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Latest articles from the Geeky Girl Reality Blog

1. Introduce yourself, who are you what do you do? My name is Ana Maria Porras and I am a biomedical engineer. I finished my Ph.D. in 2017 and I am now a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University. I spend my days studying the bacteria inside our guts and finding ways to understand how it is that they have the power to control our health. 2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do? I think I always knew I wanted to be a scientist or engineer. My parents were engineers and I enjoyed solving problems and making things, but I knew I didn't want to build bridges or cars. One day, my mom, who was a professor, came back from visiting another university, where she had heard for the first time about bioengineering. From there, I did some research and learned that biomedical engineers solve problems in human medicine and I fell in love with the field. 3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings? The people I work with and knowing that I get to learn something new every day. Sometimes, it's even something nobody else in the world knows yet! 4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story? Two things: time off with family and friends, and dancing it out! Just two days ago I had a pretty busy and kind of rough day at work. I was stressing so much about several deadlines I have coming up. After work, I went to my dance rehearsal with 3 other friends and once we started dancing and laughing, all the worries of the day just went away. 5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this? Dr. Kristyn Masters, who was my thesis advisor during my Ph.D. Kristyn taught me everything I know about being a good scientist, and more importantly, about being a good caring mentor. 6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time? Talk to as many people as possible and learn as much as you can about all the possible careers out there! There's so much you can do, the sky is the limit. 7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM? Let your curiosity guide your path Don't let others tell you what you can or cannot do Find friends and mentors that can support you in the journey 8.  How do you measure your success? First against myself by thinking about how far I have come and how much I have learned at each stage of professional and personal career. Second, by evaluating the people and communities I have been able to interact with and hopefully contribute to in some way. 9.  Where can we find out more about your work? Follow me on social media (see below) to learn about microbiology and see the cute crocheted microbes I make! You can also visit  the lab website:  https://www.britolab. org/people 10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you? SO social! Find me on Twitter and Instagram @AnaMaPorras . If you speak Spanish, I'm also on Instagram and Facebook @anaerobias . And here is my LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ ana-maria-porras/
1. Introduce yourself, who are you what do you do? Uvlulluataq, I am Dr. Kat Napaaqtuk Milligan-Myhre. I am Inupiaq; a Microbiologist who dabbles in evolution, ecology, systems biology, and molecular biology; a runner; a mom to two kids; and a beadworker, not necessarily in that order. In my research, I use a fish found all over the northern hemisphere called threespine stickleback to study host-microbe interactions, and specifically how our genes influence how our gut microbes interact with our bodies. In other words, I’m interested in how the trillions of microbes in our gut help us grow, and how our gut microbes stop microbes that can cause disease from causing disease, and why that is different in one person vs another person. 2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do? I have had at least a dozen jobs, ranging from radio DJ to janitor to housekeeper for a fancy hotel, to now a scientist. I had at least a dozen ideas of what I was going to do when I grew up and scientist wasn’t one of them. I thought everything was known in science, so what was the point? When I was an undergraduate student at college I thought I wanted to be an MD doctor, so I worked in research labs to make my CV more appealing. While I was there I discovered that I REALLY liked research – new discoveries every day, working in groups on projects and also independently, coming up with ideas for where to take projects, watching microbes under the microscopes, etc. I was hooked. I’ve been in research for over 20 years, and I still love it. 3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings? I love talking to people who are passionate about learning new things, and I love coming up with ideas for learning new things. I have a lab with somewhere between 10-15 people, depending on the semester, and I love watching their scientific independence grow over the semester/year. I was also a bench scientist for almost 20 years, and recently moved into field work (collecting fish from the wild). When I am out in the field, I like to stop to watch my fish and think about how the microbes in their guts are affecting their development, behavior, and where they are getting the microbes from, and how the microbes are interacting with other microbes. So, long story short, there is a lot I love about my job. 4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story? I like to run. When I am out for a run, I see the world in a completely different way. It helps me clear my mind when I’m stuck, it makes me feel stronger, and I can see places I would never have been able to get to by just walking/driving. My scariest run was when I was trying to run at my parents camp on the Noatak river. I ran less than a half a mile down the river, smelled a bear, and ran back to camp as fast as I could! The most beautiful run would be hard to pick. I ran with a colleague in a remote part of France at daybreak. It was a great way to talk about our science, and the sunrise was beautiful. 5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this? I have a lot of role models. I was very lucky to work for two women who were supportive and examples of what women in science can accomplish – Laura Knoll and Karen Guillemin. I also look up to Jo Handlesman, microbiologist and scientific advisor to President Obama. I have been lucky to return to my home state with my degree, which has helped me figure out how to use my education for the benefit of my tribe. For that I look to the strong women who have lead Alaskan Native education, including Della Keats. 