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Latest articles from the Geeky Girl Reality Blog

You’ve probably heard about LinkedIn being a social network for professionals but, unlike Facebook, getting to grips with using it isn’t as easy as posting some holiday snaps for likes. With so much information out there, it can be difficult to know where to start, and many beginners get bogged down trying to primp their profile to perfection. George Khalife of Samford Advisors recently posted his top tips for students looking to use LinkedIn to kick-start an early career, and the post generated quite a great conversation. In this article, we use  George's advice to give you go-getter geeky girls the rundown on how you can take your first steps towards snagging that all-important first job, all through LinkedIn. 1. Build your brand, not your CV Fleshing out your CV with qualifications and skills is important, but save your search for internships for another day. At this stage, you need to focus on promoting who you are and what you stand for, so when you do apply for jobs, the people in your circle know you’re dedicated to their cause. You’re not just another face in the crowd; make sure everyone sees this. 2. You have a voice - use it! The internet is full of amazing content, but we’re willing to bet you have something even better to offer. It might be tempting to share an inspiring video or blog post, but anything that’s already out there is old news. George says  it’s time to ‘get creative and talk about what’s on your mind’: whether you draw upon events in your life or bounce off news articles to give a fresh perspective, your voice has power. 3. Variety is the spice of life Everyone loved your long-form blog last week, but they might not love the next 20 as much if that’s all you ever post. Get out of your comfort zone and experiment with video, voice recordings, and shorter attention-grabbing posts. 4. Be true to yourself It might be tempting to jump on the bandwagon and use trending topics to inspire the content you create. After all, if everyone’s doing it, it must be important, right? What’s more important is that you stay authentic and stand by what you believe in, so don’t be afraid to showcase your love for STEM and reach for success! 5. Students welcome Networking can be daunting when you’re reaching out to people with way more experience than you. Take heed and listen to great advice  from folks like George - he wants you to know that ‘everyone has a story, everyone has an interesting past’, meaning that your words have as much value as anyone else’s. Getting yourself out there on LinkedIn can lead to some really great gigs, whether that’s a proper job or a few days shadowing someone impressed by your presence. So what are you waiting for?  Oh, and when you join make sure to connect with us on LinkedIn !   ----o---- Geeky Girl Reality shares career tips to help young women kickstart their careers in STEM and relevant fields. Make sure to  view the available 'gigs"  on our site: internships, scholarships, and other entry-level opportunities.
Name:  Phylis Makurunje Role/Occupation:  Materials Engineer Country:  South Africa Phylis Makurunje’s work revolves around one of the biggest concerns facing the materials industry when it comes to building hyper-fast aircrafts- creating aircrafts using the appropriate materials to withstand the high temperatures experienced at hypersonic flight. At hypersonic speeds most metals melt. “As such, the aim is to have reusable materials that give the planes as many flights as possible before replacement. That is why I work on ultra-high temperature composites (UHTCs),” says Makurunje. Makurunje’s childhood dream was to make a helicopter one day. She was not entirely sure how to achieve her dream but pursued a career in STEM. She achieved a BEng (Bachelor of Engineering) in Chemical Engineering from the National University of Science and Technology. She then worked in the metallurgical industry for a few years after which she enrolled for MSc Materials Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand. It was here that the doors to outer space world opened for her and she began an incredible journey of working on UHTCs for rockets and future hypersonic space aeroplanes which can travel across continents in just one hour. She reached the realisation that she, “had incredibly leaped into [her] childhood dream field with the opportunity to work on aerospace materials.” And hence she proceeded with doctoral studies, following her MSc and has also been simultaneously working in the armour materials industry. With time, the “Materials Engineer” label has replaced the “Chemical Engineer” one. She wakes up every morning and asks herself, “Why can’t it be from Africa?” “Why can’t it be inexpensive?” “Why can’t it be accessible to all?” Makurunje thinks on these questions as she handles the challenges that come her way. She feels, “Just like the Internet of Things revolutionised the globe and essentially how everything is running our lives today, the Space of Things as I call it, is the next revolution and it is already here,” and is constantly driven by the potential impact that space technologies have on humanity. She describes her experience as a woman in the STEM field as having “been fun, fascinating and, of course, one’s fortitude has to be continually put to the test.” Makurunje believes one of the biggest issues facing women in STEM is mentorship, “Mentoring efforts that have gathered significant momentum are mostly directed at school-going girls. When young women try to reach out to women in STEM who have made it, they usually get no response at all or a passive one.” She feels that good mentoring at this level should be modelled and promoted and that senior STEM women should volunteer as dedicated mentors. Makurunje believes like many others that the 21st century may belong to Africa, “It is up to Africa to shake off the historical narrative of perpetually trailing on technological issues.” Many African countries have already increased the number of school students taking STEM subjects. Her message to the continent is simple and succinct yet insightful, “Enlarge your capacity. Spread out. Think big. Spare not.” Read more about our Geeky Girl Phylis Makurunje as she travels through the STEM world faster than hypersonic flight, setting the STEM world alight with her bright ideas. 