the lab – and South Africa on the map.

Shireen Fisher
Nine years into my research and academic career, one of the most common questions I get from family and friends is: “Will she ever finish studying?”’ says Ndoni Mcunu. She’s one of very few black women in South Africa who not only chose to go into the sciences but who has further developed her expertise.

Currently working towards her PhD on climate change and food production at Wits Global Change Institute, Ndoni’s concern about the lack of black women in science prompted her and a friend, Mantombi Ngoloyi (herself pursuing a PhD at Toulouse University), to establish the non-profit organisation Black Women in Science (BWIS) in 2016 in partnership with the Department of Science and Technology.

‘I had the advantage of having strong role models and extra lessons,’ Ndoni says. ‘But what if you don’t have that? My parents introduced me to things many people wouldn’t have been exposed to at that age.’

Ndoni’s family has a strong bent towards the sciences: her father is a computer scientist and her mother, now a campus manager, was a teacher; her uncle is a medical doctor, her aunt a mathematical scientist and her grandfather had a Bachelor’s degree in science. The only girl in her nuclear family, encouragement also came from her brothers.

‘They tried to instill in me that I could do anything I wanted to, on my own. They’d always tell me, “It’s not a man’s world – it’s YOUR world. You can actually make a change.”’

Interestingly, says Ndoni, she still struggled with maths and science in high school.

‘I managed because I had extra tuition, but that requires money and support. That’s why I believe so strongly in becoming a support system for people who don’t have one. I have the capacity to give back.’

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June 2018

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