6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time? For a long time I tried really hard to fit in to Western society. I didn’t go home very often, I believed scientists when they dismissed traditional medicine, and I tried to downplay my heritage. I would tell my younger self to embrace what makes me different, and use that to my advantage in my studies. I see things in a different way due to my upbringing, and that has helped me tremendously as a scientist. I wish I had seen that sooner. 7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM? Be true to yourself. Figure out what interests you and follow that passion. There are so many different exciting things to learn about in science! You don’t have restrict yourself to one field. I combine microbiology with physiology and ecology and evolution. It’s exciting to learn about so many different fields and how they fit together! There are SOOOO many people who want to help girls get into STEM. If you start with one mentor and it doesn’t work out for whatever reason, find another mentor who can help your passion for science grow. 8. How do you measure your success? For work: papers/funding/excitement in my mentees about science. For my family: time spent together, hugs, and honesty. For my tribe: research that helps us make decisions about our future (haven’t accomplished that yet). 9. Where can we find out more about your work? I am @napaaqtuk on Twitter, and my website is https://drkatlab.wordpress.com/about/ 
Name: Nsovo Mayimele Role/Occupation: Pharmacist Country: South Africa Nsovo Mayimele is the manager for the South African Pharmacy Council. As a professional pharmacist, she had previously worked in the research space, but working for the council has now placed her in a more corporate environment. A new environment, which she rather enjoys, “working for a national council is so exciting for me because I contribute to a cause that is bigger than me. Knowing that the effort I put into my work will have impact in the next coming years has to be the absolute motivation.” Mayimele’s school years were hallmarked by being in the science laboratory and after high school she immediately went into the Health Sciences to study pharmacy. This is where she discovered her true love, “I loved pharmaceutics and found dosage form design to be very interesting,” she explains. She has to admit that she has been fortunate enough not to face too many difficulties as a woman in STEM and maintains an optimistic outlook for the future, “professional resistance in the workplace is still in existence, but I am optimistic that this will change. If it doesn’t, I’m still determined to make it work.” Her advice to young women aspiring to enter the STEM field, “find your passion, once you do, pursue it with all you have… Voices will be there to tell you to slow down because you are running too fast, but set your goals and achieve them.” Mayimele firmly believes that Africa is a land of opportunity and that STEM is a tool for progress , “STEM is on the rise in Africa. Africa has many problems, and the fun part about STEM is that we are about solutions. STEM is exactly what Africa needs to grow and progress.” Mayimele is grateful to have qualified for funding from the National Research Foundation and Department of Science and Technology due to the quality of her research, “funding is a major contributor to kick-start a career in science and research,” she elaborates. One of the key milestones in her career was presenting her MSc research in Massachusetts, USA and then winning award for innovation for her research. As a new mom currently on maternity leave, she is trying to navigate through this new situation of finding work-life balance whilst taking care of a child, “I have an unexplainable sense of guilt when I have to work on my laptop and not spend a moment with my child,” she explains. Her inspiration is the late Dora Akunyili of Nigeria, a pharmacist who used her knowledge for the benefit of the country and was recognised for her work in pharmacology, public health and human rights, “I would like to use my education and knowledge to benefit humanity,” she elaborates. Read more about our Geeky Girl and enterprising pharmacist, Nsovo Mayimele in an insightful interview below. 1. Describe what your work entails. I am working as a manager for the South African Pharmacy Council. While I am a pharmacy professional who enjoys the research space, working for the council placed me in a corporate environment. 2. Describe your STEM journey. From high school, I immediately went into pharmacy school. My school years were hallmarked by being in the lab. I loved pharmaceutics and found dosage form design to be very interesting. 3. What excites you about your job? What motivates you to get out of bed every morning? Working for a national council is so exciting for me because I contribute to a cause that is bigger than me. Knowing that the effort I put into my work will have impact in the next coming years has to be the absolute motivation. Hence, I do my work to the best of my abilities. 4. How would you describe your experience as a woman in the STEM space? Being in a country such as mine, I have to admit that it has not been too difficult. Professional resistance in the workplace is still in existence, but I am optimistic that this will change. If it doesn’t, I’m still determined to make it work. 5. What advice would you give to young women aspiring to enter the STEM field? Find your passion, once you do, pursue it with all you have. Being a woman, there are many more distractions on our journey than for men. Voices will be there to tell you to slow down because you are running too fast, but set your goals and achieve them. 6. As a STEM woman in Africa, how do you foresee the growth and progress of STEM on the continent? Is Africa a “land of opportunity”? STEM is on the rise in Africa. Africa has many problems, and the fun part about STEM is that we are about solutions. STEM is exactly what Africa needs to grow and progress. Yes definitely Africa is a land of opportunities. 7. Have there been any milestone moments or eureka moments in your career? Yes. One of the biggest milestones for me was getting to present my masters research in Massachusetts, USA and actually winning award for innovation. Another big one was having funding from our (South Africa) National Research Foundation and Department of Science and Technology. Funding is a major contributor to kick-start a career in science and research. 