1. Describe what your work entails. My work involves answering the materials question in upcoming hyper-fast aircrafts. Hypersonic flight is the next-thing in aviation; it involves shattering the sound barrier and zooming travellers to their destination via the fringes of space. Such daring speeds mean that one can fly across continents in just one hour. However, the faster the aircraft/spacecraft moves, the hotter the surface of the body becomes, especially at the sharp and leading edges. Temperatures soar to ranges beyond which most metals melt. As such, the aim is to have reusable materials that give the planes as many flights as possible before replacement. That is why I work on ultra-high temperature composites (UHTCs).This motivates me to wake up every morning and ask, “Why can’t it be from Africa?” “Why can’t it be inexpensive?” “Why can’t it be accessible to all?” 2. Describe your engineering journey. I studied BEng (Bachelor of Engineering) Chemical Engineering at the National University of Science and Technology. I worked in the metallurgical industry for a few years and then went for an MSc Materials Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand. When I realised how I had incredibly leaped into my childhood dream field with the opportunity to work on aerospace materials, I proceeded with doctoral studies. I have been working in the armour materials industry as well. The “Materials Engineer” label has overtaken the “Chemical Engineer” one. 3. What excites you about your job? What motivates you to get out of bed every morning? I am driven by the potential impact that space technologies have on humanity. Just like the “Internet of Things” revolutionised the globe and essentially how everything is running our lives today, the “Space of Things” as I call it, is the next revolution and it is already here. Outer space is the next hotspot of business conversations. 4. How would you describe your experience as a woman in the engineering space? It has been fun, fascinating and, of course, one’s fortitude has to be continually put to the test. This is where the issue of mentoring comes into play. Getting female mentors when starting a career in STEM (outside the one an employer may assign, who's usually a man) seems very difficult. Mentoring efforts that have gathered significant momentum are mostly directed at school-going girls. When young women try to reach out to women in STEM who have made it, they usually get no response at all or a passive one from 10 out of 10 potential mentors. It is high time good mentoring got modelled and senior STEM women stepped out to be dedicated mentors. 5. What advice would you give to young women aspiring to enter the engineering field? I would say “Do you, all the way”. A number of young people get derailed from their areas of passion and dreams by the voices of the people around them who misguide them that if one is good at Science subjects in school then they have to become a medical doctor. I admire medical doctors; but each one of us has to find our individual element and run with it. 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 found the future of Africa well described in a quote I read back in 2007 in a World Bank publication, by one of the former presidents, “The 20th century saw the stunning rise of countries like China, India and Japan. The 21st century may belong to Africa.” It is up to Africa to shake off the historical narrative of perpetually trailing on technological issues. The positive is that many African countries are taking significant strides on increasing the number of students taking STEM subjects in schools. These are the important steps that point to a brighter future. My message to the continent: Enlarge your capacity. Spread out. Think big. Spare not. 7. Have there been any milestone moments or eureka moments in your career? My eureka moment came when I got the opportunity to study aerospace materials at the University of the Witwatersrand. It opened doors for me to the outer space world and the journey has been incredible. Having to work on ultra-high temperature composites (UHTCs) for rockets and future hypersonic space aeroplanes which can travel across continents in just one hour connected me with my childhood dream of “making a helicopter one day.” 8. How do you maintain a work-life balance? My friends label me “Juggler”; but I am not sure if I am that good at playing the balancing game. I really liked the idea that I learnt from an article on Randy Zuckerberg “Accept that it’s impossible to tick all the boxes everyday so choose just three [out of the five things that would balance one’s life] – say work, sleep and family. If you focus on three [in a day] and achieve them to the best of your ability you will be more productive, more successful and kinder on yourself.” 9. Who is your role model? Who inspires you? I am always inspired by the hundreds of stories of darity, of defying odds and of finding purpose from people from all walks of life that I get to listen to or read about. It difficult for me to single out one; I like that variety. 10. Where can more information or insight into your work be found? https://www.linkedin.com/in/phylis-makurunje-b598741a/ Facebook:  Phylis Makurunje Twitter:  @makurunje_phyl Phylis Makurunje 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:  Yashodani Pillay Role/Occupation:  PhD Candidate: Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences (UKZN) Country:  South Africa Yashodani Pillay  is completing a PhD in Toxicology and Molecular Biology at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (UKZN). Her current research focuses on toxin contamination in food, which disproportionately affects developing countries such as South Africa where food transportation and storage infrastructure is limited, as a possible etiological agent in non-communicable diseases (NCDs). NCDs have risen rapidly in recent years, particularly in developing nations to become the leading cause of mortality worldwide. Although the current strategy used to address NCDs focusses on healthy diets and lifestyle changes, her research indicates that food quality is also an important consideration when tackling NCDs. Pillay has always been fascinated by the complex relationship between humans and disease. When she began her career as a scientist, she was unsure of how to combine her love for the innovation and problem-solving of the science field with her passion for social justice. Pillay completed her BSc in Biomedical Sciences at UKZN. She undertook additional research assistantships in parasitology and ecology during her undergraduate years as she was uncertain of what she wanted to specialise in after graduation. To get a feel for the different avenues available to her, she selected final year research projects in the fields of Biology and Medical Biochemistry. She found that she thoroughly enjoyed the variety of molecular techniques and projects in Medical Biochemistry and chose to complete her honours, from which she graduated