Continuous professional development the key, says Dr Imke de Kock

“I was drawn to engineering because engineering is primarily focused on problem solving. If you are solving problems for a living, it means that you get to make an impact and contribute towards increasingly sustainable societies. This is something I value highly. And, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to develop impactful engineering solutions on a daily basis,” says Imke de Kock, lecturer and PhD graduate in the Department of Industrial Engineering.

Dr de Kock grew up in Bloemfontein, in the heart of the Free State, and chose Stellenbosch University for her engineering studies. She explains: “From a young age, I was always fascinated by the Western Cape – the beauty of the surroundings, the people, and of course the ocean. So that helped a lot with my decision. But, more importantly I knew that I wanted to build a foundation from which I can build a career – and an academically excellent institution like Stellenbosch University was from that perspective an obvious choice. There is also no denying that the fantastic student life at SU was part of my decision-making criteria.”

Industrial Engineering seems to be tailor-made for her, and she adds that “Industrial Engineering is a discipline that ‘ticked’ a number of boxes: analytical and creative thinking, complex problem solving, structured yet agile, transdisciplinary, and complementary to business and management sciences as well as social sciences.” And it is this interesting, vibrant and blended combinations of perspectives all ‘rolled up into one’ discipline that fascinates her.

Dr de Kock worked in industry for five years where she obtained international exposure in South Africa, the United Kingdom, Europe and South America. She says she has always felt drawn to an academic career and joined the Department of Industrial Engineering in 2015 as lecturer. She notes: “I enrolled for a doctoral degree because I believe in continuous professional development, there is truly no alternative. We have to learn, unlearn and relearn to keep up with the changing contexts and environments, and to find innovative solutions to the contemporary (grand) challenges that we face. Further than that, continuing with studies allows for increased ability and capability for innovative technological solutions to be developed – and this is important for me both from a personal development perspective, but also from a professional responsibility perspective: we have a lot of complex engineering problems to solve – and we need the knowledge and insight to do so. And, the theories, frameworks and understanding often times do not yet exist of how we could solve these contemporary challenges – and therefore we need our engineers to, on a continuous basis, find new and alternative constructs and perspectives from which we may address the societal challenges that we face.”

Her PhD topic was Managing technology within the context of sustainability transitions: An integrated framework. She jokingly says: “I think my topic chose me”, but then adds: “Or rather it was a whole set of circumstances that came into play: aligned interests, and a good dose of luck! My supervisor, Prof Alan Brent, is one of the ‘best in the business’, and it was truly an honour and privilege to work with such a distinguished professional, academic and engineer. Even though our interests are to a large extent aligned, we also differ significantly – and these converging yet complementary perspectives kept things interesting and allowed for a richness in my PhD that would perhaps not have realised otherwise.”

Regarding her topic, she explains briefly: “The need to consider the management of technology within the context of sustainability transitions is evident. However, the required integration between sustainability transitions and technology management is not adequately understood in practice, nor addressed in literature. The research aim was thus twofold: to provide a premise for the integration between technology management and sustainability transitions, and to provide the basis for the definition and identification of technology management considerations within the context of sustainability transitions. The developed ITMST-framework and ITMST-methodology addressed the stated aim and were validated through the application thereof to the electricity transition of South Africa.”

Carrying out research and doing teaching in 2020 under the unusual circumstances brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic was certainly not easy. On this, Dr de Kock remarks: “It was challenging, but we were up for the challenge. I definitely think my strengths lie in face-to-face discussions of engineering problems and solutions, and there is a richness that was lost through online teaching, consulting and engagements. However, given the extremities of the situation brought about by the pandemic, I do believe that we ‘kept the well-oiled machine running’.”

And her plans for the future? She concludes: “I would like to continue what I am doing, namely to develop ever increasingly impactful engineering solutions in order to identify, understand and solve complex problems, and contribute towards sustainable societies.”


Dr Imke de Kock in Amsterdam (left) and Venice (right).