Oprah Winfrey revolutionized talk show television, Indra Nooi runs the world’s second biggest beverage company, and who can forget the humanitarian who changed the world by touching the life of one person at a time, Mother Teresa. What is interesting is that all these women changed the world by simply pursuing their dreams and passions, much like the women that surround me on a daily basis. As I reflect on how their individual personalities are impacting my life I am reminded that, “There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.” For us younger women in science, it is vital to see role models that don’t shrink away from who they are, but live fully, passionately, themselves. Even if we can’t see ourselves in each and every one of them…

The purist

In my opinion these kind of people are too kind to be scientists. But then again, that could be exactly what makes them good at what they do. I have such a purist in my life. She is very motherly and yet very scientific and precise, is well informed on a number of issues and yet is willing to learn something new every day — including a new language. Under her mentorship you are definitely going to learn two things: one of them being research principles (this is when you learn what a purist she really is) and the other is that you must think beyond what you thought was limiting or challenging you. The old saying “think out of the box” comes to life and you grow holistically as a researcher with an appreciation of authenticity. Dr. E. Pieterse, thank you for being true to science and sharing your principles with me.

The smile keeper

They are the shoulders to cry on about anything, including any data entry that doesn’t make sense. They are never too busy to listen. I have such a Mother Teresa in my life: She is an ever present help and carries with her an impeccable sense of humour and wit, which leaves you wanting more of her conversation. She will speak science mostly, even her jokes are scientific, like talking about how her “free radicals have risen” when she is stressed (laughs). She is subtle yet impactful in her scientific endeavours.  One thing is sure — when you spend time with her, you automatically feel like the world is a better place and you can get through any challenge if you remember to smile along the way. Thuthuzelwa Stempa “Thuthu,” the research world needs more of you.

The lioness

A work ethic like no other, her determination is infectious and makes you feel like a lioness yourself. She is fearless in the pursuit of her dreams and the future she envisions for herself as a researcher and she strives for excellence.  It’s interesting though that she does not forget to bring her fashion sense to the research front. Even with her style she depicts her mood for the week or a particular day. Sometimes you can tell by the colour combinations of her outfits that we are on work or survival mode this week. She is hard on herself because she is a perfectionist and will be hard on those who show the capacity to excel. She does not stick around for mediocracy. Zimkhita Soji and Dr Njisane, you are both an inspiration.

Research is not a path one can survive on their own. The strengths of those that surround you are sometimes all you need to pick yourself up and continue your journey to the finish line. If the people around me — particularly women in science — are able to inspire me to pursue goals, surely as a collective we can run the world.

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