summa cum laude and then master (which she has now upgraded to a PhD) in that field. Whilst at university, she had the opportunity to work with different NGOs, government and international agencies in health, policy and education. This gave her a chance to use her acquired skills for real life applications. Pillay hopes to eventually go into public health and use this knowledge in evidence based policy and initiatives or to enter a graduate medical/public health integrated program to combine these interests. Pillay says that one of her strangest experiences as a woman in the STEM space has been that, “people often mistake me for a man over written correspondence and are then surprised when we meet or chat over the phone.” She hopes that her presence as a female scientist goes some way towards breaking down that perception. Her advice to young women aspiring to enter the STEM field is to not be afraid to speak up, “sometimes people fail to realize that women make up half the world’s population and bring with them half the world’s problems and half the world’s solutions too. Your unique perspective brings innovation to the field.” She feels that African scientists are under immense pressure to produce high level, competitive research with far fewer resources their foreign counterparts. But she also feels that “this forces us to be innovative and to collaborate and I think we are slowly eroding any stereotypes that still exist.” Pillay believes that the continent has great potential for growth and that the key would be to “engage more youth in STEM, dismantle preconceived ideas about the sector [that it is] too difficult, just for academics, western ideology, “out of reach” – all of which are simply not true as scientific concepts underlie all our day to day lives, make it more relatable to more groups in our country and provide better support structures for youth entering STEM…” She is really encouraged when she sees that research done here is on par with international research. For instance, her oral presentation was nominated for an award at the Eurotox2016 conference in Spain. Over time, she has realised that a better work life balance leads to better work and wellbeing in the long run. This means prioritizing what she refers to as the productivity pillars in her life: sleep, exercise and fresh food. She says that this may “sound elementary but when working under deadlines and time dependent experiments these can easily run away from you.” Combine the use of all your senses, your love for knowledge and your support for women in STEM as you delve further into this interview on how this enamoured Geeky Girl, Yashodani Pillay combines her love for science and her passion for social justice. 1. Describe what your work entails. I’m doing a PhD in Toxicology and Molecular Biology using an in vitro model. Basically, I test food borne toxins on human cells grown in an artificial environment. We can alter this environment to simulate different conditions in the body. We then isolate different cellular components (DNA, protein, RNA for example) and run a variety of downstream tests that can tell us about changes to their integrity or the system. It’s a lot of lab hours but also a lot of office-based hours too, which most people don’t expect. Planning experiments and experimental design, grant applications, writing articles, analysing data, troubleshooting, maintaining admin and organization are also important parts of being a medical scientist. In more technical terms: the incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) (diabetes, cancer, heart disease) has risen rapidly in recent years, particularly in developing nations to become the leading cause of mortality worldwide. My current research focuses on toxin contamination in food (which disproportionately affects developing countries where food transport and storage infrastructure is limited) as a possible etiological agent in NCDs. While current strategy to address NCDs focusses on healthy diets and lifestyle changes our research indicates food quality is also an important consideration. I hope to eventually go into public health to use this knowledge in evidence based policy and initiatives, or go into a graduate medical/public health integrated program to combine these interests. 2. Describe your STEM journey. The complex relationship between humans and disease has always fascinated me. I began my career as a scientist with a love for the innovation and problem-solving in science and passion for social justice, though uncertain of how to bring them together. I completed my BSc in Biomedical Sciences in 2012. I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to specialise in for honours and postgrad so undertook additional research assistantships in parasitology and ecology during my undergraduate years and selected my final year research projects in Biology and Medical Biochemistry (to get a feel for the different fields available to me). I really enjoyed the variety of molecular techniques and projects in Medical Biochemistry and so decided to stay for honours (summa cum laude) and then masters which I upgraded to PhD. While at university studying the science behind disease I’ve worked with different NGOs, government and international agencies in health, policy and education. This has given me a chance to use the skills acquired in my training for real life applications and impact and has been greatly rewarding. 3. What excites you about your job? What motivates you to get out of bed every morning? I’d say I have a top 3. I love how science is at the forefront of innovation, discovery and solutions. That we can learn from laboratory data and the scientific method and improve real life situations, applications and the lives of others. I love that science has a place for creativity and design – both at experimental level and communication in images and presentations. 4. How would you describe your experience as a woman in the STEM space? People often mistake me for a man over written correspondence and are then surprised when we meet or chat over the phone – that’s probably been the strangest thing for me. I hope my presence in the field goes some way towards breaking down that perception. But in terms of day to day laboratory life; I have an incredibly supportive supervisor. He constantly encourages me to pursue my interests and has been my main pillar of support during the thesis write up. Our department is certainly female dominated (of the 14 post grads and post docs, 3 are male). We’re all passionate about our field and sharing that with people who want to learn more. 5. What advice would you give to young women aspiring to enter the STEM field? Firstly, there’s a lot more failure than success (literally) in science and research– so be ready for that. You learn quickly not to take yourself too seriously, that each failure is pointing you in a direction you may have missed before, and to take every opportunity you can to learn. Secondly, there will always be people telling what you should be and how you should be. But the best thing you can be is yourself – for you and your field. Don’t be afraid to speak up –chances are that others in some way connect with your experience or it brings something new to the table. Sometimes people fail to realize that women make up half the world’s population and bring with them half the world’s problems and half the world’s solutions too. Your unique perspective brings innovation to the field. 