Change the world

School of Management Sciences


When I enrolled at university at the tender age of 18 years, my only aspiration was to become a graduate, get a job and make money. I discovered my niche when I did my honours in investment management and started a career in the financial markets.

I excelled in this fast pace, quick decision-making, risk taking environment and was financially generously rewarded. After 14 years of a fantastic, yet plastic life, my second child passed away and we decided to start over...completely over, new province, new career...new challenges.

By default I was asked if I could lecture marketing research for a semester at NMMU George Campus when we arrived in George. After years of analysing economic trends, financial portfolios and technical trading, my answer was, "Yes, give me a textbook, and I can teach anything." Soon I was teaching five marketing subjects part-time and I realised that sharing information, experiences and knowledge with students was ultimately rewarding. After seven years of part-time lecturing and eventually teaching more than seven subjects, I received a full-time position at NMMU. However, the prerequisite was clear, obtain your Master's degree if you want to stay. So after 20 years I encountered studying again. I completed my Master's degree, yet had this distinct feeling that there was more that I could achieve...maybe a PhD?

There is no textbook that warns you about the humongous gap between a Master's and PhD degree. The only sentences I remember from colleagues were: "It is a lonely journey...you will not have a life...you need to contribute to the field of academic literacy". It really seemed like such a cliché and I often wondered what other PhD graduates went on about, after all, it was just research?

For a year I contemplated my topic, it was not a topic academics were comfortable with, one Professor outright declared after a discussion that personal branding is NOT branding...it is a fad and a PhD on the topic would be a waste of time. That was all I needed...a challenge to prove that I could change opinions, that I could make a difference and that I believed in my topic.

ABOVE: Dr Adele Potgieter

Compiling my proposal was the first encounter to serious frustration. I am a step by step person: I want structure and guidelines on how to get to the next point. I didn't receive guidelines on how to correct things my supervisors weren't happy with...I just received the comment "conceptualise", a word I learnt to hate. Soon I had to do research on research...truly grasping an understanding of the word synthesise and many others. Before long I realised that I had to say no to dinner invites, to going to the movies, to impromptu coffee dates, to idle chit-chat and watching my favourite soapies at night, and more importantly, that a weekend off would be an absolute luxury. My lonely journey had begun. 

Yet my evenings became precious and I learnt, really learnt, how to join a discussion on a literature review, who the gurus on my topic were, how concepts had evolved and sometimes how contradictory literature can be. I discovered that reading 30 journals to use one sentence was normal, that you could write five pages and finally only use a paragraph. I learnt patience...my most difficult lesson, to submit a chapter and wait. I learnt to pray for patience and pray again. I learnt a few French words which I used when I received feedback from my supervisors and thank God they couldn't hear me some evenings at 23h00...

But through it all, I discovered a part of me I never knew existed, I learnt empathy for my students at a different level. I experienced the joy of seeing respondents actually completing my questionnaire. I realised the importance of detail...the awful dreaded detail of a comma, a full stop. I learnt which positive and negative aspects of supervising I would instil in my supervision. Even though I learnt that I could say no to fun times and take on a lonely journey, my faith grew stronger as I realised that none of this could have been done on my own. I realised that a quick dinner and conversation with my son became priceless, that friends who understood that they need to take the back seat for a while, are blessings.

Most of all, I quickly realised that working till 03h00 in the morning with a wonderful new way of approaching a section of my thesis can be more detrimental than falling asleep for only two hours. After all, where do we get the ideas and thoughts from at 2am? It mostly ends in file 13.

Apart from discovering aspects of myself I had never known existed such as tenacity, some patience, critical thinking at a new level and becoming a lifelong scholar, I discovered that someone with the title of doctor or professor deserves my respect. I felt such a sense of achievement and knew I was right to believe in my topic when the chancellor commented that I had a very interesting topic and that she would love to read it whilst capping me.... To all my colleagues who have been through the journey. I salute you...to my God that gave me strength at times when I had none...'I bow to you', to my kids that survived my journey...I hope I inspire you. I think my motto in life has changed from, "Be the change you want to see in the world from Gandhi", to truly believing in Theodore Roosevelt's words, "If you can dream it you can do it." I believe I have one purpose on earth: Aspire to inspire before you expire (Eugene Bell Jr). I can't wait for my journey as a supervisor to commence.