8. How do you maintain a work-life balance? I’m a new mom. I am still on maternity leave, but I am currently battling to find that balance. I have an unexplainable sense of guilt when I have to work on my laptop and not spend a moment with my child. I don’t know how I will be able to make it when I go back to work. 9. Who is your role model? Who inspires you? I am inspired by the late Dora Akunyili of Nigeria. She was a pharmacist who used her knowledge for the benefit of the country. She was recognised for her work in pharmacology, public health and human rights. I would like to use my education and knowledge to benefit humanity. 10. Where can more information or insight into your work be found? On google. There are a few links about by work in pharmacy and social sciences. I’m also on linkedIn Twitter Handle: @NsovoMayimelex Nsovo Mayimele interviewed by Dhruti Dheda Dhruti Dheda is a Chemical Engineer with a strong interest in media and communication. She is the editor of the Engineers without Borders South Africa Newsletter and the Community Manager – South Africa and Regional Outreach for Geeky Girl Reality. If you wish to collaborate or network, contact her at dhruti@geekyreality.com or find her on twitter @dhrutidd
Name: Shalena Naidoo Role/Occupation: PhD Candidate, Stellenbosch University/HIV Paediatric Researcher Country: South Africa Shalena Naidoo is an HIV immunology scientist and a PhD candidate, currently in the final year of my PhD degree titled A Longitudinal Perspective on the Impact of Immune Status on the HIV-1 Latent Reservoir and Neurocognitive Outcomes in Virologically Supressed Children. She describes the life of an experimental scientist as unpredictable, “what is unknown is seemingly more interesting than what is known for a scientist, therefore most days serve as moments of discovery… Most times, research outcomes show interesting patterns that hold so much value. We learn by connecting the dots and then translating this to what it means for the field of health science and the patient.” Naidoo was a child with an enquiring mind and an instilled sense to understand and help others, “I always loved the scientific approach because it develops a critical mind. For me, it was obvious as early as my high school years that I was going to be a scientist,” she recalls. Naidoo went on to completed a BSc degree in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at Stellenbosch University; followed by Honours and Masters degrees in the field of immunology with the focus on HIV infection in children at the Faculty of Medicine and Heath Sciences. These postgraduate degrees primarily focused on vaccine responses in HIV exposed uninfected infants and stands out as one of the first and main studies geared towards studying the effects of in utero HIV exposure in South African children. Naidoo feels that as a scientist one can discover and learn something new, while also generating important knowledge, “it is exciting to know that you are contributing to something that has the ability to change the world and relieve the burden of disease and save lives.” Naidoo describes her experience as a female in STEM as both positive and negative. The positive aspect is being able to partake in a critical era of transformation where women are being recognised for their role in science and also have a platform to communicate their research. Another positive would have to be connecting and forming networks with key role players across the world with the same research aim and vision for solving global health problems, “these networks have allowed me to expand my thinking, improve networking skills and further my expertise,” she explains. The negatives she believes are the lack of connection, guidance and mentorship from other female counterparts in STEM. Female researchers have similar experiences but they “remain isolated within [their] research groups without cross pollination of thought and support... We should learn more from each other and motivate each other to achieve the unthinkable,” she elaborates. Being a woman in STEM really excites Naidoo as she’s able to contribute “to closing the gender gaps that exists within [her] field of work and [to] bring a different perspective to the field of HIV science.” She also hopes to promote, encourage, mentor and engage inspiring young females. This drives her sense of contribution, “If every day you can feel that what you do adds something not only to your own life but to others as well then life takes on a new and deeper sense of meaning,” she elaborates. Naidoo’s advice to young women aspiring to enter STEM is to “be clear about your vision and mission and stay connected to your purpose every single day. Write down your goals and keep looking at it… Create a fresh vision board every month.” She feels at being subjected to critique is a given considering the nature of STEM and that young women should not become disheartened or demotivated because of it, “every set-back is designed to shape you and propel you forward to greater heights… There will be days when you will feel the burnout and you will feel the need to quit, please do not. Remember that nothing worth having comes easy. Learn to rest, not to quit.” Naidoo has a positive outlook with regards to the future of women and STEM in the continent as it sits at the crossroads of progression, “Africa boasts beauty in its potential in what it has to offer the world and in itself has a number of unique challenges largely related to health burdens.” She holds a similar of women, “I think the lens in which women view the world is quite different and in a large sense quite powerful. Our perspectives, approaches and sense of understanding and connecting is quite unique,” she elaborates. “Africa would greatly benefit from women in science who are able approach these challenges with novel advancements in scientific fields… With different ideas come better solutions and novel thinking that can interchange scientific innovation forward and benefit the whole of Africa,” Naidoo further explains. Naidoo has had a number of key milestones in her career thus far such as being involved in an international laboratory exchange collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, USA where she learnt the technique of isolating the HIV replicating virus; attending her first international conference, the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) was held in Seattle where she received the Young Investigator’s Scholarship Award. And last year, Naidoo received two major awards for her research, the Dominque Dormont Award presented by Françoise Barré-Sinoussi (Nobel Prize Winner and Discover of the HI virus) at the AIDS 2018 Conference, followed by the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science (FWIS) Sub-Saharan Regional Fellowship award. She feels that time management is crucial to creating and maintaining a work-life balance. She also believes that eating healthy and exercising is important to create the mind-body balance and highlights the importance of mental health and the occurrence of “Imposter Syndrome” which plagues many researchers. Her advice is to “take sufficient mental breaks and create rewards as you progress through your timelines – rewarding yourself is key and serves as an added push towards achieving them!” Read more about our Geeky Girl and scientist, Shalena Naidoo, whose experiments have won awards and hearts in an insightful interview below. 