Double PhD celebration for siblings

[Article by Corporate Communications]

It was a double celebration for siblings Clarice and Manisha du Plessis, who both graduated with PhDs during Stellenbosch University’s (SU) April graduation series.

Clarice (27), was awarded a PhD in Mechanical Engineering and Manisha (25), a PhD in Science, specifically in Physiological Sciences. The siblings are the first in their family to be awarded a PhD qualification and they graduated a day apart.

The sisters, who grew up and attended high school in Robertson in the Western Cape, spent many study sessions together while sharing an apartment for most of their university years.

“It is exciting to be graduating, especially considering all the uncertainty that came with the Covid-19 pandemic. I am delighted to have been able to finish on time and happy to be graduating with my sister. It is wonderful that it has turned out like this,” Clarice said.

According to her, they were both very driven academically from a young age. “Our parents never put any pressure on us. They created an environment where we were made to believe that our success was ours alone, not theirs. This really enabled us to do it for ourselves.”

Manisha added: “They have always been very invested in what we have done, keeping up to date with our work and reading all the publications.”
She said their parents are proud of their achievements.

Engineer at heart

Clarice looked at the main mechanisms of axial fan noise in her PhD thesis with the title “Scaling of Axial Fan Noise”.

The main goal of her research was to investigate the effect of a change in fan diameter on the generated far-field noise. This was done by predicting the main mechanisms of axial fan noise (trailing edge, tip vortex formation and turbulence ingestion noise), to represent the noise generated by a full fan under various operating conditions.

Clarice has her sights set on working abroad. “I am very interested in cars in general. I have always had the goal to end up working in a company dealing with aerodynamics.

“I am looking at the Netherlands as there are several innovative companies that interest me. I want to apply my skills in fluid dynamics and aeroacoustics in a field involved with cars and/or green energy. That’s why I’d love to work on the Lightyear One solar electric vehicle or something similar. I am keeping my options open until I find the perfect job.”

Cancer research

Manisha, whose research focus is breast cancer, is currently a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Physiological Sciences where she intends to remain for the time being.

The title of her PhD thesis was “Molecular regulation of autophagy and metastasis in breast cancer: new insights into the role of serum amyloid A”. Her research results suggest that the acute-phase protein serum amyloid A (SAA), which is mainly produced by hepatocytes (the chief functional cells of the liver during an inflammatory response or infection), plays an important role in breast cancer progression.

“I am excited about our new projects in the Department, which include looking at improving the outcomes for cancer patients.

“We will look at individual patients’ cancer cells to determine the best treatment options for them and will see if they have current treatment resistance to first-line therapy. We will be working on a personalised medicine approach for cancer patients.

“We are also currently working with the Water Institute at SU to look at the effect of wastewater on breast cancer cells and on non-malignant breast tissue.”

Asked about her long-term goals, Manisha said: “I would like to stay in cancer research for the next few years. I really enjoy the research field and laboratory work. Our goal is to develop cancer-testing protocols in the coming year or two that will improve cancer therapy and patient outcomes. After that, I am considering moving abroad while continuing breast cancer research.”

Photograph: Manisha and Clarice du Plessis on graduation day.

Photo:  Stefan Els