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KwaZulu Natal’s, Dr Nqobile Xaba shows us that anything is possible if you believe and work hard

PhD graduate, Dr Nqobile Xaba grew up in a village called Tafelkop in the rural outskirts of Pinetown in KwaZulu-Natal. She attended school at a local primary and secondary school that was a short walking distance from home. Her number one passion is youth empowerment through education. Over the years, she has been involved with NPOs in order to reach out to communities in disadvantaged areas.  Dr Xaba, studied a BSc degree in Pure and Applied Chemistry in which she graduated Cum Laude, and BSc Honours degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in the Faculty of Natural Science and Chemistry Department. She proceeded to obtain a MSc degree in Chemical Engineering Sciences at North-West University in the Chemical Engineering department and Engineering Faculty. Last year, she graduated with a PhD in Chemistry at the University of the Western Cape from the faculty of Natural Science and Chemistry Department. She says,” I believe in myself more than anything; I believe in living an impactful life and making a difference in the world. I am determined; I set goals and work as hard as I can to achieve them”. We are completely inspired by her story.


See our full interview below:


  1. What does education mean to you?

My parents were never afforded the opportunity to be educated and they wanted nothing more than us to be educated. For me it was my way out, it was the only way I was going to be able to support my family, and ensure a brighter future for myself and siblings. Over the years, I have also realised that education to me means freedom, gives me the capacity to expand my thinking capabilities, to think beyond what currently exist, means the ability to create, generate and transfer knowledge.


  1. Why did you choose to go into Chemistry?

I have always been curious about science and how the world works from a young age. I had a choice to either do a major in biology or chemistry in my first year, I was more fascinated by chemistry, so I chose that route. Fast forward a few years later, I decided I wanted to do research that would tackle current global issues and energy shortages and so I decided I would do energy related research for MSc and PhD. I am still continuing work in this field.


  1. Have you always known you wanted to study the degree you have chosen?

I have always known I was going to be a scientist from the day that my grade 4 teacher told us about science. I then had to decide on my first year the field of science I was going to specialise in.


  1. How does your course of study help you in fulfilling the calling over your life? If you believe in a calling.

I believe in living an impactful life, I want to make a difference in someone’s life. I believe that doing research on trying to find alternative energy solutions will address the national and global energy and climate problem. That is how I intend on using my education and skills to improve the quality of life.


  1. Do you think it’s possible for someone to be in the wrong field of study?

Yes I do, often when applying or enrolling at university or college, we take up courses due to availability of space, points or selections system, based on parental advice or peer pressure, or lack of knowledge to available courses or fields of study. Any of the above reasons can sway you towards a degree that might not be suitable for you or one you can’t cope with. So I believe that at least one should know whether they want to be in science, or commerce because most first year degree courses are general and gives you the option of changing to another field on your second year without losing credits or feeling like you wasted a year. Also, most students do not get the opportunity to take a gap year where they can truly explore their career options through internships, or job shadowing; this limits your options for career choices.


  1. What would you say to that person who is experiencing those depressing thoughts because they feel they are in the wrong field of study? How would you motivate them?

I would advise them to study their best. My post graduate experience has taught me that the degree that you study does not determine your career path. I have friends who studied chemistry and work in the banking industry, and some are financial analyst. Your degree is meant to equip you with the skills to handle anything and that is important. Your career path is up to you in the end. If they feel strongly about it and do not see themselves proceeding, I would advise them to seek career counselling, and then change to the course they feel is more suitable to them.


  1. There is no smooth academic journey, what are some of the obstacles that you’ve had to overcome? How did you overcome them?

Heavy workload to adjust to, from attending lectures, practicals, tests, exams etc. I had to manage my time well and put in the extra hours. I had no option but to pass in order for my scholarship to be renewed the next year without funding I would have to go home. That is a reality for most students. I did attend counselling in my first year just to talk to someone, I was lucky to have known about this service, we also had mentors who were helpful, and I had good friends with similar background so we leaned on each other for support. Balance is also a challenge, I had to allocate a non-negotiate time to me at least once a week to calibrate the system by doing something I enjoy that is not academically related like binge watching movies or reading a novel or chilling with friends.


  1. Has your upbringing affected your academic journey in anyway? If you feel it limited you in anyway, how did you move past those boundaries?

Yes it did. I went to a disadvantaged school with limited resources. I saw a computer for the first time in first year and had to learn to type while other students could already do this. I had never been inside a science laboratory or seen it while my class mates had. I took this as a challenge, it motivated me, because I was fascinated by everything and wanted to learn. I managed to turn these challenges into motivation. I think it turned out well since I graduated on top with the only cum laude in my chemistry class.


  1. Time management is imperative in a student’s life. How did you manage your time during exam time in university? Especially, if they were close to each other.

Having a study timetable first. You have to study all of your courses at the same time if they are close to each other and only focus more on one the day before or two. Form a study group with classmates or friends. This will assist in keeping you accountable, having someone to ask for help if you don’t understand.


  1. Fear is one of the biggest hindrances to success. How did you get over the fear of asking for help when you didn’t understand the work that was being taught?

I had a group of amazing friends, I was always comfortable to ask them for help. I was afraid to ask the lecturer alone so we would always go as a group.


  1. Would you recommend group studying?

Yes I would. Keeps one accountable, and ensures that you have someone to help you with something you are struggling with. Just ensure you choose the right group of people.


  1. How did you get over procrastination and exam stress?

This was my approach: Preparation is key. If you prepare well, you will write well. Exam stress will always be there but ensure that you prepare to ease off the fear of knowing you were underprepared for it. Also, ensure that you sleep, put it in your study timetable so that, ensure that you eat and hydrate. So that you don’t get health related issues during the exam.


  1. In summary, what words would you like to extend to students?

Prepare for your tests and exams. Once you have attended all lectures and you have all the information, study hard and do your best. You have come this far not by coincidence but by your determination. Do your best.


The Young Catalyst team welcomes all university students to a new academic year. We have begun our #YoungAcademics series featuring some of South Africa’s top university graduates. The aim of the series is to encourage you in your academic journey whilst celebrating the success of our young graduates. Follow us on all our social media platforms to make sure you don’t miss out on everything we are up to. Contact us on info@theyoungcatalyst.co.za if you’d like to be involved with our initiative. Let’s work hard this year to ensure we get closer to getting those degrees.