1. Describe what your work entails. As an HIV immunology scientist, a large part of my work takes place in the laboratory. Through designing and implementing various experimental procedures or assays to study the immune system, we can gain a better understanding of the HIV disease and how it influences and affects the infected person. We are also able to study the virus itself and how it affects the immune cells of the patient. We are able to do this by collecting blood samples and using specific methods to isolate the blood components we wish to study. Once we have generated enough laboratory data, we are then able to analyse the data by using specific computer programmes. Our findings are then compiled and drafted into scientific publications and presented at various national and international conferences. 2. Describe your STEM journey. Science inspires curiosity and develops an attitude of deep discovery. As a child with a constantly enquiring mind and an instilled sense to understand, help and contribute to issues affecting the people around me assisted in centering my drive towards studying sciences. I always loved the scientific approach because it develops a critical mind. For me, it was obvious as early as my high school years that I was going to be a scientist. I completed my Bachelor of Science degree in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at Stellenbosch University. I then proceeded to complete postgraduate degrees (Honours and Masters) in the field of immunology with the focus on HIV infection in children at the Faculty of Medicine and Heath Sciences. My post-graduate degrees prior to doctoral studies focused primarily on vaccine responses in HIV exposed uninfected infants and was one of the first and key studies geared towards studying the effects of in utero HIV exposure in South African children. I am currently within my final year of my PhD degree titled A Longitudinal Perspective on the Impact of Immune Status on the HIV-1 Latent Reservoir and Neurocognitive Outcomes in Virologically Supressed Children. 3. What excites you about your job? What motivates you to get out of bed every morning? As a scientist you need to be in a constant state of learning and critical thinking. Everyday you discover and learn something new and whilst you are doing this, you are generating important knowledge that will ultimately be used to understand various diseases and help progress society and the world. It is exciting to know that you are contributing to something that has the ability to change the world and relieve the burden of disease and save lives. It also excites me that, as a woman in science I am contributing to closing the gender gaps that exists within my field of work and bring a different perspective to the field of HIV science. 4. How would you describe your experience as a woman in the STEM space? My experience has been both positive and negative. The positive being part of a critical transforming era where women are being recognised for their role in science and given the platform to communicate their research and its significance to propel the world. Organisations such as L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science, are providing much needed resources, leadership skills and financial support so that women can remain in science and progress their careers and fulfil more significant leadership roles. Further positives have been the ability to connect with key role players across the world with the same research aim and vision for solving global health problems. These networks have allowed me to expand my thinking, improve networking skills and further my expertise. The challenges that exist within the STEM space is the lack of connection, guidance and mentorship from other female counterparts. As women researchers, we all have similar experiences. But we remain isolated within our research groups without cross pollination of thought and support. We should learn more from each other and motivate each other to achieve the unthinkable. Working within a research “silo” does not allow for filtration and expansion of knowledge or sharing of solutions to key challenges. Although, shifts are currently in place – these serve as major barriers for women within the fields of STEM. 5. What advice would you give to young women aspiring to enter the STEM field? Be clear about your vision and mission and stay connected to your purpose every single day. Write down your goals and keep looking at it. Every day! When you believe that you are capable of achieving your goals, you are 90% there. Create a fresh vision board every month. You will be subjected to critique as per the nature of the field. Do not become disheartened or demotivated. Every set-back is designed to shape you and propel you forward to greater heights. Develop a skin thick enough to withstand the harshness of everything designed to tear you down. Know that it is resilience and tenacity that are the key definers of success. There will be days when you will feel the burnout and you will feel the need to quit, please do not. Take a step back, revise your mission, rest and get back to it. Remember that nothing worth having comes easy. Learn to rest, not to quit. 6. As a STEM woman in Africa, how do you foresee the growth and progress of STEM on the continent? Is Africa a “land of opportunity”? I think the lens in which women view the world is quite different and in a large sense quite powerful. Our perspectives, approaches and sense of understanding and connecting is quite unique. So there is definitely a place, a role and futuristic need for women in science in Africa and the world for that matter. Africa boasts beauty in its potential in what it has to offer the world and in itself has a number of unique challenges largely related to health burdens. Therefore, Africa would greatly benefit from women in