Patience Mthunzi-Kufa:
"We need African doctors to come back to teach younger ones and produce more PhDs"

My name is Patience Mthunzi-Kufa. I come from Soweto here in South Africa, which is the South Western Township that's to the south of Pretoria. I currently reside in Pretoria, in Pretoria east, in an area called Die Wilgers. And I work for the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, long for CSIR. And my profession is, I am currently a research group leader, which means I lead a group of scientists, at PhD, masters as well as post-PhD level.

Why did you go to Europe for your PhD?

I went because at time when I was preparing to start my PhD, I didn't find a suitable supervisor in the country here in South Africa. So I had to look outside of South Africa for a potential supervisor and I got to land on Professor Kishan Dholakia who was based at the University of St Andrews leading a biophotonics group there and I applied with him.

What was the biggest difficulty when you came back to South Africa?

I can't really think of one thing that was the most difficult. Maybe the reason is because while I was away, the plan was for me to come back and start a biophotonics facility within the National Laser Center here in South Africa. So I had a lot of the leaders at the time of the National Laser Center, the managers and the center director at the time preparing for my come back so that I can start to do the work without any delay so the most difficult, I would say, was to source funding, looking for funding but other than that, I didn't have much difficulty because I had a position, I was expected back, and I was supported to start a research group.

What would you tell young African PhD candidates working in Europe to encourage them to come back in Africa?

It depends on an individuals condition. If you do have a position abroad and it is more attractive than you would get here in Africa, by all means you can stay. But my feeling is we need more young people with PhDs to come and help us to build a PhD pipeline of other young people within Africa. If you stay in Europe, chances are you will deprive the local young PhDs, or potential PhDs, the opportunity to get their PhDs under your leadership. But if you do come back to the country, then you can contribute towards helping us to expand the pool of PhDs in our own country.

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