Thina Maqubela

Current Job: 
Lecturer in the Statistics Department at Rhodes University, Grahamstown
Get a mentor!!! It is important to have a mentor.

Previous job(s): 

  • Future Leaders Programme Coordinator at Ubuntu Education Fund, Port Elizabeth, South Africa
  • Research Assistant at the Undergraduate Academic Student Services WVU, Morgantown, West Virginia, United States
  • Upward Bound Tutor Counsellor at  Potomac State College, Keyser, West Virginia, United States
  • Student Tutor at the Office of Retention & Research, WVU, Morgantown, West Virginia, United States
  • Education and Monitoring & Evaluation Departments Intern at Ubuntu Education Fund, Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

How did you obtain your current position?

Towards the end of my Master’s degree I applied to various positions that I qualified for as a Statistician. After many rejection letters, I was head-hunted by Ubuntu Education Fund to pioneer their Future Leaders Programme (FLP). This is an academic intensive program for university-bound Grade 12 learners from township schools with the aim of preparing them for university. While working at Ubuntu I received an email from the HOD of the Statistics Department at Rhodes saying she received my CV and was very impressed by it and would like to invite me to apply to teach at Rhodes. My CV was sent by a mentor of mine when I was applying for positions during my Master’s. I then applied and as they say, the rest is history.

In what way does your qualification relate to your work, whether directly or indirectly? 

Initially I struggled a lot to place myself in the so called “real world”. I studied Statistics but have a huge passion for education. This is evident through accepting the position to pioneer FLP at Ubuntu. That position had nothing to do with what I studied but rather my experiences as someone who grew up in a township and studied at university. I had to focus a lot on what challenges first-generation students like myself might face at university and how to better prepare them. The only time I utilized Statistics at Ubuntu was when I needed to analyse data. At Rhodes, as a lecturer, I teach Statistics and also use my teaching and learning experiences in my PhD research as it is focused on Statistics Education.  

What are your day-to-day activities?

On my day-to-day I teach and research. This involves preparing lecture notes, tutorials, tests, and exams. I also spend time meeting students for consultations in my office. Teaching also involves administrative tasks such as marking, tutor training and mentoring. Outside that, I spend time on my PhD research. Additionally, I invest my time in mentoring students, serving as a Res/Hall fellow, and attending conferences.

What are the best and most challenging parts of your job?

The most exciting parts of my job are the most challenging ones. Teaching a big (+/-520 students) diverse class can be both challenging but yet exciting. This requires thinking about different ways to address the diverse needs, abilities, personalities and also learning styles in your classroom.

Being a young lecturer (started at age 23, now 25) is also the best part of my job. This makes me more accessible to students, their challenges and their day-to-day lingo. The challenge in being young is that some students may take that as an advantage but it rarely happens. Research is also the best but yet most challenging part of my job. It can be daunting at times but the results are fulfilling.

About your time at UCT:

How did your extra-curricular involvement while at UCT add value (transferable skills) to what you offer the world of work/your degree?

I spent plenty of my time outside the classroom at UCT tutoring through SHAWCO and also at my Res (Clarinus) where we served as volunteer tutors to other students. I continued to serve in such positions (Paid and unpaid) while I was doing my Master’s because I thoroughly enjoy helping others. Looking back, tutoring equipped me for starting the FLP at Ubuntu and also lecturing. That experience also counted in my favour when I was considered for both these positions. I thus advise students to invest in other activities outside the classroom, particularly if they are passionate about them. They never know how volunteering could help them become more socially aware and also help them choose a career. I discovered my passion for education through spending my time in Khayelitsha assisting learners in Mathematics.

To what extent did you make use of the Careers Service while you were at university?

I used the services provided by the career centre at UCT and WVU during my final years when I was searching for work opportunities. The most beneficial tool was the website that enabled you one to search for opportunities.

Advice to current students:

How best should students use their time at university to give themselves a competitive edge in your field?

In Statistics, I would advise one to keep an open mind and try to get experience in all specialties (both Applied and Theoretical) whether they are thinking of going into Industry or Academia. In addition to taking lots of Mathematics courses, I would also advise a student to take up a course that they would consider a “minor”. This could be in the Sciences (e.g. Biological Science) or in Commerce (e.g. Economics). Keeping your options as wide as possible while broadening your expertise as one never knows what field they will end up in. Statistics is an applied field thus getting exposure to fields that use Statistics early is important. 

In retrospect, what advice can you give to students about how to approach their own career development journeys?

Get a mentor!!! It is important to have a mentor. This could be a 3rd year student in your field, a Lecturer, or a Professional in your field. Don’t be scared to approach people you admire and ask them to mentor you. You have nothing to lose from asking. If you don’t have a mentor don’t shy away from asking for guidance from others. This will save you time and energy.

Do you have any advice for a new graduate entering the world of work?

‘Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it’~ Steve Jobs

‘Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition’ ~Steve Jobs

About living/working abroad:

What are your key lessons on being successful when living and/or working abroad?

Stay grounded and remember the main reason you're there. Enjoy your time outside academics and be open to learn. Lastly, don't forget to invest in your home country once established. This could be through skills or money.

How did you find/research the opportunity to study abroad?

Ubuntu Education Fund, the NGO that funded my studies at UCT saw potential in me and advised that I not only apply locally for postgraduate but also abroad.