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!

A week off…

So, I have to do analysis for pesticides and heavy metal analysis in water for my Master’s project. Unfortunately, we don’t have the equipment for that in our lab: I had to find a lab that does. Luckily enough, I discovered the University of Johannesburg’s Department

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The Analytical & Environmental Chemistry laboratory, UJ.

of Applied Chemistry, which heads up the Analytical & Environmental Chemistry Research laboratory. This research visit was truly a week off from my very typical and everyday academic life.

On my first day I joined the members of the research group in their preparatory presentations for an upcoming seminar. I always thought my research was isolated from the realm of the truth and practicality. Listening and watching different students at Masters and PhD level presenting their research on wastewater was really an awakening for me. If I wasn’t certain before, now I am sure that ecotox could become my life! A couple of studies caught my attention but I don’t want to give too much away…

 

One student was synthesizing a nano-composite to adsorb lead in the acid mine drainage. Another studied the desalination of seawater using a specific nano-composite, while somebody else tried to work out how to remove personal care products from water. As the students were presenting this work, in my mind I kept asking myself why I didn’t know about this stuff sooner. On the other hand, I was grateful I experienced this at this level of my study when I am still trying to find what I want to do for my next postgraduate program.

The second day was lab work. From learning to dilute concentrations and processes of preparing analysis reagents, it was a roller-coaster. I felt like a sponge – a rather happy sponge! The processes weren’t necessarily easy but it all just clicked. In a chemistry lab of all places! Without any further elaboration, let me just say I felt at home.

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Me, doing pesticide extraction using the solid-phase extraction method

One thing that stood out for me, apart from working with the amazing Prof Nomngongo and her students, was that the experience was the culmination of what I’ve been saying from the start. Through collaboration, interdisciplinarity and open-mindedness in research… this is how we build our research capacity in Africa. This is how we make science fun.