science who are able approach these challenges with novel advancements in scientific fields. African women in science play a critical role in the development of the continent as it sits at the crossroads of its progression. With different ideas come better solutions and novel thinking that can interchange scientific innovation forward and benefit the whole of Africa. My role is to contribute significant and meaningful knowledge in the field of science in order to progress societies and ultimately the continent towards improved qualities of life. According to UIS data – less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women. There is undoubtedly a great gender gap within the science field. Therefore my role would be contributory towards that gap. Not only do I have the ability to contribute knowledge to HIV science, but would also like to promote, encourage, mentor and engage inspiring young females. This drives my sense of contribution – If every day you can feel that what you do adds something not only to your own life but to others as well then life takes on a new and deeper sense of meaning.   7. Have there been any milestone moments or eureka moments in your career? Being in experimental science each moment serves a degree of unpredictability. What is unknown is seemingly more interesting than what is known for a scientist, therefore most days serve as moments of discovery. Science is structured around a hypothesis. Sometimes we prove our initial thoughts correct and other times we prove them wrong. As a scientists you need to stay connected to the pursuit of inquiry, constantly embracing the unknown. Most times, research outcomes show interesting patterns that hold so much value. We learn by connecting the dots and then translating this to what it means for the field of health science and the patient. There has been a number of key milestones reached within my career. I will highlight the recent significant ones. The first was being involved in an international exchange collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, USA. The exchange involved a five month laboratory exchange initiative where I learned the technique of isolating the HIV replicating virus and implementing it in our laboratory. This was a life journey too, in that it was the first time I lived in another country on my own. I had to become accustomed to a new way of life and culture perspective, from a professional view it allowed me the opportunity to integrate myself into a new laboratory with a different work flow, structure and thinking. Attending my first international conference in 2017 was another key milestone. The Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) was held in Seattle, Washington State. I had also received the Young Investigator’s Scholarship Award. During 2018 my research received two awards, the Dominque Dormont Award presented by Françoise Barré-Sinoussi (Nobel Prize Winner and Discover of the HI virus) at the AIDS 2018 Conference held in Amsterdam. The purpose of the prize is to highlight researchers who demonstrate originality, rationale, quality, and a multidisciplinary and integrative approach in the field of HIV and AIDS research. The second award was the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science (FWIS) Sub-Saharan Regional Fellowship award which aims to improve the position of women in science through recognition of their promising research. The criteria for selection are based on evidence of productivity, innovation, scientific quality, relative impact and application of the research. The award was presented in Nairobi, Kenya in December. In addition, the awards programme provides female scientists with skills training in leadership, public speaking, media training, personal branding, management, negotiation and partnership building. This skillset will ultimately provide the baseline tools for females to progress into leadership roles within the field and contribute towards closing the significant gender gaps that currently exist. 8. How do you maintain a work-life balance? Time management is key to creating and maintaining a work-life balance. It is important to know which tasks in your day are the most important and tackle those first as they create momentum. It is also important to be flexible with your daily activities and leave room for unpredictable moments or circumstances. Playing to your strengths is important in a work-life balance scenario. Dwelling on your weakness distracts you from your gifted purpose – so, let it go and focus on what you are able to do best. Knowing your productivity patterns throughout the day is critical in determining what time of day should be used for brain work and times for doing the less brain powered tasks. Deliberately setting time for switching off is important as it allows you to reset and recharge and it aids productivity. Make an effort to enjoy and connect with nature as it has rejuvenating powers. Eating healthy and exercising is important to create the mind-body balance. Mental health is something that is not sufficiently stressed in our line of work. Researchers are often faced with “imposter syndrome” – it is important to acknowledge it, deal with it and understand that your best will always be good enough. Take sufficient mental breaks and create rewards as you progress through your timelines – rewarding yourself is key and serves as an added push towards achieving them! 9. Who is your role model? Who inspires you? I am inspired by my late mother who believed that not only is the gain of knowledge power but the application of it is critical and invaluable. My mother inspired me to keep learning from life, circumstances and limitations for all obstacles are just lessons to grow and reach further. Remaining humble during your pursuit of knowledge is key and forms the essence of life. Pursuing studies in HIV science was inspired by a young South African AIDS activist, Nkosi Johnson, who was born with HIV and lived with the disease for 12 years. During this time, he became a powerful voice who inspired many living with the disease, shifted public perceptions and motivated those who sought to provide knowledge that would assist in relieving the burden. Wisdoms from Nkosi from which I draw inspiration comes from his famous quote: “Do all you can with what you have in the time you have in the place you are” 10. Where can more information or insight into your work be found? https://www.linkedin.com/in/shalena-naidoo-bab38044/ https://www.sun.ac.za/english/faculty/healthsciences/virology/Pages/Research0623-8404.aspx Twitter Handle: @shalena1001 Shalena Naidoo interviewed by Dhruti Dheda Dhruti Dheda is a Chemical Engineer with a strong interest in media and communication. She is the editor of the Engineers without Borders South Africa Newsletter and the Community Manager – South Africa and Regional Outreach for Geeky Girl Reality. If you wish to collaborate or network, contact her at dhruti@geekyreality.com or find her on twitter  @dhrutidd
