2015 – What a year!

2015
By Yonela Z. Njisane

Ever found yourself in a position and you don’t even know how you got there? That’s me this year. I only realised when I was writing my presentation for the NRF Role Modelling campaign in the middle of the year that I had so many responsibilities. I didn’t even notice I was all over the show. Is that a good or a bad thing? I mean how can I not know what I am getting at or doing?

Apart from my own personal life (which doesn’t seem to feature much), I had about 5 “occupations”; some seasonal and some full time. Trust me, this is not a complaint — I am somehow proud of myself, as I forget what I am capable of sometimes. Allow me to walk you through it all…

  1. The core business- PhD candidate  

    The PhD process; Field - lab - write up...
    The PhD process; Field – lab – write up…

To my horror, almost all my field and lab work had to both start and finish this year – I did not get my anticipated two years for data collection. Over 80% of my PhD work has to be done by the end of this month! Thanks to the support from NRF (National Research Foundation) and RMRDT (Red Meat Research and Development Trust) that came through as research and bursary funding, and my supervisor for guidance on developing successful grant proposals. I have to pull this off; yeah! Yeah! I am not done YET! And I know, “Don’t shout until you are out of the woods!”

I am not budging. I mean, I promised myself to get my doctoral degree at the age of 26 and that time is now. I trust in the promises and the strength from the Lord to see me through; I came this far, didn’t I? Every hour now counts.

  1. Student tutor
With some learners at the NRF Role-Modelling Campaign
With some learners at the NRF Role-Modelling Campaign

I have been tutoring animal science courses for some years now; it’s not my best field though. As a shorty, standing in front of a couple of juniors, with no title (i.e. Doctor lol) is no child’s play. I love helping out and ploughing back in, but sometimes just run out of patience. Overall, I enjoyed tutoring the research class for the past two years. Unfortunately I had to let go of it this year after serving for a few months, due to my hectic schedule and having two appointments in the same institution. So I chose…

  1. Student Research Assistant

I started on this mid-2014 and it has been both challenging and exciting. I’m undertaking this for the Meat Science and Food Security research group under the leadership of Prof V. Muchenje. At first there wasn’t much work — or so I thought. However, this year tasks and responsibilities multiplied. I love it because I got a chance to exercise some of my skills and develop some more as a person, a researcher, a leader, and much more.

Attendees of the 2015 Annual Postgraduate Workshop at Empekweni Beach Resort – One of my projects as research assistant.
Attendees of the 2015 Annual Postgraduate Workshop at Empekweni Beach Resort – One of my projects as research assistant.

The platform allows me to work with a variety of students in my research group; from different backgrounds/nationalities, age groups and academic levels as well as the involved staff. I am an organiser and liaison. My responsibilities includes organizing workshops and seminars (concept, programmes, speakers, bookings etc.) for students, serving as a resource person, working with the admin office to align financial account transactions and student research activities, policy making, and contributing to grant proposal and conference presentations. Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? But I found it more varied and rewarding than “just” tutoring.

  1. South African Society for Animal Science – Eastern Cape Branch student-executive member

Well, this role taught me one thing: keep a low profile in meetings! Otherwise, you get noticed… This duty landed on my lap during the launch of the South African Society for Animal Science – Eastern Cape Branch early in 2014. I honestly think it was because I talked a lot, asking questions and making comments. Turned out I trapped myself lol. We started as six members and there was nothing much we did then, besides one or two brainstorming meetings.

Prof Voster Muchenje (supervisor and mentor) and Mr Nico Fouché (CEO of Milk S.A.) and some participants of the SASAS-EC Mini-symposium at the University of Fort Hare.
Prof Voster Muchenje (supervisor and mentor) and Mr Nico Fouché (CEO of Milk S.A.) and some participants of the SASAS-EC Mini-symposium at the University of Fort Hare.

Our biggest and relevant task was our very first mini-symposium that we hosted this year, which was not so “mini” in terms of preparation. On top of our daily responsibilities at work/school, we required constant meetings and organizing of everything; it was quite demanding. I am proud to have been part of it all though, making history. We brought together academics (including under- and postgraduate students), industry (CEO’s and reps) and E.C. government officials, to share and discuss key issues in animal science. It was a new experience for me and we pulled it off. Whoever will take over from us will have to top that. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, we ended up being just four members even before seeing it through, with one member stepping down and the other passing on.

  1. The obvious- SAYAS PhD blogger  

    Call me old-fashioned but 98% of my blog articles began on paper before transfering to the computer - works for me (I have hand written notes for my experimental chapters too). I write ideas before I lose them – I easily forget these days – old age is near, it seems!
    Call me old-fashioned but 98% of my blog articles began on paper before transfering to the computer – works for me (I have hand written notes for my experimental chapters too). I write ideas before I lose them – I easily forget these days – old age is near, it seems!

