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.

Behind the scenes of a typical life of a PhD candidate

I have always understood the concept of multitasking, but holding an umbrella in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other hand, filming a video and looking out for traffic while rushing to an early meeting was not an activity that I had never dreamt of. This is how my day started on the day that I filmed a vlog, capturing a day in my life as a PhD student.

From my experience, PhD students within various fields are not the most open individuals. It might be quite a challenge to figure out what we get up to daily. With this in mind, the SAYAS 2021 blogging team decided to film vlogs to show you what a typical day as a PhD student looks like.

As I alluded to in the vlog, typical student, PhD candidates doing research degrees do not have to attend classes (a privilege I really appreciate), However, the day is typically packed with various activities. These differ amongst candidates in different fields of research.

Additional to the activities shown in the vlog, I have a few extra things that I get up to on and off campus. As the year proceeds, activities in the lab get busier. Mainly, I embark on collecting data for my own PhD studies, and this entails conducting experiments in a sterile cell culturing environment. On such days, I occasionally spend very long hours in the lab, as some of these experiments run for a long time. After collecting this data, I prefer to analyze and compile it immediately on campus. However, with the advent of lockdowns introduced us by the novel coronavirus, working from home has become a norm, and I therefore, conduct data analysis and other activities from home.

Although teaching junior students is in integral part of many PhD students, conducting these lessons from home is an activity we quickly had to adapt to as Universities transitioned to online teaching platforms due to the restrictions associated with the pandemic. Thus, in addition to continuing with research activity at home, a substantial portion of my “working from home” time is spent preparing and conducting online lectures and tutorials.

It is very fulfilling and interesting to share your research findings with peers within your field, and this typically happens in conferences, both within the country and internationally (look out for a blog later in the year, where I will share my experiences from these conferences). Part of my time is usually spent preparing for such conferences, but with current restrictions this is unfortunately currently halted.

You may be wondering, what about the social life? Well… although I do have social activities here and there, spending long hours doing what you have a passion for (scientific research in my case) feels like social activity, and I hence, do not feel deprived of the ‘normal’ social activities. Certainly, our experiences as various PhD candidates differ amongst each other, as we are individuals with different personalities and life experiences, but I hope the vlog gives a glimpse into the human element of our often closed off lives.