FEEL GOOD | PhD chemistry student on how she went from humble beginnings to 4 degrees by 25 - ‘I’ve never paid any fees’

Nwabisa Takata (Photo:Supplied to DRUM)
Nwabisa Takata (Photo:Supplied to DRUM)

Nwabisa Takata is a true example of not being a victim of your circumstances, but taking charge of your destiny and being the architect of your future.

Hailing from the deep rural village of Lower Kroza Location in the Eastern Cape where she grew up in a single-parent household of six, she had all the reasons to laden her path with excuses, but she didn’t.

She shares how she went to underdeveloped, ill-equipped schools but wasn’t deterred.

Now 27 years old, Nwabisa already held four qualifications by age 25: a Bachelor of Science double majoring in chemistry and geology, honours degrees in geology and chemistry, as well as a master’s in chemistry. She is currently doing her PhD in chemistry at the University of Johannesburg and has a job secured for when she finishes her studies. Nwabisa has never had to pay for her fees from her own pocket.

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This is her story:

I grew up in Lower Kroza Location, which is a rural village in the Eastern Cape, in a household of six and raised by a single parent.

I did most of my schooling around my village and in Grade 9 I went to a school that was a bit further from my village. The schools I attended were very disadvantaged, in the sense that we didn’t have the necessary equipment for lessons. I now understand that it was because of geographical location as we were in a rural setting.

My mother was as Natural Sciences teacher and that is where my interest in studying was natured. She would always come home and tell me about the experiments she had done in class with her learners using common household items. Hearing about all those stories really fascinated me to take a keen interest in Science.

When I got to high school I did physical science, mathematics and life sciences. My favourite was physics, to an extent that I thought it was going to be what I did when I got to university. I wouldn’t say I was smart but I did really well in school. I remember this one physics test we wrote in Grade 12 and I scored 49 out of 50 and everyone was floored.

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However, the marks were not magic. I have never been one who understands everything in class. It takes me sitting down with my books and going over the material that we went through in class for me to really understand everything.

This meant a lot of sacrifice in terms of friends and, as of late, in my tertiary years it meant putting stuff like dating on hold and restricting the number of times I go out. For me, romantic relationships require a lot of energy and emotional stability, so what I do is take all that energy and channel it into my studies.

I have always been a person who liked to challenge myself. This is something I am still living with today and that means putting in the hard work and putting a lot of things on hold. I channel all my energy into my studies.

I have been studying consecutively since I finished high school and that has been made possible by various sponsorships.

What I’d advice young people on is focus on getting good marks. Rather deprive yourself of instant gratifications for that one or two years to secure a better future for yourself. It becomes a cycle from there on because once you have that bursary, you want to work your hardest not to lose it.

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What I wish I had prior to starting my studies is a mentor. That is why I advise students to get a mentor, someone who is in the market and can advise you as to what is currently needed in the industry.

I finished my honours in geology and quickly realised there were no jobs in geology. That is something I would have known if I had a mentor. I then decided to go back to school and pursue chemistry further because that is a field I saw a need in.

I am currently in my second year of my PhD in chemistry with a guaranteed position with the National Metrology Institute of South Africa when I graduate. I see myself as a researcher when I graduate because I am much more interested in innovation and coming up with new things. I just think I will not be happy working in a lab doing the same thing every day.