1. Introduce yourself, who are you what do you do? My name is Tatiana Eaves and I am a Science Writer and Communicator. For me, this has translated into a lot of different roles. My day job is on the editorial team of Science Advances , one of the journals within the Science Magazine family, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. I also write scientific articles for a few other publications. Today, that primarily includes Ricochet Science, a science education website published with McGraw Hill. Additionally, I work for the United States Geological Survey’s program, the Refugia Research Coalition (RRC), in scientific outreach and design.  2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do? I always knew I wanted to be a scientist, I just never knew what type. Ecology particularly fascinated me, I loved learning about the connections that exist within the natural world. I knew that for the rest of my life I wanted to learn more about the organisms around me. But, when I lived the life of a field ecologist during an internship I had at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, I realized that my favorite part of the science was getting other people who were previously disinterested, interested in my work or my organisms (caterpillars in this case). Also, I loved too many organisms to narrow it down to one field of research, so I didn’t. I started working on the Refugia Research Coalition after I applied for what was more of a science communication internship with the Virtual Student Federal Service and got it (and was hired part-time after the internship ended). Simultaneously, I applied for a job working as the first and only science writer for an up-and-coming journal Modern Treatise. I’ve always had a creative background in art, photography and writing, so these were really easy roles for me to fit into. Everything else just snowballed from there.  3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings? I really love that I have the opportunity to experience so many things in one day. I read scientific research for a living. My goal when I was a young, pre-scientist was to learn something new every day and I have since accomplished that. Now, I get to stay up to date on the current hot research topics in fields like Ecology, Marine Biology, Biochemistry, Physics, Medicine, Robotics, etc. Then, when I come home I am able to work on my projects within the Refugia Research Coalition and write articles on important scientific matters in a way that makes sense to the average person. I’m living my dreams in and out of the office.  4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story? I am a nature person. I absolutely love sitting outside and feeling surrounded by trees and reminding myself that nature stops for no one. The flowers and the trees don’t care if I meet this deadline or talk with this person. Everything moves slowly, at its own pace, and is so much bigger than our little human microcosm that we persist within. That relaxes me. I like to hike, wade in rivers, close my eyes, and exhale the stress of the city away. Ridding myself of all the small problems that we always believe are so large and encompassing.  5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this? I have many role models. I feel as if it is important to surround yourself with inspiring people, people that make you want to better yourself and that you not only look up to but that also support you and push you to be better. Especially for women in the scientific community. I am lucky enough to have met and have been supported by wonderful women. The first person that comes to mind is Toni Lyn Morelli, my supervisor at the Refugia Research Coalition. She is a force to be reckoned with. She is extremely intelligent, passionate, caring, and full of innovative ideas. Toni Lyn is such an influential ecologist and a wonderful friend to me. She has presented me with so many opportunities that have really aided me in figuring out where I wanted my path in science to lead.  6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time? I would have told myself to be careful who I choose to befriend in college. I was always a science girl but I wanted the fun college friends. They were only a distraction and always discouraged me from doing my work and pursuing my academic passions. They wanted me to go out all the time instead. This might sound terribly cliché for those of you in college now, but it really had an impact on how well I performed in school and how much I got out of it. I felt as if studying really hard was uncool, that I had to be faster or more discrete with my studies and hangout all the time to be accepted. I still performed well because I loved the subjects, but on the subjects I found most challenging, I didn’t put forth enough effort to learn them properly. Again, make friends that support your passions and want to see you succeed in life. I didn’t learn this until a bit after college how important a good community is for your career in science/mental health.  7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM? Don’t let anyone tell you what you are or are not capable of in this life. ANYONE can be a scientist if they put forth the effort and love the subject area enough. You will experience prejudices and sexism, it will happen. How you deal with it is the most important. Challenge people with preconceived misconceptions and instead of attacking the attacker, ask them why they feel a certain way or have made a certain comment. It will make them explain their sexism and not many people can survive that. Network Network Network. I’m not going to say a career in science is all about who you know, but it doesn’t hurt! Go to all events (even if you’re introverted, a lot of scientists are). Just having someone who’s seen your face before is important. Go to conferences, meetings, and presentations; make yourself seen in your scientific field. If you want advice on how to get to conferences, because some are expensive going the traditional route, please don’t hesitate to contact me I would love to help.  8. How do you measure your success? If I help someone to learn or care about something in the life sciences or in environmental policy that they either didn’t know anything about previously or had little care in, I feel accomplished. If my writing makes a difference to someone or I help someone in their career further themselves I am happy. I have simple wants I think. 9. Where can we find out more about your work? I post links to all of my publications on my website EcologistSays.com and you can learn about the journal I work on the editorial staff for at advances.sciencemag.com. The Refugia Research Coalition is ClimateRefugia.com. 10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?   My website can be found here: EcologistSays.com . I am also on twitter @EcologistSays and instagram @A.virosa