It feels great to have been one of the VERY FIRST SAYAS PhD BLOGGERS!!! Though challenging, especially the last two months, it’s been epic. I must publicly apologize to Aliza for having to start reminding me of my responsibility (covers face), I have been consumed by this PhD business. The agreement was that I write a fresh and original story with pictures every month from April to December 2015. Yes, this is my last one :-(. With every story I wrote, it came from my heart; I always hoped to touch, motivate and influence or speak for somebody in the same boat. I hope I have fulfilled my purpose in this regard.

Part of this deal was to also complete a blogging course with the S.A. Writers College. It brought its own demands with assignments and the creation of a new blog account. And I didn’t expect any of this (I don’t know what I was expecting!). The plan was to finish it in a month, but I did it in six weeks and walked away with my distinction :-).

 

From me to you…

All these experiences have taught me that not everything is about money when you are building a career; sometimes the skill and exposure are far more important. They taught me to multitask, take responsibility, take initiative, and develop a better approach towards people and situations. I learned patience, humility, ethics, positive attitude, and different kinds of management skills, to mention just a few expertise.

Nothing comes easy. Run away if it does, chances are there’s a catch. Work and earn your rewards - expecting handouts is like slowly killing yourself in all possible ways.
Nothing comes easy. Run away if it does, chances are there’s a catch. Work and earn your rewards – expecting handouts is like slowly killing yourself in all possible ways.

But also, whatever you do, you can make a difference. It does not have to be a job where the job description is “Make a difference to people!” It all depends on your own attitude, whatever your career is. I have a dream to be of relevance to the world in whatever I do and where ever I go; I am hungry for excellence. I live everyday hoping and striving to make a difference, with my words and actions, directly and indirectly, for the benefit of those around me and for the glory of God. This blog (and my previous ones) was meant to motivate you; you can do anything if you put your mind to it. I hope you have been inspired and that you will also be an inspiration to others.

Colin Powell said “A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” And I say after all is achieved, remain humble- “work hard in silence and let success make the noise” (Frank Ocean). I wish everyone the best, including myself. By this time next year, I hope I will be deepening my research expertise, acquiring new and effective skills, while I develop a niche in my research area. Cheers!

Blow by blow

By Yonela Z. Njisane

thinkingThings don’t always go according to plan; but that does not mean you should not plan at all, otherwise you might end up frustrated and moving in circles. Even the Bible says in Proverbs 29:18 “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

It was all planned out perfectly

According to the proposed timeline I presented in the beginning (2013) of my PhD journey, I should be submitting a complete thesis this month. Well, I really wish I could, but it’s not going to happen. I am not there yet. See, at the time all seemed easy and doable until I faced hurdles on the ground and had to revise my approach, which also meant finding other resources to reach the goal. Trust me, I am not making up excuses…

The revised plan

After the proposal, literature review and really useful preliminary studies we ran, the core of the project was done this year. Yup! It’s been such a hectic year that I even find it hard to travel the 320 km to go home; I don’t even go for shopping. This is when the PhD pressure really sunk in- can’t even remember the last time I was bored, wondering what am I doing with my time.

I am currently writing up my chapters, step by step. Beginning of last month, I was asked to write down and submit a realistic roadmap to follow till the finish line. I’ve been doing my best to stick to it. Though the pace is sometimes not as I would have planned, I’ve found it to be really helpful for my progress.6 steps

So far, I have progressed up to about 60% of the thesis. As anticipated, writing about my own work (experimental chapters) has been more interesting and fun, compared to the review. I must say though, the review is helpful as a reference point for the paper writing. And, after completing my first experimental paper, I went back and revised the review script 🙂 , finally.

The mean part

There is just one beast that sometimes has the power to put you down: Statistical analysis of my data. I used to think numbers were my thing until I came across statistics. The data collection for Chapter 2 was my favourite. And, then all the fun vanished as the statistical output was just not coming out right, over and over again.

I used to nail maths in high school, but nobody really taught me how to think analytically, like a statistician. It’s a whole different ball game. But I am learning, thanks to Lizwells’ assistance — a good friend with great stats expertise. I hear it’s not even that hard. Well Yah! It’s great when your hypotheses are supported. I’m learning that doing stats requires practice. You can read all the stats books you want, but nothing prepares you for throwing your own data at statistical tools.

I’m starting to see that a PhD is not just following a clever plan; there’s a lot of battling with schedules and drafts and strange numbers. It’s a learning curve, is it not… As Albert Einstein said, “Learning is experience. Everything else is just information.”