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 African scientists are often under immense pressure to produce high level, competitive research with far fewer resources than institutes abroad. If anything, this forces us to be innovative and collaborate and I think we are slowly eroding any stereotypes that still exist. It was really encouraging to travel and see that our research is on par with what’s out there internationally (My oral presentation was nominated for an award at the Eurotox2016 conference in Spain). I believe we have great potential for growth and are fertile ground for such. In my opinion the key would be to engage more youth in STEM, dismantle preconceived ideas about the sector (e.g too difficult, just for academics, western ideology, “out of reach” – all of which are simply not true as scientific concepts underlie all our day to day lives), make it more relatable to more groups in our country and provide better support structures for youth entering STEM/STEM training and early STEM careers. 7. Have there been any milestone moments or eureka moments in your career? I don’t think I’ve had that one defining moment many people describe. I’d say my honours year was a pivotal one for me. I’d always thought I’d go straight into Public Health after honours but instead ended up doing my PhD. At the time my project was based in drug discovery and I really enjoyed the novelty and creativity in building on and executing my project from start to finish. My supervisors encouraged this and progressive thinking. It was my first proper experience of research and had a lasting impact on my outlook. 8. How do you maintain a work-life balance? This has taken some time to learn but I’ve realised a better work life balance leads to better work and wellbeing in the long run. For me this means prioritizing productivity pillars in my life (sleep, exercise, fresh food). I know this sounds elementary but when working under deadlines and time dependent experiments these can easily run away from you. Then creating time for the things I enjoy – time with friends, family, travel, trying new restaurants, going to the beach (Durban beach is one of my favourite places in the world and wonderful to destress), live music or theatre performances. I think it’s important to have that balance between work and play – even if it’s something short, like a coffee date or beach walk I try to incorporate at least one per week. 9. Who is your role model? Who inspires you? Ms Jurie Thavar  – currently works for the Department of Public Works Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN) but gives freely of her spare time to community initiatives and helping others. Public figures:  Thuli Madonsela and Caster Semenya – for their principles, resilience and commitment to excellence. 10. Where can more information or insight into your work be found? Researchgate:  https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Yashodani_Pillay Twitter Handle:  @Yash_P Yashodani Pillay 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:  Sharanya Iyer Role/Occupation:  Engineer Country:  India Interviewer is  Harsha Kulkarni , has recently completed her Engineering in Information Science and has joined the professional sector. She is a NTSE scholar and also bagged the WeTech Qualcomm Scholarship. GGR had recently cover her interview https://discuss.geekyreality.com/d/778-ggr-stemstories-harsha-engineering-student-bengaluru-india 1) What motivated you to take up Engineering? I remember as a kid, I had always been fascinated by Computers. Growing up, the infinite possibilities for innovation in the field of Technology Drew me towards the field of Computer Science. I was quite passionate to pursue in this field. At the same time, the vastness and complexity of this field equally challenged me each time. During my Undergrad Course, I spent more time, in tech communities, workshops, Hackathons and Conferences than in my regular classes. Each experience here has always offered me a lot to learn and there has always been a lot more to explore. I was always intrigued by the rapid progress and the constant change in technology. The mere thought of being able to create something in this space, was a huge factor to choose this field. 2) Did you have a mentor in your early years? Did the mentor play a role in shaping your field of study? It’s hard to name one person, there have been a lot of people at a lot of points who have given me the right kind of advice or their experiences have always have had a huge impact. Perhaps, someone who has been closest to a mentor has been my Sister. She has always been a huge influence on me. We have had similar interests and she has been my support System. My Father again has been a strong force and I can always rely on him for feedbacks for my work and all that I do. I have been very fortunate to have got connected to people who have made their mark in the Tech Industry and a lot of their work and journeys have imparted some inspiring lessons. I mostly like to learn through my experiences, gather from what has worked for me, what hasn’t and most of all, work on things that give me happiness and satisfaction. 