After obtaining her doctorate in 2004, Prof Nox Makunga of the Department of Botany and Zoology joined Stellenbosch University (SU) in 2005 and quickly established herself as a leading researcher on South Africa's medicinal plants. She has received numerous awards for her research and is also passionate about communicating science to the public. As part of Women's Month celebrations at SU, the Corporate Communication Division spoke to Makunga about her research.
For more than a decade you've been working on South Africa's medicinal plants. Can you tell us more about your research?
I study several South African medicinal plants using a suite of biotechnological, phytochemical (knowledge about natural compounds in plants) and genetic tools. I also focus on the interactions between people and plants, including the cultural significance of plants and the associated opportunities for socio-economic development.
Why or how did you become interested in this specific area of research?
I became interested in this area because of the contributions it can make to human health, and also to the natural products industries.
What do you enjoy most about being a researcher?
I enjoy discovering new information and obtaining new knowledge which has the potential to contribute to society.
What does success mean to you?
For me it means being able to achieve an interesting result in the laboratory, to help a PhD student to graduate, and even to be able to produce a product that ultimately becomes commercialised and available for all to use.
What do you attribute your success to?
Various persons and circumstances have led to me being a woman that participates in STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics). I have had a strong support base at home and some of my colleagues also provide a strong support system that allows me to do my job. I enjoy seeing those around me being successful and so contributing to training others at the undergraduate and postgraduate level is extremely satisfying.
What makes you tick?
I enjoy learning about a diverse range of topics and surround myself with people of different views and opinions that I find particularly interesting. I have a really gregarious nature and enjoy the element of discovering people, discovering new worldviews, cultures, new knowledge etc.
What are the things you enjoy doing away from work and the office?
I enjoy art and nature, and a good challenge with something unusual makes life interesting. For instance, I got qualified as a group trainer or aerobics instructor and I taught for over 15 years. I have a creative nature and love to paint and draw, chase sunsets and open spaces. The food and wine culture that surrounds me here in the Cape is a perfect mix.
Do you have any message for the next generation of women researchers?
Diversity in human capital breeds diversity in thinking and problem solving and so participation of women in STEM is critical in order to address a diverse range of problems. Follow your passions as this will sustain you when times get tough.