Name: Dr Tozama Qwebani-Ogunleye Role/Occupation: Project Director, Vaal University of Technology, Dihlare Remedy Pty Ltd. Country: South Africa Dr Tozama Qwebani-Ogunleye is the Project Director, Vaal University of Technology, Dihlare Remedy Pty Ltd. At Dihlare Remedy, they are a bridging knowledge and innovation gap that is related to the product development and commercialisation of Traditional Medicine. The main aim is to  make African Traditional Medicine easily accessible and recognised alongside mainstream healthcare. Qwebani-Ogunleye is one of the pioneers in South Africa who are involved in the development of quality control protocols for traditional medicines and the development of herbal formulations based on indigenous knowledge gained while working alongside the community. Qwebani-Ogunleye says that being part of something bigger than herself motivates her, “Traditional Medicine  is only beginning to be acceptable as an alternative health system in South Africa...Research, innovation and commercialization will increase the potential of African Traditional Medicine management and treatment of priority communicable and non-communicable diseases.” Qwebani-Ogunleye's journey started with her love for mathematics, “my adolescent afternoons were spent preparing for the Maths 24 School Challenge … My passion for maths, along with my family’s support, culminated in me representing my school at a national level at the Maths 24 School Challenge.” Her passion for science started after she read about penicillin and how it was discovered by chance, “I started to imagine myself in the lab and wearing safety glasses and in search of a cure for something,” she explains. She would later get an opportunity to represent South Africa at a youth science event in Vienna, Austria; where she would meet young scientists from all around the world and rub shoulders with Austrian and South African dignitaries. This she believes set her on her path to being a scientist. Her arrival at the University of Cape Town (UCT) was a bitter sweet experience. Sweet because she was able to see and learn new things; and bitter because of the realisation of the lack of science laboratory facilities she was exposed to at high school. Most of her colleagues were well acquainted with the tools in the laboratories, tools which until then she had only seen as a picture in a textbook,  “I had never seen a microscope before, let alone touched one or used one. I spent the whole of the first year trying to catch up with the rest of my classmates…” She completed both her undergraduate and Masters degrees at UCT, followed by a PhD at the University of the Witwatersrand through a studentship with CSIR. She then worked at CSIR for 6 years, TUT for 2 years and is currently based at VUT, during which she volunteered in many projects that involved the youth, “the youth is the hope of our nation and I would like to continue to add my positive contribution in youth empowerment,” she elaborates. Qwebani-Ogunleye has thus far enjoyed her experience as a woman in the STEM space, despite many viewing her position as a problematic juxtaposition, “I am an African woman in an African country where modern ideas fight with the traditional for space in an ever-changing society… I choose to see it as an opportunity. I have looked for opportunities within my challenges.” She feels that one of the most significant parts of her career is gaining the vast knowledge that the traditional health practitioners have with regards to indigenous plants. “It is remarkable and laudable. They might not know the scientific name/ English name of the herbs but when you speak in our vernacular with them you start to appreciate the wisdom that has been passed from generation to the next in our communities,” she elaborates. Qwebani-Ogunleye feels that perhaps gender discrimination is not out of intent but rather out of ignorance, “the challenge is that gender equality is seen as a nice to have than a human right. To drink fresh water, to breath in clean air, to go to school or to apply for a job without prejudice are all fundamental rights.” Her advice to young girls is to do pure mathematics at high school as she finds that there are a number of girls “interested in Science after matric only to find out that they enrolled for maths literacy while at high school. You do have great potential and can be what you aspire to be if you are willing to put the effort and ask for help when necessary it is possible.” She believes that Africa is a land of opportunity and that is progressing in STEM where research integrity, research morality and ethics are observed and practiced. She is grateful for the Biodiversity Act of 2004 and the type of informed consent allowed in country in terms of research, “it shows that we are ready to protect what is ours while also being globally relevant.”  The main challenge according to Qwebani-Ogunleye is that implementation occurs at a slow pace as if change is evitable; and that we still require innovative ways to bridge the gender gap in STEM. Read more about our Geeky Girl, Tozama Qwebani-Ogunleye, who combines the old with the new, the traditional with the modern on a daily basis in an informative interview below.  1. Describe what your work entails. In the last decade, the higher education institutions have embarked on seeking ways to be relevant to communities and have a social positive impact. At Dihlare Remedy, we are a bridging knowledge and innovation that is related to product development and commercialisation of Traditional Medicine. The objective is to  have African Traditional Medicine easily accessible and recognised alongside mainstream healthcare.  