3) What do you think could be the reason for gender disparity in STEM studies our country. What can we do to lessen the gap? Unfortunately, this is a scenario in most countries of the world. In case of our country, the social construct could be one of the reasons. Looking deeply into this, there is a large gap in men to women ratio, which in itself is a matter of concern. When we further analyze the numbers in STEM studies, it just starts thinning. While, we go further up the ladder, we find that the numbers are abysmal. I had a bizarre incident where, in a hackathon (which was about 5 years ago and the number of men, where much more compared to the number of Women) I was asked by one of the men as to being a Women, why did I choose to pursue technology. This incident was quite shocking as to, since that was the first time did I experience the gender disparity in the field. It can be very intimidating and challenging at the same time for women to take up this field, because of the existing disparity and exclusiveness in some areas of this field, however being very optimistic I must say that this scenario is changing for the better, though nothing rapid as of now, but we will get there one day. Having worked with many Women in Tech communities, I see that there are lot more opportunities for people aspiring to grow big in this field, however, we certainly do lack awareness about these opportunities.With a better outreach and more organizations joining this cause we can certainly get definitely bridge the gender gap in this field. Another means would be to start early, if schools could recognize students who are passionate and who have the aptitude, they should start motivating and training more such students to pursue in this field. 4) You have organized a TedX event at your college. How was the experience? I have had the opportunity to organize about 3 TEDx events in my previous college, Ramaiah Institute of Technology. It was one of the best experiences that I’ve had. It helped me hone my leadership skills along with curation skills. This got me to meet and interact with some extraordinary people, at the same time, learn so much about various things. Since, curation requires you to be well researched about various things and get the right kind of content out on talks. Though this was an arduous and a mammoth task, I’ve had a lot of fun doing this. We were fortunate enough to get some really good talks out of these three events. My Association with TEDx will always be cherished, I got an opportunity to attend TED Women Conference couple of years ago in San Francisco, since I was one among 20 TEDxers all over the world, who was awarded the TEDx Change Scholarship in association with the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. Also, in order to help other TEDxers in South Indian region, along with a couple of TEDxers in Bangalore we did do a TEDx organizers regional workshop in Bangalore. Where we did talk about curation, sponsorship and creating a TEDx experience for the audience etc. 5) You are the Google WomenTechmakers lead. Could you explain more about this program and your role? I was the lead for the Google Women Techmakers Bangalore Chapter. This is an incredible initiative by Google, Women Techmakers provides community, resources and visibility for Women in Technology. With each chapter we do regular study jams, workshops, codelabs sessions, Hackathons and Tech talks. It did come with great responsibility of building a community where you provide people with help and resources to learn the technology they want to. This Community is powered by the Google Developers group, which works hand in hand to provide opportunities and resources for those who are passionate about technology. I find that Communities are a great place to start learning something new, it gives you the right kind of network with likeminded individuals where you can even collaborate and build something! I started off by regularly attending tech meetups of various communities while I was doing my Undergrad. Eventually, after gaining so much from these communities it was time to give back. Here, as a lead I got to do sessions at the same time invite people with the right kind of technical expertise to deliver code labs sessions and talks. I urge those who are interested in learning a new technology to lookup these communities and attend few sessions, I’m sure at the end of the day, you will have a lot to take back home. 6) Where do you see yourself 10 years from now? I have always dreamed of doing something and overtime developing something, which I can call my own. One day I do want to start my own company, I’ve always strived for it. Building the right skills, gathering the knowledge. I guess overtime, I should be able to get there (Hopefully!). 7) Where can we find out about your work and programs? My Linkedin page would be the best place, it would be updated soon though. I can also be reached at  k.s.sharanya.iyer@gmail.com  . 8) Could you tell more about your role at GHCI? I have been with GHCI from the last few years. I attended my first GHCI about 4 years back, as a scholar. It was an incredible experience and an ocean of opportunity. I wanted to stay connected with the community, hence joined as a committee member the next year with the hackathon track, the next year with Scholarship and Campus to Corporate track. I was one of the panel members for the panel discussions on communities last year and this year with the tech talks track. I must say, the Tech talks track is a new introduction to the Conference and there is something very exciting with this track for all the attendees this year. Along with GHCI, this year I have also had the opportunity to work with GHC USA, as a Committee member for the Student Scholarship Committee. In Conclusion…. To Sum it all up, I am so grateful for having experiences in various fields, be it technology and I have also had the opportunity to curate a Litfest, called the UNDER 25 Litfest in Bangalore couple of years ago, arts or the Creative field. I have always liked to try and explore various fields. I have always felt that there is so much more to explore, learn and do. So far, having an open mind to new experiences, changes, learning and meeting more people, most importantly never letting my enthusiasm down has been my key driving factors. I hope to take this journey ahead with the same kind of enthusiasm.
Name:  Itumeleng Tsatsi  Role/Occupation:  Lecturer, Occupational Therapy. Country:  South Africa Itumeleng Tsatsi  a lecturer in Occupational Therapy department at the University of Free State. She specialises in psychiatry and community based education. As a lecturer, Tsatsi trains occupational therapy students at both undergraduate and postgraduate level to become well rounded occupational therapists who are critical thinkers, cognizant of issues of diversity and contributors towards the health care system in South Africa. She also contributes immensely to research in her field and is at the forefront of curriculum development for occupational therapy courses. Being interested in science from a young age, Tsatsi chose science based subjects in high school. Towards the end of high school she realised she needed a degree that would allow her to be creative and still scientific at the same time. After job shadowing occupational therapists in psychiatry, she applied to study a BSc Occupational Therapy at the University of Cape Town. Post-graduation, she completed her community