Being a SAYAS blogger – a worthwhile experience for young scientists

Dear SAYAS blogger 2021, oh yes, you are among the four chosen ones! I would like to welcome you to the 2021 SAYAS blog team! Congratulations!!!” – This is one of the best emails I have received in the year 2021. Little did I know that it was the beginning of an interesting journey as a science blogger.

For many of us in the academic space, communication of our work and experiences is limited to the peers in our respective fields of study. We communicate through publication of research articles, and when we meet in conferences. We barely get the opportunity to discuss our work with a large audience outside academia, or indeed even outside of your specific field! In 2020, I was excited when I heard of a blogging competition by the South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS). The competition set out to identify young researchers, who will form part of a team to publish monthly blogs on the SAYAS blog website. Since 2016, this platform has served as a voice of scientists that helps to bridge the gap between science and society. I submitted my documents for the competition, and I was fortunately selected to be part of the 2021 blogging team.

Though it feels short-lived, this has been an interesting journey with a lot of valuable lessons. My first task was to write a blog to introduce myself and narrate my academic journey. This was not much of a challenge, as I often have to write bios when applying for various opportunities in research. However, the second blog we had so submit was a mammoth task. We had to create a vlog showing how a typical day of a researcher goes. This was particularly challenging because, as academics, we often never document what we get up to beyond the academic environment. With guidance from the blog editors, I filmed and published the vlog, which I shared on my Facebook and got an overwhelming response. This vlog remains the major highlight of my journey with SAYAS.

Subsequent to this, I published more blogs relating to:

Without the help of SAYAS blog editors, these blogs have not been a success, I value appreciate their assistance. The editors were helpful in guiding us on how to write in a manner that can be easily understood people outside academia. Blogging for SAYAS has been a great platform to improve written communication skills, and I really encourage other young scientist to participate in this or similar blogging platforms. This is my final blog on this platform, it has been wonderful sharing my thoughts and life experiences with you. Please do, however, look out for more posts from the 2022 SAYAS bloggers next year, as they share their various thoughts and experiences in science.

Taking on new challenges and exploring new activities like blogging is necessary for personal growth. However, it may come at a cost of consuming time for mainstream activities such as work and studies. In addition to blogging, I also took part in assisting at the University of Pretoria’s COVID-19 vaccination site. Although taking part in these new activities did consume a little bit of my time, it did not have a drastic effect on my work activities and PhD progress. With blogging, I could use my spare time during weekends to write monthly articles, and with vaccination, I used my off days to assist at the vaccination site. Therefore, both these activities perfectly fit into the typically busy journey towards obtaining my PhD. Looking in retrospect, 2021 has been a great year full of new experiences, and given the chance, I would do it all over again. I am looking forward to take on more interesting challenges in the coming years, and I recommend you to do so too.

A day in the life of a PhD student – lab work, student supervision, COVID-19 vaccination assistance

We currently live in an era of everchanging regulations and permissible daily activities due to the measures taken to curb the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this year, I shared a vlog detailing what my typical day as a PhD student looks like. That was quite early in the year, and it was less busy at that time. At the moment, I am busier than I was back then, and have decided to share some of my current daily activities in another vlog post, see video below:

The year has gotten quite busy, and my typical day consists of assisting/supervising students and lots of lab work as shown in the vlog above. In addition to the activities shown in the vlog, I sometimes assist with COVID-19 vaccinations at the University of Pretoria’s vaccination site. The University of Pretoria was the first academic institution in South Africa to set up a COVID-19 vaccination site. Staff members from the University and the general public can access the vaccination site. Students from our Faculty of Health Sciences volunteer to assist with administrative procedures during vaccinations, and I also volunteered to assist, especially when students are not available.

A photo of me working at the University of Pretoria’s COVID-19 vaccination site

At the vaccination site, I either conduct administrative work or help out at the site pharmacy, where we prepare the vaccines for injection. The vaccination site opens from Tuesday to Thursday, and I unfortunately filmed the vlog on a Friday, therefore, I did not get a chance to show the activities I conduct at the vaccination site. As a PhD student, we normally do not get to interact with the public, and so assisting at the vaccination site has honestly been a worthwhile experience, as we interact with individuals from different backgrounds. I hope that during the festive holidays, I will spend more time at the vaccination site, and share another vlog that details my activities at the site. I hope this current vlog does provide you with a glimpse into the life of a typical PhD student.