By Yonela Z. Njisane

30 April 2015
Who would have thought (besides God) that I would be here now? Certainly not I  – my  supervisor can attest to that! Or not… I guess he always knew I had it in me. Growing up in one of the small towns of South Africa, I never knew anything about academics or scientific research until a much later stage in my life. It’s possible that I only became fully aware that there was such a career path in the middle of my master’s degree. Imagine that!

Yonela-1While I was busy trying to get through my undergraduate degree, with plans to immediately get a job and elevate my family, someone was watching, noticing my potential and trying to recruit me for further studies. I never made it easy for Prof Voster Muchenje to convince me – it took a number of phone calls and him sweet-talking me about how it would be a waste of intelligence and capacity if I were to choose otherwise. Of course I was flattered! Getting a bursary (Red Meat Research and Development Trust) was enough sign that I should return for my Masters. This bursary meant that my parents did not have to take care of me any further. When I qualified for another bursary to pursue my PhD I really should have known that this is my path, that I belong here.

Yonela-2However, I was haunted for weeks afterwards, and my fear of failure had a powerful grip on me. “Who am I to get this far?” My imposter syndrome was powerful enough that I even declined the PhD offer! Then one day it clicked; there was nothing waiting for me anywhere else. If I let fear get the best of me, I was going to miss out on an exciting opportunity, and would have wasted my efforts until now. I went back in February 2013 and, thankfully, could still take up the position.

So, here I am now, in the third year of my PhD degree in Agriculture-Animal Science studying cattle behaviour in relation to animal welfare and beef quality (a global hot topic). Even though this decision opened a lot of opportunities for me, it has not been all sugary sweet. Being at a resource-limited university, in a small rural town, one faces a lot of challenges regarding research. However, the need to progress and making something of my life has taught me not to concentrate on the limitations I face, but rather to look at them as stepping stones to seeking solutions, instead of complaining.

Hmmm, I did say “No whining” right? Yup! So let’s talk about this interesting project of mine that is so dear to my heart (I am an Animal person, and don’t worry about me being involved in their slaughter – It’s nothing personal). I am still in the early stages of the actual experimental trial. With the assistance of three of my colleagues, I have been spending 15 hours a day out in the paddocks with a group of 40 steers (castrated bulls)… There is nothing that beats escaping the office: no emails, no visitors, no meetings, sometimes no phone network (I know what you’re thinking “Damn! No social networks too”- haha! It’s hard for youngsters), and zero office work (Shhh! don’t tell my mentor I said that).

Yonela-3Of course, there is also sunburn (temperatures close to 40°C), huge floppy hats, and statistical analyses… It’s worth it, though, I promise. Watch this space; maybe I can also lure you into the world of PhDs, cattle, and making it big in the challenging world of academia.


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