service at Zebediela Hospital, a district hospital in rural Limpopo, where she was confronted with a variety of conditions, from neurological problems to learning disabilities to developmental delays. Her experience made her sceptical of specialising in mental health. However, during her third year of work at Thabamoopo Psychiatric Hospital, Tsatsi became severely frustrated with the injustices faced by mental health care users and decided to enrol for a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy with Stellenbosch University. Her research collaboratively engages long term mental health care users in trying to gain insight into their experience of living in Thabamoopo Hospital halfway house in its current functioning state. The collaborative nature of her research aims “to empower mental health service users with a voice to identify the challenges they experience,” the research findings will be used to enhance the services rendered to the residents by the halfway house. Tsatsi decided to venture into academia after being intrigued by “research and the voice it gives to the marginalised” and in March this year, she was appointed as a lecturer at the University of Free State. Tsatsi managed to become an academic, one of her long term goals, before completing her Master’s degree and considers this to be one of the greatest milestones in her career thus far. She loves her work because it, “echoes justice for the marginalised… allows [her] to be a voice for the voiceless and to facilitate health and wellbeing through everyday occupations that people often take for granted.” Tsatsi feels that as a person of colour and as a woman, in a field which is dominated by white females, she can to create change by being able to advocate for African consumers of the profession, “I’m able to alter a westernised profession in its roots and fit it to the African context.” Tsatsi is also very optimistic about the future of STEM on the continent, “It is awakened to its potential and recognising that we are a force to be reckoned with. I think the number of women that have stepped into STEM in Africa is evidence that… Africa will be recognised as a land of opportunity… For the first time in history, Africa is raising responsible leaders who are cognisant of issues of injustice faced by all.” She maintains a balanced lifestyle by playing as hard as she works, “I do activities that keep me on my path. My spirituality is at the core of my wellbeing and I keep in tune with that every day. I do things that make me happy. I eat and travel a lot.” Let Itumeleng Tsatsi and her warm and gentle approach to the marginalized “occupy” some space in your heart as you enjoy the interview of this compassionate occupational therapist and determined Geeky Girl. 1. Describe what your work entails. Occupational therapists (OTs) are Health Professionals that use the science of occupation as things that people do every day to facilitate health and wellbeing. OTs work with people across all ages, regardless of disability status; from the infant with developmental delays or the scholar with learning disabilities or experiencing barriers to learning to the adult with neurological conditions such as stroke or admitted to hospital with depression to communities that need development and capacity building or the CEO who just had a car accident, now disabled and needing to return to work. Occupational therapists in psychiatry specialise in mental health and work with individuals or groups who have been admitted to hospital due to mental illness for management of their mental illness symptoms through medication and rehabilitation so that they can recover and return back into their communities and resume their life roles. Occupational Therapy (OT) in mental health constitutes Forensic OT, where OTs are involved in assessing functioning of an individual and together with the multi-disciplinary team (other health professionals like doctors and psychologists) decide whether a person was mentally ill at the time of committing the convicted crime. Geriatric OT, where old people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, among others are stimulated through activities of daily living to keep them in touch with reality and maintain their level of functioning. Acute OT, where OTs work with new admissions to the hospital due to bipolar mood disorder, schizophrenia, substance induced psychosis, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorders, among many other mental illnesses are rehabilitated with the aim of returning them back to work and communities. This may at times include exploring healthier occupations to that which led to their admission in the first place (an example of this is a young adult/ teenager who was abusing substances, which induced psychosis and needs treatment and rehabilitation to return back to school or work. An OT, together with the client will need to explore an alternative healthier occupation like cycling or excising to replace the heavy smoking or drinking. These occupations need to be client centered and meaningful to the client. Among other things, to ensure that the client does not relapse and return to the hospital, OTs includes other important aspects of life such as life skills, stress management and social skills, among others). One of the most important aspects of anyone’s life is work, as this is powerful in shaping one’s identity. Occupational Therapists are at the core of rehabilitation in ensuring a successful return to work and resuming one’s life roles post discharge from hospital. This often involves other stake holders like the employer, colleagues and family members. With consent from the client, the OT prepares the client’s return to work prior to their discharge by ensuring that the work environment is accommodative of their mental deficits and where necessary, adjustments be made to ensure a smooth and successful transition back into the work space. Reasonable accommodation may be made, such as the client working half days or accommodating early lunch to allow the client to take their medication on time, among others. Lastly, OTs facilitates vocational rehabilitation programmes for long term mental health care users who need to engage in work as part of rehabilitation while admitted at the hospital. This helps in acquiring skills needed for the open labour market, should they need to apply for work while on their leave of absence. Patients with mental illness need occupational therapy because an admission to hospital due to ill health is a disruption to participation in daily occupations of work, leisure, play and self-care. The ability to engage in these meaningful occupations that are often taken for granted is what contributes to our health and wellbeing. Occupational therapists use these occupations to manage symptoms by bringing familiar occupations to the individual during their hospital admission so that when they are discharged from hospital, they do not struggle with participating in these occupations and become contributing members of their societies. My current job as a lecturer in Occupational Therapy entails training occupational therapy students at both undergraduate and postgraduate level to become well rounded occupational therapists who are critical thinkers, cognizant of issues of diversity and contributors towards the health care system in South Africa. I specialise in psychiatry and community based education. 