Family adds to long line of doctorates

Alberta with her parents Ronel and Gideon

Alberta with her parents Ronel and Gideon

Published Mar 31, 2024


Coming from a bloodline of academic intellectuals, it was only a matter of time before Alberta (Berte) van der Watt of Paul Roux in the Eastern Free State would scale the heights of academic success. She obtained her doctorate in Psychiatry at Stellenbosch University's (SU) March graduation.

What makes her achievement special is that it brings the Van der Watt family's crop of doctorates to four – not something one encounters every day.

Both her parents, Gideon and Ronél, and her sister, Lize-Marié, have PhDs – Gideon in theology, Ronél in psychology and Lize-Marié in history. They are also all Matie alumni.

Ronél studied undergraduate at SU, but obtained her doctorate at the University of the Free State.

“I feel proud to be able to hold my family's name high. I also realise how incredibly blessed and privileged I was (and still am) to have been able to study,” said Van der Watt, who is based at SU's Department of Psychiatry.

“I always jokingly referred to the ‘Van der Watt PhD disease' and said I wasn't going to contract it, but well, here we are.”

Van der Watt's parents say they are very proud of their daughter's achievement, especially her hard work and perseverance.

They also greatly appreciate her supervisors and the Department of Psychiatry for the opportunities they created for her.

Van der Watt said she was never under any pressure to also obtain a doctorate like the rest of her family.

“I've been blessed with wonderful parents who allowed me to find my own path, do my own thing. They were always very supportive.

“My family have been incredibly supportive of me, giving me advice on how to break the back of the work,

how to deal with the politics of academia, and how to keep praying.”

Van der Watt said her path to academia wasn't exactly straight forward.

“I actually wanted to be a haute couture designer and first did a threeyear diploma (and one year internship) in fashion design, as well as short courses and diplomas in event and conference management, among others. Things didn't work out the way I had planned so I decided to go to university.

“After obtaining my Master's degree in psychology, I left academia and ventured into project and construction management. But the academic bug bit again and I became the research assistant to Professor Soraya Seedat at our Department of Psychiatry, and the rest is history.”

In her research, Van der Watt looked at the emotional effects (specifically post-traumatic stress disorder) of crumbling love relationships on emerging adults. Emerging adults are 18–25 years old.

Although she has already reached the pinnacle of academic success, Van der Watt wants to do another Master's degree in clinical psychology and also combine clinical work and research.

“I desperately want to develop a trauma-attachment-oriented intervention for emerging adults,” she said.

“I’m thinking specifically of a combination of long-term exposure therapy and rupture repair. For this, I need further education, especially in therapy.”

Van der Watt describes herself as an open book. “My face has never been able to hide anything either.” She says people are sometimes surprised when they hear she likes the German heavy metal band Rammstein.

Apart from her involvement in research projects in the Department of Psychiatry, Van der Watt is also a freelance editor.

When she has time for a break, Van der Watt goes to the gym, plays tennis or visits wine farms. She also enjoys board games, reading and watching television series.

Weekend Argus