Prof Febe De Wet, an associate professor in the School of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering at the North-West University (NWU), has more than three decades of experience in her field, and her passion is the driving force in making a meaningful contribution to her industry.
She is working on several projects that deal with speech technology and language resources for native South African languages Her current project involves localising Mozilla Firefox's Common Voice platform for the 11 official languages recognised in the South African Constitution.
Besides researching the development of language technologies for South Africa's indigenous languages, she is also coordinating final-year projects, supervising vocational training and teaching digital signal processing.
Despite her hectic schedule, the married mother of three says finding the right work-life balance takes a team effort, with her whole family involved to find ways that are suitable for everyone.
"Our strategy is not cast in stone, since things change depending on where you are in life. With the birth of our first child, ideas that worked before had to be revisited. Similarly, arrangements made before my husband was promoted no longer worked.
"Also, I developed the ability to say no to survive. Our enthusiasm often tempts us to take on too many commitments at once, resulting in us becoming overcommitted and unable to do anything properly. This is something I try not to do anymore," she explains.
When asked what advice she would give to young aspiring researchers and academics, her passion for languages is palpable when she reflects on Shakespeare's words in Hamlet: "to thine own self be true". "I think being true to yourself is good advice for any researcher, and if it means being a leader, then do not hesitate to take up the challenge."
Despite working on interesting problems with like-minded people, Prof De Wet reflects on one of her proudest career moments: co-supervising Rynhardt Kruger, the first blind person ever awarded a PhD degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Stellenbosch University. "He is an amazing student with brilliant talent. It brings me great joy to know that he contributes to the advancement of our industry and makes a positive difference in other people's lives," she adds.
More about Prof De Wet
She completed her electronic engineering degree at Stellenbosch University, pursued a master's degree at the University of Pretoria, and earned a PhD from Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands in 2003.
Her research interests include statistical pattern and automatic speech recognition. Her interest is in educational applications of speech technology and developing speech recognition systems for children.
"I have always been fascinated by languages and linguistics. However, I also had a strong interest in mathematics and science, so when I found a field that combined these two interests, I knew I had found my niche. However, I am still more interested in human languages than computer languages," she says.