Nothing like your first time!

Most things that you do for the first time are scary. The fear comes from not knowing if you’re doing the right thing; whether you will to meet your own expectations — and everybody else’s! It becomes even scarier if you believe first expectations will last.

Every researcher reaches a point where they have to share their findings for the first time, share with the world what they found and what their conclusions were. For postgraduate students that may come in the form of a dissertation or thesis. But if your research is ready for the real test, you submit to a peer reviewed journal, where the rest of the world can see what you’ve done and judge it.

For me that’s where the real fear starts, having to submit your hard work to an editor and reviewers to scrutinize and tear it all apart. I’ve heard that eyes are windows to the soul, but I believe that writing is the window to the soul. When you have passion for your work, you can’t help but pour your heart and soul into writing — so the thought of someone just crushing that work is no different from someone pulling out your heart and soul.

And even for that horrifying experience, there is a first time…

You have to put yourself out there and have faith in your work, believing that no editor will have your soul for lunch (chuckles).

So… since my previous blog post, what have I achieved? Well, I have managed to complete and submit my MSc dissertation. That’s pretty cool, right? This is one milestone that I am happy and proud to have achieved.

My next mountain to climb is writing a manuscript and submitting it to a peer-reviewed journal.

I’ve never written a manuscript before from scratch, although I have co-authored some. So I do consider this manuscript as my first. To tell you the truth, I have mixed emotions about it, I’m excited that finally I’ll get to share my work but at the same time, I’m scared that it might get rejected. But if you never try then you’ll never know.

So where do I start? Summarizing your 100 page MSc Dissertation into an eight page manuscript is not a simple task! One thing Prof Muchenje normally says is, “Choose a few articles that are similar to your work and use them as your guide”. I’ve found this to be helpful because although you want your work to be novel, it still needs to conform to the laws of scientific writing. So, I went with this approach, and first identified the journal to which I want to submit. This has helped me with the formatting and style.

In the effort to compress my dissertation, the literature review was the first to go, followed by a big chunk of the introduction. The next step was to merge both chapter 3 and 4 — this wasn’t as easy as I’d imagined. Chapter 3 looked at the effect of Moringa oleifera whole seed meal on layer performance and egg quality. Chapter 4 looked at the effect of Moringa oleifera whole seed on fatty acid profile, shelf life and health indices of eggs.

The initial plan was to split these two chapters into different manuscripts but it seems better to merge the two and create one strong manuscript as opposed to having two manuscripts that don’t have much substance. The problem however, is trying to create a single and concise and robust introduction for these two different chapters without leaving out the background and rational of running this study. This is where the template article comes into play. A number of articles have managed to merge these two ideas, so I should have this little conundrum solved in no time.

For me, the template article not only helped me with the shrinking of the document but also the table and figure formatting. Sometimes you hear a supervisor asking, “Where is the science?” Seeing how others visualize results also helps me to show the science better.

So far I have made progress with the manuscript and hopefully I can gather enough courage to send it to my supervisor. Let’s hope the cuts don’t bleed too much.

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.