2. Describe your STEM journey. My STEM journey started in high school, where I made the decision to study science based subjects with the hope of studying engineering in future. It wasn’t, until end of high school when I realised that engineering was not for me. I was creative and needed a degree that allows one to be creative and still scientific at the same time. I encountered BSc Occupational Therapy in a UCT prospectus and decided to shadow an occupational therapists in psychiatry at the time. I was intrigued by the intricacies of her job and how she helped make other people’s lives meaningful. Occupational Therapy is the perfect combination of science and creativity. I applied for the degree at the University of Cape Town and pursued this career in 2010. Post-graduation in 2013, I was employed for my community service at Zebediela Hospital. A district hospital in rural Limpopo, where I was exposed to adult neurological conditions, children with learning disabilities, functional assessments for disability grants and children with developmental delays, among others. It was a year of learning and at the end of it, one thing I was still certain about was that I did not want to specialize in mental health. After my community service year, I was forced, together with other colleagues, into Thabamoopo Psychiatric Hospital. In my third year of experience in the field, out of frustration of the injustices faced by mental health care users, I decided to enrol for a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy with Stellenbosch University. My research works collaboratively with long term mental health care users in trying to gain insight into their experience of living in Thabamoopo Hospital halfway house in its current functioning state. I aim use the research findings towards enhancing the services rendered by the halfway house to improve the lives of its residents. This research is collaborative in nature to empower mental health service users with a voice to identify the challenges they experience by residing in an institutionalized setting and how that contributes towards their experience of justice/injustice. The rationale for this research is to achieve community reintegration of mental health service users and provide supportive environments that enable them to become contributing members of their societies. This study was in response to challenges in practice. Unlike other halfway houses, Residents of the halfway house at Thabamoopo hospital are not permitted to leave the hospital premises in pursuit of work or be reintegrated with the community. By identifying how this affects the residents’ future plans, dreams and aspirations, the results of this study can contribute towards improving the halfway house to be able to address the needs of its residents. Beginning of 2018, I was intrigued by research and the voice it gives to the marginalised and aimed to venture into academia. It was in March 2018 that I was appointed as a lecturer in Psychiatry and Community Based Education by the department of Occupational Therapy at the University of Free State. 3. What excites you about your job? What motivates you to get out of bed every morning? What excites me about my job is the difference it makes in people’s lives. The young and the old, the marginalized and the privileged, disabled or abled. My job echoes justice for the marginalised. It seeks to allow people to engage in occupations of their choice without experiencing environmental barriers. My job allows me to be a voice for the voiceless and to facilitate health and wellbeing through everyday occupations that people often take for granted. It allows me to contribute to research, to be at the forefront of curriculum development and to train students who one day, will be agents of change in our country and across the globe. 4. How would you describe your experience as a woman in the STEM space? Occupational Therapy as a profession is a predominantly white female dominated field. Being an occupational therapist, who is black and a woman allows me to advocate for black consumers of the profession. It means I can understand black injustices and address them as a fellow black who is cognisant of such issues. Often, people misunderstand clients’ contexts, which is a great predictor of one’s treatment and the success thereof. As a black South African female, I’m able to alter a westernised profession in its roots and fit it to the African context. 5. What advice would you give to young women aspiring to enter the STEM field? Go for it! It takes a bit more dedication and intention to succeed in the arena, but the significance of STEM in the lives of people, systems and the society is worth it. Set your goals and work towards them. Be diligent, be consistent. Nothing comes easy. 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”? Definitely, Africa is now realising its potential and vast contribution it has made towards the rest of the world. It is awakened to its potential and recognising that we are a force to be reckoned with. I think the number of women that have stepped into STEM in Africa is evidence that in the next decade or so, Africa will be recognised as a land of opportunity and a mine field that will not only feed the rest of the world, but one that is dug and benefits every African, in the most just and fair way. For the first time in history, Africa is raising responsible leaders who are cognisant of issues of injustice faced by all. 7. Have there been any milestone moments or eureka moments in your career? By far, one of the greatest milestone in my career is achieving one of my long term goals of being an Academic before completing my Master’s degree as I thought it would happen. A latest recognition in the Mail and Guardian 200 young South African’s is also one milestone that was only but a dream. It reinforced that my contribution towards mental health in South Africa is valid and recognised. 8. How do you maintain a work-life balance? I play as hard as I work. I do activities that keep me on my path. My spirituality is at the core of my wellbeing and I keep in tune with that every day. I do things that make me happy. I eat and travel a lot. 9. Who is your role model? Who inspires you? I look up to a lot of people for different things. I’m currently inspired by STEM women in Academia who are making waves and breaking glass ceilings. I look up to the likes of Elelwani Ramugondo, Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi and Mamokgethi Phakeng, black women in academia, whose lives affirm that our dreams as black children are valid. 10. Where can more information or insight into your work be found? My latest feature in 200 young South Africans can be found on  http://ysa.mg.co.za/2018/itumeleng-tsatsi/   My twitter handle is   @TumiTsatsi  LinkedIn:   Itumeleng Tsatsi Itumeleng Tsatsi 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
