Dr Dephney Mathebula’s Biography
Dr Mathebula was born at Muyexe Village in Giyani (South Africa). She had her basic education at Muyexe Primary School and Hatlani Muyexe High School. She is currently working at the University of Venda (UNIVEN) as a Senior Lecturer and supervises a number of postgraduate students. Dr Mathebula holds a BSc degree in Mathematics and Statistics (UNIVEN), BSc Hons in Mathematics (UNIVEN), BSc Hons in Biomathematics (Stellenbosch University), MSc in Biomathematics (Stellenbosch University) and PhD in Mathematics (UNIVEN).
Dr Mathebula is a member of African Women in Mathematical Sciences Association (SAWMSA).
In 2018, she became the first South African to obtain a PhD in Mathematics at the University of Venda. As a celebrated Mathematician, on the 30th of September 2018, she was interviewed on SABC Radio, Munghana Lonene FM on a Talk show Mikondzo ya Tingwazi (Footprints of the Legends) where she shared her career journey and motivated Grade 12 learners. On the 24th of January 2019, she was interviewed at SABC 2 Television Channel on Ngula ya Vutivi to share her PhD journey with viewers from all over the world.
On the 27th of June 2019, she was invited to join Nestlé Nespray South Africa in partnership with the South African Mathematics Foundation (SAMF) and AMESA at the launch of the Nestlè Nespray South African Mathematics Challenge stakeholder panel discussion, where they had education stakeholders and nutritionists engaging on how to get South Africa to improve its Mathematics standing globally. She also shared some of her experiences and inspired young people on some of the things they should be doing in order to improve their Mathematics marks and also hear about her journey to reaching her PhD status as an inspiration. They invited her again as a keynote speaker as they recognized and awarded the top 6 learners who have excelled in the NESTLÉ NESPRAY South African Mathematics Challenge for 2019. The prize-giving ceremony was attended by the top 20 finalists, their parents/guardians, and teachers. There were various guests from the media: Nestlé, Department of Basic Education and SAMF in attendance.
Dr Mathebula’s research interest kick-started when she attended “The annual Clinic on Meaningful Modeling of Epidemiological Data (MMED)” in 2008 at the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in Cape Town, South Africa. Being aware of the burden of the spread of infectious diseases in her country, she found it relevant to embark on the career journey that would lead her to come up with mathematical frameworks or techniques that can be used by policymakers when it comes to designing and implementing infectious disease control measures.
As a result of her PhD research, she has published 3 articles at high impact journals.
She has also presented some of her research outputs in International conferences in Spain, Dubai and the United States of America. She is one of the semi-finalists of the 2020 Techwomen program.
Dr Mathebula has received an award from the Women of Destiny SA Organisation as one of the Top 10 influential women in Limpopo Province for the year 2019.
As an emerging researcher who is still trying to find her own ground, she is working towards National Research Foundation (NRF) rating status and establishing her own research group to promote more young people in Biomathematics. To make this vision a reality, she has already started supervising postgraduate students and she has a number of postgraduates who have already graduated.
Apart from doing mathematical modelling research and lecturing, Dr Mathebula provides young people with career guidance, and with higher learning institutions’ admission applications and bursary applications. Her main target is young girls from rural areas who are planning to pursue careers in STEM. As we all know, women are underrepresented, especially in rural areas.
Why did you get into STEM?
My sister, Constance, played a very important role as she instilled in me the love of mathematics when I was still in primary school. She used to celebrate whenever she obtained the correct answer in mathematics. I was inspired to join her in her unexplainable joy and celebrations after obtaining the correct answer in mathematics. Little did I know that it will lead me to a career in STEM. I started to further appreciate the beauty of mathematics when I realized that mathematics is the prerequisite of most careers in STEM.
What do you consider your greatest achievements?
My greatest achievement is my PhD in Mathematics because throughout the journey I had encountered a lot of personal challenges that resulted in delaying the progress of my PhD. However, with God by my side and the support of my promoters, Prof Garira and Dr Moyo, my family and friends, I managed to push on and completed what I had started. Today, I am a celebrated mathematician in the whole world by becoming the very first South African to obtain a PhD in Mathematics at the University of Venda in 2018. Apart from that, seeing people that I have inspired both directly and indirectly furthering their studies makes me realize that indeed this is my greatest achievement.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them?
I remember I was once asked to redo the mathematical solution just to prove that indeed I am the one who did it. I always take that as a motivation and do what I am supposed to do. I resist allowing how other people perceive me to stop me from pressing on towards my goals.
What is your advice to budding women in STEM?
My advice to budding women in STEM is to know who you are and what you want to achieve in life. Work hard, be consistent while working towards your goal, do what you love most, be honest to yourself and people around you and do not be ashamed of your failures – take them as motivation. Also, find a support system of women in STEM and never allow people to take away your confidence. And remember, people are capable of taking away your confidence, but it is your responsibility to regain it.