Metrohm Young Chemist Award - SA Winner
2018-10-26 03:43 PM (South Africa)

Meet South Africa's winner for the Metrohm Young Chemist Award, Ms Mphoma Matseke!

How did you hear of the MYCA competition?

From a poster that was pinned onto a notice board in my group at the CSIR.

What does winning the MYCA mean to you?

Winning the MYCA means a lot to me in many ways. I have been putting in a lot of effort into my studies over the years, and that has finally paid off. This award is not just an ordinary award, but it is an award that acknowledges my capabilities and contributions in the field of chemistry, a field of study that I am deeply passionate about. I strongly believe that the weight of this award will contribute a lot towards my curriculum vitae, which will definitely have a positive impact on my long term goals.

What inspired you when choosing your research project?

I was doing my Masters degree in Nanochemistry with specialty in water treatment, and I really enjoyed my project, but I felt like the field was getting saturated day by day, hence for my PhD I decided to go for energy studies, with specialty in fuel cell technology. Making this decision was quite easy for me because it has always been an ultimate goal of mine to work in the field of energy. Fuel cell technology is a very fascinating field of study with a wide variety of sub-fields, such as electrochemistry, which my focus is on. I chose to work on this project because although it is fairly a new field of research, it has a great potential for solving the energy crisis in South Africa and the world at large in years to come.

What challenges (if any) did you overcome while busy with your research?

Research work is always full of challenges, but with a positive mindset, one is capable of overcoming them. For example, I had a couple of instances whereby I followed certain synthesis procedures from published articles, with the hope and intention that I would get the exact same outcomes as them, but unfortunately I did not. Such experiences taught me the importance of patience and perseverance, because had I not been patient enough, and had I not kept on keeping on, I could have given up or lost focus on my work. Another challenge that I think most research students are facing is the lack of access to characterization techniques. Some of these equipment are quite expensive to use, while some are fully booked most of the times, so these challenges automatically affect one’s timelines. So in my home language there is a phrase that says, “Motho ke motho ka batho”, which simply means that “No man is an island”, so I always go by this phrase and apply it in my everyday activities, and it has helped me tremendously in overcoming most of the challenges that I have faced in my research project.

Do you have any advice for students who are currently busy with their research projects?

I would advise them to work really hard and seek help or advise whenever needed. They should also keep this phrase in mind, “Asking questions doesn’t mean you don’t know your job, asking questions means you want to improve the quality of your work.”, so basically, they should not shy away from asking questions to relevant people (i.e. supervisors, colleagues, etc.) when they don’t understand certain aspects of their projects.  

What are you hoping to do next?

My next goal after completing my PhD is to enrol for a Master in Business Administration (MBA) degree with the hope of one day owning a company that will create job opportunities in our society, especially for people from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with disabilities.

What advice do you have for students entering the competition in the future?

I would advise them to plan ahead of time. When I saw the competition poster on the notice board, I immediately knew which part of my work I was going to submit for the competition because at that time, that particular work was already done and dusted. I would also advise them to take this competition seriously because it can open many doors for them in future.

Thank you for your time Mphoma and all the best for your future!