Are you brave enough to reach for the stars?

My full name is Sinenhlanhla Precious Sikhosana, born in Harding south coast of KwaZulu-Natal. My family consists of my grandmother, mother, three siblings, and many cousins. My inquisitive mind and passion for problem-solving led me to the science field at a very young age. However, it was only in my matric year (when I attended the Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit (ACRU) career week at UKZN) that I was exposed to career opportunities in astrophysics. Postgraduate students passionately shared their research and how they go about solving the mysteries of the universe; I was instantly sold.

Astro-Lady
Astro-lady

I am currently studying towards a PhD in Applied Mathematics with a research focus in Astrophysics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. My research involves understanding high-energy particle physics on the largest gravitationally bound objects in the universe (galaxy clusters).

My academic journey, like any other, has been filled with a lot of obstacles but also equally numerous triumphs. In my undergraduate years, I obtained the SKA Africa (South African Radio Astronomy Observatory) scholarship and the top 10 African females award at the college for 3 years. I have also received numerous awards in my postgrad, with the 2019 highlights being; receiving the L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women In Science research grant and attending the 69th Nobel Laureate Meeting at Lindau.

With all these achievements one would think I would be very confident in my abilities, but that was not the case. Due to the unfamiliar surroundings and lack of representations, I suffered from the ‘imposter syndrome’, the feeling of not belonging. I had to fight hard mentally to convince myself that yes, I am intelligent enough and I belong. The advantage is that now I get to pave the way for younger aspiring female scientist, to make their journey less uphill than mine was.

Now that the formalities are out of the way, let me let you in on what fuels my passion. I believe that without educational knowledge one can never experience true liberation. It is because of this belief that I spend most of my time outside of academia participating in educational outreach programmes. I mainly give talks at high schools and career exhibitions. I do this to encourage students to pursue tertiary studies and to also make them aware that science no longer has the face it used to have centuries ago. One does not need to be a male with crazy hair and a lab coat to do science. When I do get the opportunity to speak to young girls, I make it a point to be as feminine and bubbly as I can be (be myself basically), because I want to show them that science is for them and that science is fun and trendy too!

OutreachWhen I finally attain that ‘Dr’ tittle, I would like to establish a mentorship programme that guides young girls that are science enthusiasts. I have also personally encountered that no matter how brilliant your science is unless communicated effectively, it will never make a great impact. This led me to the idea of technical science writing retreats for postgrad students; it is a dream I intend to fulfil in the near future.

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