Dr Lisa Otto (30)

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2018 Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans


Dr Lisa Otto (30)

Senior researcher and lecturer, University of Johannesburg

Working on under-explored issues critical to domestic and global agendas is just part of a normal working day for Dr Lisa Otto. Just 30 and with a doctorate in political studies, Otto is a senior researcher and lecturer of maritime security. With a special interest in piracy and maritime crime, she forms part of a small body of researchers and scholars globally who work in this emerging and multi-disciplinary field; an even smaller portion of which are women, and smaller yet, women from Africa and the developing world.

“When I started my PhD, there wasn’t much research being done on piracy on Africa’s west coast. My study set out to examine the evolution for this phenomenon and led to the development of a dataset and typology of maritime crime there,” says Otto.

Her work took her to the University of Greenwich for visiting research, and later the International Maritime Organisation (the United Nations maritime agency) where she had observer status and made use of its resource centre.

“After completing my doctorate, I joined Coventry University where I taught on the world’s only master’s in maritime security, the perfect place to put my expertise to use.”

Having spent years abroad, Otto missed South Africa and wanted to put her unique skill set to work here. She returned in 2017 and joined the University of Johannesburg, where she now teaches at postgraduate level and continues her research.

“I am inspired by my teaching, my research and my students. It is a wonderful feeling to be able to help them on their academic and professional journeys, and fulfilling to think that in doing so, I have made even a small difference. It motivates me to keep doing the work I do, and to be as good an example as I can be. In everything I do, I strive to tread lightly, act with kindness, and to be of service.” — Linda Doke

Twitter: @drlisaotto