Awareness and Gratitude

My daily commute to the lab is rarely eventful, it is exactly thirty minutes from my house to my lab bench. Thirty minutes spent listening to my daily dose of Freshlyground, scrolling through my Twitter feed, and planning my day. It is a routine I am accustomed to — a routine that brings me serenity and much-needed structure. You see, structure and routine are very important to me. I have every hour of my day planned out and I know what to and when to do it. But, today’s commute was different.

As the métro began its approach to my intended stop a thought popped into my mind, and I as I slowly walked up the stairs I followed this train of thought, spurred by what I had seen on my Twitter feed. My fellow SAYAS blogger Sipokazi Nyeleka wrote an amazing piece on women in science (here). My intended blog post for this month was on the importance of mentorships in graduates school. I began to think about the numerous women whose work has directly or indirectly influenced how I do science. It was at that moment, at that precise moment when I reached the top of the stairs that I realised the hurdles women face in science, and the amount of privilege my sex and gender has awarded me.

It is from this place of understanding that I began to write this blog post. Like most things in life, the more you think, the more you know. I became aware of the damage and hurt that patriarchy has inflicted upon women and the disenfranchised. Like my fellow blogger, I want to express my boundless gratitude to those amazing scientist who inspired and continue to inspire to be a better scientist. As men, we are made to feel that every space was for us to occupy. And it is this sense of entitlement that puts many men in a position where they are unable to understand the obstacles of many women face in academia — how could we possibly understand if have never experienced it? As with other minority groups, women have always had to work harder, speaker louder to simply have their voices heard. I am fortunate enough to be in an environment that fosters mutual respect and acceptance for all — women, LBGTI, physically challenged groups etc… In closing, I wish to see academia be filled with the spirit that our country has; the Rainbow Nation. It is only through welcoming diversity into the workspace that we can truly transform the academic landscape.


Do science like a girl!

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.