Girl Code held their fifth annual GirlCodeHack , the largest female hackathon in South Africa from the 3-5 August 2018, at the start of the country’s Women’s Month. Girl Code is a social enterprise that aims to empower girls and women through technology and provides training opportunities for girls interested in software development. They envision impacting 10 million women across Africa in 10 years. Girl Code also aims to become the largest female digital academy. GirlCodeHack hosted more than a 140 girls across three major cities, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. The theme of the hackathon was ‘Technology as an enabler to tackle the United Nations Sustainability Goals' and hence the young women had collaborate intensively to build software and hardware prototypes as solutions to these goals. The hackathon was open to a range of women involved in software development, such as computer programmers, graphic designers, interface designers, business analysts and project managers. The aim of the hackathon was to raise awareness about fresh female technical talent, whilst affording participants the opportunity to learn, network and develop real world skills necessary for the workplace in an environment which was competitive yet congenial. The event also aimed to encourage young girls to consider pursuing a career in STEM and to attract local companies for further investment in support of women in technology fields as well as serve as a white label event to corporates, which can tailored to develop company specific solutions. The hackathon was opened in Johannesburg by Stella Ndabeni- Abrahams, the Deputy Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, who expressed appreciation for events such as these which aim to address gender inequity in STEM as well as foster a strong network to support young women. During her opening keynote, she said that “the aim is to have one million young people, women especially, trained by 2030. You educate a woman, you educate a nation…We celebrate Women’s Month, as we celebrate Mama Sisulu, who was a champion of education. She would have made sure that train young people in the ICT space… We must say ‘We must be able to learn from each other and work together'… We look forward to forging meaningful partnerships with coding initiatives… We will therefore conduct a stakeholder engagement to coordinate these interventions during October, Cybersecurity Month.” Zandile Keebine, the cofounder and chairwoman of Girl Code, was also named as one of the InspiringFiftySA earlier this month, she feels that “the best time to get girls interested in STEM was 20 years ago! The next best time is now!” Keebine says that she is “inspired everyday by the commitment [she sees]  from other women who give up their personal time to create opportunities for other women.” The participants pushed ahead for 30 hours non-stop programming as they collaboratively designed and created a website, game or mobile app that addressed a real world problem in teams from 2 to 4 members. Much fun was had and most young women were just glad to be in a tech environment which was not overrun by male faces and to be in the company of other young women who shared their interest and enthusiasm for technology; many women found this encouraging and finally felt that they were not alone on this path. There were R350 000 worth of prizes available throughout the hackathon, this included devices, data and tickets to industry events, which meant that most participants were likely to win something throughout the weekend. However, there were three main prizes awarded to the three main winning teams, which were announced on the 9 August, Women’s Day. The third place prize, Printers sponsored by BoxFusion, was awarded to the team who designed an Android app Self-Educate, from Durban. The app provides girls in townships and rural areas with tutorials on various modules and study materials for school. The second place was given to the ‘Scatterlings of Africa' from Cape Town, who were awarded an Amazon Echo sponsored by Amazon Web Services. They created a web platform where consumers could actively engage in reducing hunger, by buying local produce, donating to food banks, donating organic scraps for compost and volunteering at community kitchens. The grand prize was awarded to the winning team, the ‘Lightbulbs’ from Johannesburg, a trip to the Women in Tech Conference in Amsterdam sponsored by Cisco as part of its Connect Women program. At the conference the winning team will not gain exposure to the international environment for women in technology but they will also have an opportunity to learn, network and grow their solution. The team also received a Microsoft Technology Associate Certification Course, sponsored by LGIT Smart Solutions. The ‘Lightbulbs’ presented a data accumulation solution which included an integrated device. When inserted, the device assesses the soil in a garden or a farm. The data pertaining to the soil is then shown on a website where the farmer or gardener can access it and then determine the course of action on which to proceed in accordance to the data. After the hackathon, Girl Code relayed that “everyone left with a winning experience. We are extremely proud of all the girls! Go take over the world!!!” In essence the GirlCodeHack is a event for the ‘Geeky Girl' and embodies the spirit of raising awareness about women in STEM, fostering a competitive yet congenial spirit among females in STEM, building a strong network to support women in STEM and encouraging young girls to enter careers in the STEM field and as such Geeky Girl Reality was more than happy to promote and to cover the GirlCodeHack. Written 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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