Leoni van der Vaart studies in South Africa under the supervision of Prof Ian Rothmann, director of the Optentia research focus area on the NWU’s campus in Vanderbijlpark, and in Belgium under Prof Hans de Witte and Prof Anjae van den Broeck at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.

 Leoni lives life on the go

Leoni van der Vaart’s inquisitiveness is taking her around the world.

This eagerness to learn is what motivates this young academic to keep on studying. She is currently working towards her sixth degree. In the process, new horizons are opening up for her – geographically and intellectually.


Leoni delivered a presentation from her PhD study, entitled: “The wellbeing and motivation of unemployed people” in Greece in June 2016. She then went to Belgium, where she and her promotors spent three months at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven) before she returned home at the end of December.


Always on the go

At the moment, Leoni is in Belgium for another three month's study. During this time, on 19 May, she was off to Ireland to deliver a presentation on her study about unemployment. She is expected to be back in South Africa in July, before heading off again to attend a workshop in Utrecht in the Netherlands.


This regular travelling goes with the territory as Leoni is part of a team of three students who are completing their PhDs between the NWU and the KU Leuven in Belgium. The project is funded by VLIRous, the inter-university council in the Flemish part of Belgium as a development effort to build capacity in the developing world.


Leoni must spend three months in Belgium every year and also take part in international conferences where she can build networks with other researchers who are investigating unemployment in their own countries.


Constantly digging deeper

Leoni says her motivation is her eagerness to learn and her passion to know and understand more about people.


“We always think that our challenges in South Africa are unique, but the more one talks to researchers from other parts of the world, the more one sees that the reactions of people in the same circumstances are very much the same,” says Leoni. She believes that although the unemployment figures in our country are much higher than in other countries, unemployment evokes the same reactions in people all over the world.


Leoni is a former learner of Sasolburg High School and an alumna of the NWU’s campus in Potchefstroom, where she obtained a BSc degree in nutrition and psychology. After completing her honours degree in psychology at the NWU’s campus in Vanderbijlpark, she was in practice for a year and then went on to obtain her honours degree (Vanderbijlpark) and later her master’s degree (Potchefstroom) in human resources management.


Leoni’s thirst for knowledge then led to a second master’s degree – this time in industrial psychology – at the NWU’s campus in Vanderbijlpark.


The first year of her PhD coincided with the last year of her second master’s degree, and the year after that she was already the supervisor of her first postgraduate student.


She says that her boyfriend of the past six years, Danie, supports her all the way in her career and studies.