Ubuntu Dialogues

Dr Priscalia Khosa conquers PhD ‘obstacle course’

Graduating with her PhD in Social Work from Stellenbosch University (SU) yesterday (6 April), Priscalia Khosa was not only celebrating her academic achievement but also her victory over numerous personal challenges and obstacles to reach this point.

This mother of three children aged 7, 8 and 11 completed her doctoral studies whilst juggling being a full-time academic, residence head, and mentor for her students. And as her husband was attending to his businesses in Johannesburg, all household and Covid-induced homeschooling responsibilities were hers too. “It was a case of trying to ensure that I fulfilled all my roles to the best of my ability,” she says.

This was no easy task. As an academic and mentor, she had to be available to advise her students, while navigating the extraordinary circumstances brought about by Covid-19. As residence head of Sonop, which is home to approximately 260 female students, she had both administrative responsibilities and the duty to offer guidance and emotional support to students.  

Priscalia and her children moved from Johannesburg, where the family lived previously, to Stellenbosch for her PhD, while husband Wisani, an entrepreneur, stayed behind. He joined the family in Stellenbosch earlier this year. “I started my PhD in 2019. So, while I was still trying to find my feet in my new environment, the pandemic hit,” Priscalia recounts. “That brought its own challenges. While many students left campus, some stayed in the residence. I had to do daily check-ins with them and make sure they were mentally, physically and academically OK. And I had to build a sense of community to make sure they did not feel alone.”

The pandemic also meant that she had to supervise her children at home when schools closed. “I had three kids in the house all day long during the lockdown. There was limited quiet time for academic work and to focus on my PhD,” she says. “When restrictions eased, the children went back to school on alternate days. Homeschooling them while trying to find the time to work on my dissertation was extremely challenging. I tried to catch up on my work in between helping them. I had to completely change my work routine and would sometimes work through the night because that was the only quiet time I could get,” she said. But she displayed resilience and steely commitment and stayed the course. “I thrived against all odds!” Priscalia smiles.

For her PhD, she studied the implementation of the supervision framework for the social work profession in South Africa by a designated child protection organisation. Priscalia has published widely in the field of social work, and also supervises master’s students researching gender-based violence as well as social work in school and medical settings. In addition, she was recently selected as one of two seminar exchange fellows under the Ubuntu Dialogues project. This exchange programme between SU and Michigan State University in the United States was set up in 2019 to build bridges between young people in South Africa and the States.

Originally from rural Limpopo, Priscalia says both her husband and her mother, Emily, were pillars of strength throughout this challenging journey. “From the get-go, my husband was supportive. He understood completely how difficult it was for a woman to pursue what I was doing. And my mother kept telling me I was not getting enough sleep!”

Asked what personal resources she drew on to get through all her challenges, she says: “I love what I do. Each of my roles gives me so much satisfaction. Yes, it takes physical and mental energy, but it’s all worth it. So, I guess what kept me going was my passion for what I do.”

Photographer: Stefan Els

See story on the Stellenbosch University website here.

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