Dr Jita

Dr Thuthukile Jita


Lecturer and discipline coordinator

Academic Background

BPaed (Unizulu); BEd – Hons (UKZN); MSc (Walden; USA), PhD (UFS)


How did your university experience prepare you for your current career?

My doctoral experience, at the UFS in particular, was almost like an induction and mentoring programme into the academic world. During my doctoral studies, I was able to experience the joys of teaching university modules, research and scholarship, and community engagement work with teachers in various schools across the province. I was part of the Instructional Leadership and Curriculum Implementation Studies (ILCIS) research group in the SANRAL chair for science and mathematics education with over 45 master’s and doctoral researchers as part of the research team. Through working in the team with others, I learned how to co-supervise master’s students and to date two of my master’s students have completed their studies. From my community engagement work with teachers in schools, I have gained a wealth of experience that I share with my first-year class on professional ethics in the Work Integrated Learning module. I feel confident to write and ready for a very demanding academic career that requires writing for publication, preparing grant proposals, and teaching and supervising students.

Which characteristics or skills are essential for the workplace?

Focus, networking, self-leadership, and self-management are very important skills that help one to succeed in the workplace, especially in a higher education institution context. My research, for example, is a cross-national study of three countries: South Africa, Lesotho, and Zimbabwe. To be successful in conducting such a study, one requires good networking skills to attract researchers to the project and to be able to make the research work across the three different national cultures.

Self-leadership and self-management are very important to practise, especially in the early stages of one’s academic career. You need to be able to manage your time to allocate it properly for teaching, research, and community engagement. You need to manage your own work with students, be it a class with undergraduate students or consultation with postgraduate supervisees.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

The need to constantly allocate time for research is the biggest challenge. Unlike teaching a class, which is usually fixed in terms of time and venue, or a community engagement appointment with teachers in a school, which is also scheduled and fixed, research time is usually what remains when everything else has been attended to. If one is not careful, all other engagements may tend to fill all the available work hours to the detriment of one’s research. Scheduling time for research is thus critical and remains a challenge to be negotiated all the time.

What drives you to excel in your career?

I personally like to teach, especially when I meet students who are excited and eager to learn – such as the first years for both undergraduate and postgraduate studies. I just want to share my knowledge and experiences with them and be a fellow traveller with them on their journey to excellence. Transferring knowledge to others gives me that satisfaction of helping someone in need. Seeing students succeed and move to the next level gives me eternal joy and happiness.

What are the best opportunities for someone entering your career?

Probably, the biggest opportunity in an academic career is that of being able to work flexible hours. The key is to be self-driven and stick to your deliverables. Secondly, as an academic you can talk and write about a subject that you enjoy the most. You almost have the privilege to talk to anyone about your pet subject or research, in your undergraduate and postgraduate lectures, to your colleagues in conferences, and to anyone you meet in the university corridors.  

Name three things you wish you had been told as a university student.

  • I wish someone had told me not to treat students as my own kids. When I started as a lecturer, my first daughter was in her second year at university, and subsequently the second one joined. Each time I stood in front of my students, I imagined my own daughters. The burden here is that you get a bit too attached, perhaps more emotional – for good or for worse. While fulfilling, the experience can be draining as well and you may be prone to put too much heart into it.

  • I wish someone had told me to default to “no” on certain requests and only come back to “yes” once I have had time to assess the request. When there are few of you around, everyone wants a piece of you. If there are not enough black women with PhDs around, academics with your expertise on ICTs in Education, or people who are willing to serve in committees, or to supervise particular students, etc., then you get to be all over the show and sometimes forget to be there for yourself.

  • I wish I was better prepared and knew more about how race and gender would come to play an important role in an academic career in South Africa for many of us, and how things have not changed much in the past two decades or so of our new democracy.

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