By Ruenda Loots

It’s that soul-searching, what-have-I-done-with-my-life time of the year. This year it feels more gut-wrenching than usual because 2015 was…unusual. A “not according to plan” year: not only for a struggling PhD student but for our universities, our country and the world. I still don’t have it all figured out but I have tried to extract some value from the chaos of this year.

feesmustfall
#FeesMustFall (Picture: Anthony Molyneaux/EWN).

 

Science in a time of load shedding

Remember earlier this year, when you would get up, brush your teeth and check the daily load shedding schedule? Although it’s a vague memory by now (and a false sense of ease), there was a time when our experimental planning was determined by Eskom. Yes, we complained when it happened but, like true South Africans, we ultimately made the best of the situation (“Power’s out – let’s go grab a beer!”). And, of course, we found ways of laughing during the disasters.

candlesIrregular power supply, slow internet, limited equipment, expensive orders and looooong delivery delays – practicing science in South Africa has its challenges. But this makes us a more resilient breed of researcher. Appreciate the challenges as opportunities to think outside the box (especially over a beer with your colleagues in the dark).

Privilege

Because when you think about the challenges of doing post-graduate research, you should remind yourself how lucky you are to experience those challenges. The #FeesMustFall protests this year have been a chilling demonstration that tertiary education remains an elusive privilege in our country.
As I reflect on my journey, I am humbled by and deeply grateful for the sacrifices of my family, each tax payer’s contribution to my bursaries and for supervisors who complete tedious funding forms. I am incredibly privileged to have studied at a world-class university under the guidance of renowned scientists.
The only way I know to show this gratitude is to be a mindful citizen who participates in real issues that affect those around me. I intend to share my knowledge, skills and resources as much as I can, for as long as I can, in this beautiful, evolving country.

When Life Happens

Because this is the country I want to raise my children in. When I decided to go take on this degree, I promised myself that I would not put my life on hold for the sake of research. So during my PhD I have worked part-time, taken other courses, married my best friend, took on grownup things like paying taxes, blogged about doing a PhD, adopted two puppies…and started a family.
As I write this last blog (and the last chapter of my thesis), I can feel my daughter’s heel kicking my ribs, like she’s reminding me of the two looming deadlines: finish the thesis & give birth. I’m not entirely sure which one is more painful, but I am grateful that I get to experience both of these life-changing opportunities.

Perspective

Like the bacterial biofilms I’ve been studying for five years, my research has taught me the importance of adapting to changing conditions and evolving to survive. Completing a thesis has taught me perseverance and patience. And parenthood is teaching me…every day.

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