It’s a wrap!!!

Nothing beats the smell of fresh air especially as you reach the end of the tunnel; in this case, the end of the year. It’s been quite a ride and we ended this year’s long journey with our annual End-of-Year Postgraduate Seminar! The one event where the intellectual capacity of the department comes to share their research and open doors for further research.

The UFS Department of Zoology & Entomology postgraduate seminar is an event where postgraduate students present their research and findings with the rest of the department. It’s spread over two days of presentations all day long. This is where one gets to experience the heart and soul of zoology research. This year the research quality was world class. It really was an event to marvel at. The experience gave me a lot of ideas around my own research and what still can be done.

This month, though, I am just grateful and want to reflect on the rest of the year – it’s not been an easy one. So I only started my MSc this year and I chose the field of aquatic toxicology. When I started I thought it was going to be an easy one. Little did I know that it would take me out of my comfort zone and lead me into the space where the only thing I have is happiness. I got to explore the field of analytical chemistry through the interdisciplinary field of toxicology. I also derived some lessons from people that I work with…

  1. It’s okay not to be sure. This gives room for exploring, curiosity and knowledge. When I started I wanted to understand the relationship between carbon and bio-available nitrogen in water. This later changed to understanding the adsorption capabilities of the activated carbon and how it can be used in wastewater treatment. This later changed to understanding the nutrient dynamics of treated wastewater and the receiving streams. Shifting from topic to topic gave me an opportunity to read more and more and to identify several gaps within my field. If I were to do another degree, I am pretty sure I will know what to look at.
  2. Communication is key. Our lab has these weekly presentations where we give reports on our progress. One might say it’s too much. It might be for some people. But looking back at the seminar that just passed as well as the readiness and confidence of my peers during our individual presentations, the weekly stress was worth it. Science does not add value to society until it can be communicated. One of the ways we can do that is by presentations and sharing our research. Two of my colleagues published their data this year. I am currently working on two papers that I believe will be out in 2019.
  3. Your colleagues are not your enemies. One of the greatest values that the postgraduate journey adds to one’s life is professionalism. It also highlights the importance of collaboration and sharing data. Being able to go out there and become a world renowned scientist begins in the laboratory where you support each other as postgraduates and talk about your research and figure out how you can help each other.
  4. You will never have enough time. I felt that time was a relative construct throughout this year. By that I mean that it depends on who is conscious of it, who is using it and how one is using it. I have spent several days without proper sleep. I’ve spent nights in the office and in the lab. Mostly, I would still be behind on my work. I then, finally, found out what I was doing wrong: I spent those nights doing a 100 things and not finishing even one of them. Until I could have a proper schedule and daily goals, I kept wasting my time. Now I have learned and I know better.
  5. Getting a different perspective does help. We often get so wrapped up in what we do that we don’t consider people from other fields of research to be of any value to our research. My academic mentor, who is an ecologist by training, has added quite a lot to my research. Talking to him in trying to make sense of my writing or results has helped me to be better at what I do. If you really think about it, someone who is not an expert at what you do will demand that you explain your research as you would to a grade 4 learner. By doing this, everything becomes clearer even to you. So let it out. As long as you have audience, you will be better at what you do.

As we conclude 2018, I would like to leave this with you. When I was doing my first year 20180907_101256.jpgI had a pleasure of attending a leadership workshop by Prof Jonathan Jansen. He talked about a learner who was always failing and always being scolded for it. One day he came home with the highest mark he’d ever gotten in his life. His father was not happy at all. He asked his father why and his reply was, “There is always room for improvement”. So to postgraduates who feel like their supervisors are mean and unfair, there is always room for improvement. I have had to spoon feed myself these words this year. Any postgraduate student can attest: even when you feel like that paper or presentation or writing was your best, your supervisor will always find something wrong or something that needs to be changed. As much as it hurts, we do become better through that criticism of our best work. Let your 2019 be the year of improvement.


“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence”

~ Vince Lombardi

Get lost in the wilderness…

Depiction of a Ferris wheelPostgraduate studies at times feel like a Ferris wheel. One moment you you’re on top of the world, and at the bottom again the next. It really is a pure torture at times but a blast of fresh air in some very rare moments. But we survive…and get to tell our stories. It’s the most fascinating thing ever. How do we make it through? Well, I think you can ask any postgraduate student and find a different survival strategy. So this month I just want to let you in on my secret…I hope it won’t be too much!

From a very young age I have been a big fan of English literature. I felt like books were a friend and do what no other friend could: allow me to delve deep into my imagination and get lost in there. They could provide a certain level of comfort in that silence. So, when everything got too much at my level now, I decided to go back to that level of comfort and tranquility. I decided to read.

In the past seven months (the months that really got hectic for me), I have read five books and I’m busy with the sixth one now. I spoke to a friend about it and he told me how ridiculous the idea was. I mean, it really does sound absurd. Come to think of it, I have to go through mountains of scientific literature every day to try and make sense of my research and hopefully contribute to science innovation. At the end of the day, with failed experiments and scientific data that isn’t making sense, no sane person wants to open a book and try to decipher new messages for fun! Or maybe some of us do. Here is a list of what I have been reading:

Magna Carta of Exponentiality by Vusi Thembekwayo Some of the book titles that I have been busy reading

America the Beautiful by Ben Carson

Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki

Gifted Hands by Ben Carson

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

If you look at those books and what message they contain (for those who may have read the books of course), it’s like learning a third language, or getting lost in a wilderness. They teach an extra skill that is not contained in science research. From Ben’s discovering and living up to your full potential to Robert and Vusi’s financial literacy, the reads have definitely been worth it. Reading for no better reason than to read makes my mind whirl and lets me see the world in a wholly different way. And it doesn’t hurt to see what good writing looks like, outside a scientific article.

Postgraduate studies are a journey. In every journey there are lessons to be learned before reaching one’s destination. For me it’s not just been valuable lessons from colleagues and friends, but the wilderness that I love in the pieces of writing that I think were meant for my peace of mind!