Flavia Zita Francies

Doctor of Philosophy, 2018

Johannesburg, South Africa

Flavia Zita Francies

My journey with Ghent University started back in 2013. To my surprise, I was offered to visit Ghent as part of the VLIR-UOS programme as a Masters student. I landed up visiting the city in the heart of autumn, which is very different to the autumn in South Africa. Despite the cold and rainy weather, I fell in love with the city and the people.
Following my initial visit, the same programme afforded me the opportunity to travel to Ghent again in 2014. Given the success of this project, the University of the Witwatersrand was in favour of upgrading my MSc. to a PhD. My supervisor persuaded me to apply for the “Special Research Fund - Doctoral Scholarships for Candidates from Developing Countries”. To my delight, I was awarded the fellowship to embark on a joint PhD with Ghent University and the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. In Ghent, I undertook my research work at the Center for Medical Genetics. Since 2015 March, I have often travelled to Ghent to receive training, optimise laboratory techniques and screen patient samples. The work I performed in Ghent was extremely rewarding and it has added significant value to the scientific context in the South African population.

The time spent with my lab colleagues were delightful and fun! Everyone was very welcoming and made me feel at home. They constantly invited me to group get-togethers, team building and for some laughter, both in and out of the work setting. Despite my busy schedule in the lab, I managed to squeeze in lots of fun filled activities in Belgium with my local friends. I love Ghent - Its beauty, architecture, people and the to-die-for patisserie. I particularly enjoyed the romantic setting of Bruges and the horse-ridden carriages. The Atomium in Brussels was spectacular. I was, although, not brave enough to try a mussel’s meal, perhaps, during a next visit. A visit to the Atlantic Wall is necessary for any ardent admirer and follower of historical tales.
I was also favoured to share the amazing experience in this city with my loved ones from South Africa. My favourite memory about Ghent is a night out with close (local) friends drinking jenever! On a lighter note, I will definitely be back to eat the spaghetti bolognaise from Bavet! Apart for experiencing the city in all its glory, it was exhilarating to share stories from my hometown to my friends and colleagues in Ghent.


I am currently employed as a Research Scientist at the University of the Witwatersrand following the completion of a joint PhD. All my academic achievements were possible due to local (NRF) and International funding (VLIR and BOF). Outside of work, I am an ardent admirer of all things creative, particularly ballet, photography and patisserie. I am very fond of music and keen on committing to music lessons in the near future.