Epilogés

First and foremost, I would like to thank the South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS) along with the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) for giving me the opportunity to share my research and my life story for the past year with the connected world. It has been a journey filled with fun, learning and a lot of self-actualisation.

It’s great for a young researcher such as myself to be exposed to initiatives that improve their writing as well as their communication skills – these skills come in very handy when communicating research findings or applying for funding. I would, without a shadow of a doubt, encourage people to apply for such programs and be in the lookout for more programs run by SAYAS. Often we don’t apply for competitions or grant funding opportunities because we are scared to put ourselves out there, to be at the mercy of other reviewers or editors. Being one of the 2016 SAYAS bloggers has trained me to be more open to other people’s opinions, as well as confidently communicate those opinions without fear or prejudice.

One of the best stories that I’ve been privileged enough to share on this platform was when I got an email from Prof Muchenje saying that the Senate had approved my dissertation and that I would be graduating for my MSc in Poultry Nutrition, next year in May. That’s the happiest I’ve been in quite some time. …however, there is no rest for the wicked. Such a triumph has left me wondering on what I should focus on next year. Having worked so hard this past year has given me a few options for next year. “Epilogés” is a Greek word that means options. Sometimes we have all these options and then struggle to choose! What if I choose the wrong option???

As things stand, I have 3 options for 2017: 1. Register for my PhD full time, 2. Go to work at DSM Nutritional Products as an Intern or, 3. Pursue both my PhD part time and also work as an intern to get some industry work experience. All these options (like most) have their own virtues and vices.

The first option is registering for my PhD full time at the University of Fort Hare. I feel like this is the best option but it competes with the sense of obligation that I have towards my family. I have to contribute towards the livelihood of my siblings and parents but this gets hard if I’m cooped up in a poultry house raising chickens and writing review articles. You can read more about this on my first blog. The benefit of this option is that I can do my PhD in 3 years; I can also benefit funding wise because full-time students tend to get better bursaries than part-time candidates.

The second option is working at any company that will be lucky enough to get me (Chuckles). The major benefit of this option is my monthly salary, which will improve my own socio-economic status and that of my family. I can also start working at a young age; this means that I can have more experience and progress through the food chain whilst I’m still young, as opposed to doing my PhD and going into the work force at an older age. Most people will say that you can always go back to school when you are financially capable to support yourself and your family. The problem is that the longer you stay away from varsity, the harder it becomes to get back. Once money starts to come in, the need to have a PhD decreases because a lot of people believe that post graduate degrees help them to get promotions and also guarantees a higher paycheck.

The last option would be to be a jack of all trades but a master of nothing (Laughing out Loud). On a serious note though, the third option is to pursue both a career in industry and to also do my PhD simultaneously. Many people fall for this option but this option for me has the most disadvantages. It sounds nice: you benefit from gaining work experience, a salary, AND a doctorate at the same time, as well as using your work experience to develop a novel PhD concept. But you probably won’t get a bursary while working full-time. Also, you have to be realistic about time and energy that I can devote to this option. Starting a new job is one of the most stressful things in life – and so is a PhD!

…something will have to give. And that will probably be my PhD. Most likely, I will start with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, but seeing it all the way through? Maintaining a ridiculous pace, filled with work, experiments, and writing, for 3-5 years???

The best thing to do would be to write all those down with the different options and chose the most likely to stress you less.

I’m just thankful that I still have a little time before I can decide. And luckily DSM Nutritional Products assists its employees to study towards their academic aspirations. So funding might not be a problem entirely, until I need funds to buy cholesterol assays, send samples for fatty acid and histology analysis. Perhaps a Good Samaritan will take pity on me and fund my PhD (winx), whilst allowing me to work and develop my animal science career as well.

Whatever option I choose, I have faith that it will be the best.

Standing on the edge of a precipice

I will end this year as I began it, with the dream of a wily, confident and adventurous eight year old. I have been one of the fortunate ones. I have always known what I wanted to do for a living. It was not continuously romantic (certainly didn’t feel that way while dissecting a human brain) but it was always there and it was comforting. I, unlike like some others, never found it predictable or boring but felt bolstered by the fact that I was moving in the right direction. But now, placed under extreme stress of being the only person in the world working on a particular project, significant personal changes and new responsibility, I have the current feeling that my clearly defined path has become a bushy wilderness- one out of which a tiger could leap out and take me.

calving-hobbes

I’m sure that this is a common feeling for people approaching the milestone of 30 and probably has more to do with the feeling of mortality and less to do with the piling up of experiments you will never complete. Nevertheless, with 3 years to go to the big 3-0, I am acutely aware that I have particular comforts that I take for granted. As I close in on my final PhD year, I can feel the sense of loss of my eternal student status. I will now have to get a real job. What I do is challenging and often down right impossible but I have some very real perks. Starting the work day really whenever I feel I need to is a blessing. I have also realised, with a surmountable sadness, that at some point I will have to leave my wonderful lab – my scientific home for the last 5 years and 3 degrees. There is an incredible comfort in knowing where the pipettes or the hidden stash of reagents are. Having worked in the States for a couple of months, returning to my lab is nothing short of an epic homecoming.

Ultimately, at our core, scientists are creatures of habit. We need things just so – so that we can trace back to the point of a potential mistake. One needs to be in a routine so that methodically we can work out if that discovery was real or just a slip of the pipette. Life is a series of habits, and now I must shortly break them. The thought horrifies me. Looking forward, I’m sure there is a great amount of exciting new challenges to be had. Really though, all it feels like is a distant haze that is just beyond the steep precipice of doom that has recently presented itself. I have emerged from 2016, a year fraught with its own unique challenges (a Trump, a Brexit, a Zuma, a Gupta or 2) and I can’t see a fully cleared path.december-handover Instead, I catch glimpses of it out of the corner of my eye.

But, ever the optimist, I will keep looking until one reveals itself to me. I might need to use a panga to clear my own path, but this uncertainty too shall pass. It may pass like a kidney stone; but it will pass. Uncertainty leaves many different doors open and quite excitingly, in science as in life, we can find ourselves on quite a different journey than what we started out on. Openness to a swift change in direction is what leads us to the best discoveries. Life after a PhD is as confusing as life during one, but is just where stuff  gets good. It’s going to be a hell of a journey. Best grab my panga.