Light @ the end of the tunnel!

In order to really understand the intensity of the light, I would have to paint you a portrait of where I have been, to where I am currently with regards  to my MSc research.  This blog entry reminds me a lot of a song that I like to sing whenever I am in a good mood; “I can see clearly now the rain is gone, I can see all the obstacles in my way. Here is the rainbow I have been waiting for, it’s going to be a bright, bright, sun-shiny day”. Well in my case, it’s going to be a bright, bright tunnel end. For the last two and a half years, I have been on a long, often dark journey.



If that journey was to have a sound track, I think it would be “Thunderstruck by AC/DC”.  My journey has had a lot of ups and downs that I would say were filled primarily with downs than ups. Normally, I enjoy going to theme parks for the roller coaster ride but this roller coaster which is my MSc research was different. My past blogs have been mostly about all the things that I have been through and how hard I’ve had to work and struggle just to get my trials going.

This blog is a little bit different, this blog is about nearing the end of my MSc degree, the end of the dark tunnel with a bright light at the end. It’s about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel as my bright future, instead of a train coming to knock all my hard work off the rails, as well as using support structures in your life as a coping mechanism.

Keep your head up. Keep fighting. There is always light at the end of the tunnel, and your struggles only make you better in the end

The obstacle that has been standing in my way from submitting my dissertation was the fatty acid profile (egg yolk) samples that I had sent to the Agricultural Research Council Lab for profiling. I have to sincerely thank them for their quick turn over time because fatty acid profile analysis normally takes forever and a day. To be honest, my impatient side was starting to get the better of me. At times, the desire to succeed does force us to make irrational decisions that we later regret in life, all in the name of progress. Thank God it never came to that though (Chuckles). So I received the data a few weeks back and since then, I have managed to put the data on Excel, run it using the SAS Procedure, tabulated and finally discussed the obtained results.

The results were not what I originally hypothesised in my proposal. There is no doubt chemically, that Moringa oleifera seeds are exceptional but the results obtained were not at all positive. Moringa oleifera seed meal in my study decreased feed intake and body weights of chickens and did not improve the omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids in egg yolks. This was a horribly negative result from my perspective.

But was “negative” really negative?

I was once invited by Caradee Wright to speak at one of her “High School Spaza Science Club” and on our way there, we ended up talking about cancer research. I felt that it was dangerous conducting research as a post graduate on Cancer and other hard to treat diseases because the inability to find a cure would mean your research would’ve failed to produce positive results. She said “Any result in research is a positive result”. At first I was a little puzzled but later it made sense. My “negative” results may not be what i had hypothesised but they were still positive. Having those results meant that no one will ever research this again because now information is available in literature. In the future, the next time a researcher thinks of using these seeds in layers, they will be able to find information (my study!) advising them against that.

Through the dark times in my life, I have always been lucky to have coping mechanisms that assisted me in navigating my way through the dark tunnels of life. Having important individuals travelling with you through the dark times of your life is one of the coping mechanisms. My supervisors, my friends, my family and my girl friend have always been part of that support structure. Any great person will tell you that there are times in life where you doubt yourself, times when you feel like giving up would be easier than to continue.Having such people in your life is awesome, people who will remind you of your talent, your abilities and why you decided to embark on that journey in the first place.

So what’s the bottom line? Well the bottom line is that you will struggle in life, your life

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will have ups and downs, maybe more downs than ups and you will virtually travel under pitch black tunnels but if you have a rigid support structure and also use all the acquired knowledge and assistance from all the troubles that you faced to navigate those dark tunnels then you will be fine. It will be scary at first but just like me, your tunnel will have a light at the end if you work hard and believe in yourself in whatever you do.

Life after data collection

So do you believe in life after death?

Awkward way to start a blog, right?  I know! If you do, then I’m sure you’ll paint me a portrait of how it’s better than your current life. Where there will be no guns, no wars and hopefully no sugar tax. I guess if you want to get out of this life alive, there’s always a need to believe in something bigger and better than rising petrol prices and the depreciation of the Rand. So why do I ask? Well, because that’s exactly how I felt about my research. If you’ve read my last blog entry, you’ll know that my Master’s journey has been nothing short of novel drama. To keep myself sane during that period, I just imagined a time after data collection where I would just analyse my data, start writing up and submit after a week. For the most part, that dream kept me going — but imagination and reality are two different things.

When things don’t go your way through the practical phase of your MSc or PhD, you imagine your last day of data collection. You daydream about how nice it will be and how you’ll virtually have your qualification in your hand.

It’s only when you actually get all that data when reality really hits you like a one ton truck. When you fill in the last digit on your diary, you breathe a sigh of relief. Happy, and reminiscing about all the days when you thought your experimental diets would run out, or when load shedding nearly killed your day old chicks; surely nothing can be worse than that. It is only when you open your Excel sheet that you realise that a new chapter in your Masters tale is about to start: your “life after data collection” chapter. Having to punch in data acquired over a seven week period is no child’s play, especially if the data that you have is for more than 10 dependent variables.

My data capturing was kind of fun, I mean I had been looking for this data for 2 years and finally I had found it. I felt like I owed it to the Almighty to push on with a smile on my face. The crazy part is that as each digit left my diary and into the excel sheet, so did my smile. By the time I finished entering my data I was tired, exhausted and so drained.

With all the data sorted, the next step was data analysis. I think this is the part most students dread. Having to sort your data is one thing, but knowing what it all mean is a challenge for most. At what level are you testing? What does the output mean? How do you express this data? I bet these questions make most postgrad students wish they had paid more attention to their Biometry lectures.

Fortunately, at University of Fort Hare, we are blessed with minds that eat data analysis for breakfast, lunch and supper. Who knew having to wake up early everyday to attend the experimental design and data analysis class would help? (Hahahaha I hope my supervisors won’t be reading this.) The thing about analysis programs, is that if you can’t speak their language then you are doomed, if you can’t tell it what you want It to do then you’re better off sleeping in your room. For me, the program was fine … the problem was with the user (me). I had an idea of what I wanted to do and how I wanted to express the data but the way I’d analysed my data didn’t allow me to. I was busy running up walls and pulling out my non-existent hair!

That was till I decide to speak to my varsity friends and mentor, Thuthuzelwa Stempa, Xola Nduku, Soji Zimkitha and Lizwel Mapfumo. Having to brainstorm my intended outcomes and data expression made an HUGE difference.

So here I am, sitting at the lab and finishing up my graphs and writing up, imagining myself walking up to collect my second degree and making my family proud. I hope that this time my imagination won’t be too far off.

So what did I learn? Life’s filled with challenges, and the very same sentiments echo through your research life. Be it admin, data collection, data analysis or writing up. Your life after data collection might be better than mine or worse, but the moral of the blog as always is about grinding it out, spin those numbers to letters and making sure you graduate in time.