2. Describe your STEM journey. I have always loved maths at school. My adolescent afternoons were spent preparing for the Maths 24 School Challenge . My parents bought the Maths 24 kit and each Sunday my parents, brother, sister and I would play. My passion for maths, along with my family’s support, culminated in me representing my school at a national level at the Maths 24 School Challenge. Mr Mthithala, my Maths teacher at Bizana village primary school was excellent in maths and added to my interest in it. My passion for science began after reading about penicillin and how it was discovered by chance. I started to imagine myself in the lab and wearing safety glasses and in search of a cure for something. Soon after, I won an opportunity at the age of 14 to represent South Africa at a youth science event in Vienna, Austria. I met young scientists from all over the world and rubbed shoulders with South African and Austrian dignitaries. This set me on my life’s path. Arriving at the University of Cape Town (UCT) as a first year student brought with it pleasure and pain. Pleasure because I was at university seeing and learning new things, and pain because the reality of lack of access to a  science laboratory while in high school. While most of my classmates were acquainted with all the tools and materials in the different laboratories, many of these had up until then been nothing more than a word or a picture in a textbook to me. I had never seen a microscope before, let alone touched one or used one. I spent the whole of the first year trying to catch up with the rest of my classmates, staying at university until after five every day when they locked up. After my undergrad I proceeded to Masters at the UCT and then PhD at the university of the Witwatersrand through a studentship with CSIR. I worked for CSIR for 6 years, TUT for 2 years and now based at VUT. I have volunteered in a number of projects that works with the youth while as a student and now as a professional. The youth is the hope of our nation and I would like to continue to add my positive contribution in youth empowerment.  3. What excites you about your job? What motivates you to get out of bed every morning? To be among the pioneers in South Africa that are looking at developing quality control protocols for traditional medicines and developing herbal formulations based on indigenous knowledge while working with the community excites me.  Traditional Medicine  is only beginning to be acceptable as an alternative health system in South Africa and is a niche identified through the National Research Development Strategy (NRDS), the Department of Science and Technology Innovation Plan (TYIP) and the Bioeconomy Strategy. Research, innovation and commercialization will increase the potential of African Traditional Medicine management and treatment of priority communicable and non-communicable diseases. To be part of something bigger than myself motivates me.  4. How would you describe your experience as a woman in the STEM space? My experience has been great, I am enjoying learning, unlearning and teaching while on this journey. I am an African woman in an African country where modern ideas fight with the traditional for space in an ever-changing society. Many see this juxtaposition as problematic; I choose to see it as an opportunity. I have looked for opportunities within my challenges. The stereotypes, social norms and pull her down syndrome are a reality when it comes to gender equality. Sometimes I have observed that these are not out of intent but rather ignorance. The challenge is that gender equality is seen as a nice to have than a human right. To drink fresh water, to breath in clean air, to go to school or to apply for a job without prejudice are all fundamental rights. I had an opportunity to talk more about this and suggest solutions as a guest writer for We Can Leadership Institute and in my blogs  below are the links. http://www.we-can-leadershipinstitute.com/2014/10/ http://www.drtqo.com/Blog2.html   5. What advice would you give to young women aspiring to enter the STEM field? Do not enrol for maths literacy at high school, do pure maths. I find a number of young girls interested in Science after matric only to find out that they enrolled for maths literacy while at high school. You do have great potential and can be what you aspire to be if you are willing to put the effort and ask for help when necessary it is possible.  6. As a STEM woman in Africa, how do you foresee the growth and progress of STEM on the continent? Is Africa a “land of opportunity”? Africa is the land of opportunity and growing in STEM. The research integrity, research morality and ethics are observed and practiced. I am so happy of the Biodiversity act of 2004 and the type of informed consent allowed in South Africa as far as research is concerned, it shows that we are ready to protect what is ours while also being globally relevant.  Our challenge is that we implement at a slow pace as if change is evitable. We however still need more innovative ways that will close the gender gap in STEM.  7. Have there been any milestone moments or eureka moments in your career? The vast knowledge that our traditional health practitioners have as far as our indigenous plants are concerned. It is remarkable and laudable. They might not know the scientific name/ English name of the herbs but when you speak in our vernacular with them you start to appreciate the wisdom that has been passed from generation to the next in our communities.  8. How do you maintain a work-life balance? By having a relationship with God, connected to myself, going to the gym and having a strong support structure.  9. Who is your role model? Who inspires you?   I do not have just one role model but a number of people that inspire me in different spheres. People who are committed to growth, progress, life-long students and pioneers of African literature. The likes of my parents: Prof PLO Lumumba, Prof Kgethi Phakeng, Eckart Tolle, Jada Pinkett Smith, Chimmanda Adichie Ngozi, Prof Chinau Achebe etc. My family and extended family members have been very supportive in this journey, they have been my cheerleaders.  10. Where can more information or insight into your work be found? Website: http://www.drtqo.com Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmYWY-F38Tg   Twitter Handle: @olathozie Tozama Qwebani-Ogunleye interviewed by Dhruti Dheda Dhruti Dheda is a Chemical Engineer with a strong interest in media and communication. She is the editor of the Engineers without Borders South Africa Newsletter and the Community Manager – South Africa and Regional Outreach for Geeky Girl Reality. If you wish to collaborate or network, contact her at dhruti@geekyreality.com or find her on twitter  @dhrutidd
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