Life after data collection

So do you believe in life after death?

Awkward way to start a blog, right?  I know! If you do, then I’m sure you’ll paint me a portrait of how it’s better than your current life. Where there will be no guns, no wars and hopefully no sugar tax. I guess if you want to get out of this life alive, there’s always a need to believe in something bigger and better than rising petrol prices and the depreciation of the Rand. So why do I ask? Well, because that’s exactly how I felt about my research. If you’ve read my last blog entry, you’ll know that my Master’s journey has been nothing short of novel drama. To keep myself sane during that period, I just imagined a time after data collection where I would just analyse my data, start writing up and submit after a week. For the most part, that dream kept me going — but imagination and reality are two different things.

When things don’t go your way through the practical phase of your MSc or PhD, you imagine your last day of data collection. You daydream about how nice it will be and how you’ll virtually have your qualification in your hand.

It’s only when you actually get all that data when reality really hits you like a one ton truck. When you fill in the last digit on your diary, you breathe a sigh of relief. Happy, and reminiscing about all the days when you thought your experimental diets would run out, or when load shedding nearly killed your day old chicks; surely nothing can be worse than that. It is only when you open your Excel sheet that you realise that a new chapter in your Masters tale is about to start: your “life after data collection” chapter. Having to punch in data acquired over a seven week period is no child’s play, especially if the data that you have is for more than 10 dependent variables.

My data capturing was kind of fun, I mean I had been looking for this data for 2 years and finally I had found it. I felt like I owed it to the Almighty to push on with a smile on my face. The crazy part is that as each digit left my diary and into the excel sheet, so did my smile. By the time I finished entering my data I was tired, exhausted and so drained.

With all the data sorted, the next step was data analysis. I think this is the part most students dread. Having to sort your data is one thing, but knowing what it all mean is a challenge for most. At what level are you testing? What does the output mean? How do you express this data? I bet these questions make most postgrad students wish they had paid more attention to their Biometry lectures.

Fortunately, at University of Fort Hare, we are blessed with minds that eat data analysis for breakfast, lunch and supper. Who knew having to wake up early everyday to attend the experimental design and data analysis class would help? (Hahahaha I hope my supervisors won’t be reading this.) The thing about analysis programs, is that if you can’t speak their language then you are doomed, if you can’t tell it what you want It to do then you’re better off sleeping in your room. For me, the program was fine … the problem was with the user (me). I had an idea of what I wanted to do and how I wanted to express the data but the way I’d analysed my data didn’t allow me to. I was busy running up walls and pulling out my non-existent hair!

That was till I decide to speak to my varsity friends and mentor, Thuthuzelwa Stempa, Xola Nduku, Soji Zimkitha and Lizwel Mapfumo. Having to brainstorm my intended outcomes and data expression made an HUGE difference.

So here I am, sitting at the lab and finishing up my graphs and writing up, imagining myself walking up to collect my second degree and making my family proud. I hope that this time my imagination won’t be too far off.

So what did I learn? Life’s filled with challenges, and the very same sentiments echo through your research life. Be it admin, data collection, data analysis or writing up. Your life after data collection might be better than mine or worse, but the moral of the blog as always is about grinding it out, spin those numbers to letters and making sure you graduate in time.


What postgrad means to me!

I’m Sipho Patrick Mabusela, a Masters’ student in Poultry Nutrition at the University of Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. My research focuses on the use of unconventional plant protein sources as a partial crude protein supplement source in chicken diets. The goal is to reduce the cost of feeding, by partially reducing the inclusion levels of conventional expensive plant protein sources such as soybean in egg laying chicken diets without detrimentally affecting their performance and egg quality. sipho 1My research has some very practical implications, especially if you consider how much South Africans rely on eggs and chicken meat as an affordable source of protein!

As a young boy growing up in the Eastern Cape, pursuing a Master’s degree was never in any of my dreams. Actually, I was not even aware of anything related to a post-graduate degree. One thing I knew was that I wanted to work and help people in whatever career option I followed. Becoming a medical doctor was a clearer career path, because most people in my community and family could relate to my aspirations. Nevertheless, when I reached grade 12 my interest shifted from wanting to be a medical doctor to wanting to do a BSc in Animal Science.

Moringa oleifera seeds (Non-conventional crude protein source)
Moringa oleifera seeds (Non-conventional crude protein source)

Being a black child growing up in a family that had limited financial resources, I found myself thinking about attaining a junior degree that I could finish quickly, find employment and support my family. However, nearing the end of my junior degree, I was opening up to the idea that studying further wouldn’t be the worst decision in the world. The only limitation I had was funding. Fortunately, armed with good exam results, I applied for National Research Foundation funding and received it.

Everything changed for the better, even though after my first year as a Masters’ student, I realised that being a postgrad in a South African University with limited resources is a monumental obstacle. It not only affects your progress, but also impedes the quality of that progress. I was fortunate enough to have a supervisor (Dr Nkukwana) who always supported me and still continues to do so. She always ensured that I had the best facilities to conduct my Master’s research; and I think the rationale behind it was that she respects the integrity and quality of research. This is a principle that she has instilled in me and for that I am humbled and grateful.

When I sit and look at the past two years that I’ve spent as a Masters student, I realise that research is where I want to be. The irony is that as a black child living in rural South Africa you aren’t told about the possibilities that exist in research and development. As a result, I owe it to every black child out there to study further, attain my PhD and show them that it’s possible if you are willing to humble yourself and work hard. When I look at it now, I wouldn’t change a single thing even if I’d grown up in a family that had all the money in the world to support my original idea of becoming a medical doctor.