If I were president for a day

Very often when someone is asked what they would do if they had super powers for a day, they think of providing solutions to their problems, some more immediate than others. You also get those who want to go back in time to correct the mistakes they regret the most, or live one of their happiest days one more time. Because PhD students need to expand their imaginations and intellectual horizons, I decided to ask my friends what they’d do if they could be president for a day…

To quote my friends

They gave me answers mostly based on their concerns and issues pertaining to the current state of our country. For instance one of my friends said, “I would give myself a

One of our busiest days, #feed mixing 

permanent job overseas,” obviously to escape from the high levels of unemployment in our country. Another replied “I would pay attention to education, especially at primary level” and concerning the most recent events in our country one of my friends replied “all drug lords and human traffickers would be locked up without bail and appeal, neither would parole be granted”.


It turns out that I will be a bit of a tyrannical president… But a tyrant in the name of Science!

A president for Science… or at least, for postgrads!

The first law I would pass would be:  All those submitting their theses/ dissertations in 2017 are only required to write one page of literature review.  Concerning lab work, you are allowed to have just one sample without replicates and whatever you find will be acceptable for you to pass your degree. All those who’ve had to start over an experiment because something went wrong with a machine or some chemical was accidentally spilled on their sample(s) would be paid over-time. To all those who have missed a planting season  for reasons beyond their control, I would pass a law that as they wait for the next one  they should take a trip around the world, to explore the planet and get a different kind of education while  thinking about their experiments. To top it all off the maximum number of pages for a dissertation/ thesis would be 20. This would only be the beginning.

Researchers go through what I would call traumatic events during their data collection phase, often related to animals. My sister was chased by dogs in unfamiliar villages while conducting surveys, some friends have been kicked by cows and horses while trying to collect tissue samples, and others have had to run for their lives to escape an ostrich (hello Makhosi Mahlangu). So if I were president for a day, I would order that everyone who is collecting data should have a beauty spa voucher for a massage session each week until data collection is done, just for some stress relief.

Leo praying for my data collection dilemmas 

To cultivate the next generation of researchers and academics (because they are an endangered species). I would build a library in every street, yes, every street because I believe the culture of reading is cultivated by our surroundings. Just imagine if all kids in South Africa had a library in every street (smart hey, I know).

Lastly, I would spread the love. I  would put a lot of funding into inventing  a drug would help people to love one another just a little bit more, show more compassion, love and Ubuntu.  This drug would work on your brain and hormones (hides). It would definitely make people tolerate each other more, and sympathise with each other. I foresee a great country with this drug in use (Laughing very hard).

After the first storm

I was born in the Eastern Cape, to parents that are both educators. Which kind of explains why I love being in the know. They gave me the name Siphokazi, which directly translates to “a very big gift” 🙂 Awesome is it not? I guess that is what I am to the Nyeleka family, my clan. Growing up, my siblings and I were not allowed to be without a book (school books didn’t count!) and school was non-negotiable, unless of course we were feeling under the weather.

My parents have always encouraged me to pursue postgraduate studies – following in their footsteps. So by the time I graduated with BSc Animal Production Science, I needed very little encouragement to continue with my studies. I was already hooked by academia! With the final persuasion coming from my supervisor, I decided to enrol for an MSc degree in Animal Production Science with special interest in broilers.

Why broilers? You may ask… Well, back in the day my grandmother ran a poultry farm for more than a decade, but she had to shut it down due to ever rising feed costs. The whole experience was frustrating for me because I watched her let go of something she truly loved, particularly because she used the farm as means to give the village women financial security. So when the opportunity came for me to try and find alternative ways to help people like my grandmother, I grabbed it with both hands. Thus, my MSc research focuses on using alternative protein sources in broiler diets, with the ultimate goal of feed cost reduction.

Developing a proposal...
Developing a proposal…

To my surprise, though, the whole process of developing a research concept has been very challenging for me. Developing a proposal was supposed to be as straight-forward as writing that final exam at the end of the year… What I found to be exceptionally challenging was that I knew what I wanted to do, however developing a research concept around it was very tricky. How could I distill my thoughts into an idea that was testable, workable, valuable, in the space of a single degree…?

Preparing for my "babies"
Preparing for my “babies”

What kept me going back to the drawing board was and still is the ultimate goal and that is to make a difference. Giving up would not only be letting myself down, but my grandmother too and that is something I would never be able to live with. I guess it is true that “Anyone who says sunshine brings happiness has never danced in the rain,” because the happiness I felt after an approved proposal is beyond description.

My second year promises to be an interesting adventure, with more trials and some lab work. I look forward to it, really. Do I still think I can solve the world’s problems? Yes! But like RJ Benjamin says in one of his songs “Changing the world, One day at a time…” I guess in my case its one broiler at a time.