Name: Miss Taahira Goolam Hoosen (MSc (Med); PGCE)
Role/Occupation: Lecturer & Humanitarian
Country: Cape Town, South Africa
I recently had the privilege of interviewing Taahira Goolam Hoosen, a lecturer and a humanitarian. Hoosen has two major passions, education coupled with empowerment and curiosity of the human body. With degrees in the areas of biology, human genetics and haematology, she works as a lecturer in the Department of Health Sciences Education at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, at the Writing Lab where she provides academic development support to both students and staff.
What excites her most about her job is that she is, “empowering them [students and staff] with a practice that goes beyond the university. Literacy is something that they can use in their professional space.” Hoosen is also the CEO of the Humanitarians, an organisation which undertakes projects that aim to empower South Africans. In 2017, they undertook the Sustainable Book Project, led by Hoosen which distributed 20 000 books across the country to increase literacy levels. She believes that, “Science will unlock our potential as a continent but it cannot be done alone… we need to empower and lift our budding scientists and keep mentoring them so that they can access opportunities and go beyond.” She is passionate about women in STEM and believes that women should pass on whatever they learn to elevate the status of the women in the STEM space in Africa, “Our skill set is unique and can be applied in any sphere so always ensure that you keep progressing and build your skill set.”
Read on (as I am sure Hoosen, a literary enthusiast, would personally advise) and be inspired by this enterprising and determined Geeky Girl.
1. Describe what your work entails.
I am a lecturer at the Department of Health Sciences Education at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. I work in a humbling space called the Writing Lab where I provide academic development support to both students and staff. Specifically, I empower them with the practice of academic literacies that can enable and progress their success and formal access at university.
2. Describe your STEM journey.
I have two passions, one being education and empowerment and the second stemming from my curiosity of the human body. I trained as a Biomedical Scientist at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (BSc: Biomedical Sciences in 2011) then went on to complete an Honours in Human Genetics (BSc (Med) Hons in 2012) where my thesis focused on further understanding retinitis pigmentosa in the Western Cape. I then came to a fork in the road since I wanted to pursue a MBChB but realised that I should capitalise on my passion for teaching and learning and went on to complete a Postgraduate Certificate in Education. I came back to Medical Sciences graduating in 2017 with an MSc (Masters of Science) focused on HIV-associated Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the University of Cape Town. During my studies I was always involved in part-time work and experience opportunities in the university space. These allowed me to explore the possibility of academia, network and build my diverse skill set ranging from monitoring and evaluation to online facilitation and most importantly the practice of academic literacy which I believe is crucial for success at university. The latter experience basically allowed me to merge my two passions, academic development support in the form of empowering students with the academic literacy practices in the Faculty of Health Sciences. This is how I ended up in academia and my current position.
3. What excites you about your job? What motivates you to get out of bed every morning?
I work in a humbling space where I have the time to get to know my students and staff that want assistance with their writing on a personal basis because academic literacy and particularly writing is socially embedded and is a practice and process – it is not obsolete nor done in isolation. I am excited to be a part of their journeys as they navigate the often confusing writing space in university. What gets me excited and motivated is that I am empowering them with a practice that goes beyond the university. Literacy is something that they can use in their professional space. I am always excited for the next student or staff member that reaches out for my help as it challenges me on how best I can assist them, improve their science communication and what new strategies and methods WE can learn together and experience.
4. How would you describe your experience as a woman in the STEM space?
It is challenging but nothing gets done without the correct mind-set, perseverance, determination and passion. As a woman and the eldest sibling in my family, being away from my home town and comfort zone, my commitments are more than just advancing my career, it is taking care of my family which requires careful planning, organisation and time management. Every day is a learning opportunity and my philosophy has always been about passing on whatever I learn so that we can continue to elevate the status of the STEM space in Africa especially for women. It is my small way of empowering us together.
5. What advice would you give to young women aspiring to enter the STEM field?
Be curious. Have a dream and work smart to turn it into reality. Possibilities are endless and YOU have to shape your own path. I started in Science and was aware of the normality to progress towards being a Scientist i.e. Masters, PhD, post-doctorate, however I was fortunate enough to merge my two passions and found another path towards progression in my career. This didn’t happen on its own but through determination and working consistently until I was where I wanted to be. There are many careers within the STEM field besides working in the laboratory space and it is our duty to seek those opportunities and go beyond. Our skill set is unique and can be applied in any sphere so always ensure that you keep progressing and build your skill set.
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”?
Certainly, there are opportunities everywhere and it is about accessing it and being driven to want to be a part of that movement. Often it just requires us to be able to see beyond and not let any barrier stop our dreams. Many obstacles will come our way but it is about staying true to the dream and ambition. I believe that Science will unlock our potential as a continent but it cannot be done alone – we all need to work together to create and make that vision a reality – men and women, old and young need to work together and we will reap the benefits. As a starting point we need to empower and lift our budding scientists and keep mentoring them so that they can access opportunities and go beyond. We need to keep progressing.
7. Have there been any milestone moments or eureka moments in your career?
I was recently voted as one of the Top 200 Mail & Guardian’s Young South Africans for 2018 which is such an honour to have for my work done in education. My recent appointment at UCT was on the New Generation of Academics Programme which allows me to work on my PhD full time – a post that only a handful in South Africa have been granted. I work on a voluntary basis as the Chief Operating Officer for the Humanitarians NPO/PBO and we have been involved in many, many projects empowering South Africans, young and old and one project that is dear to my heart was our Sustainable Book Project. I led this project in which we distributed close to 20 000 books to increase the literacy levels in our country. I am very humbled to be where I am today and anything is possible ONLY if we have the mind set and temperament to know where we need to be and to work until we are there.
8. How do you maintain a work-life balance?
Organisation is key but it’s also about having goals outside the work space. If all facets of your life are stimulating, it overflows to the other sectors. I love what I do and do what I love is really key to this balance. Time is the most important commodity and is something we can never get back so I make every minute count and for me there is always time for everything if organised correctly. I pray regularly and eat well which also contributes to this balance so you need to have a balance in everything in life.
9. Who is your role model? Who inspires you?
To be honest, I don’t have a role model but am inspired by a few people, the late Princess Diana as well as Khadija Bint Khuwaylid and Aisha Bint Abu Bakr, both wives of the Prophet Muhammed (Peace be upon him) as well as my mother, the superwoman. I believe that I shape my future and should be my own role model, borrowing golden nuggets from inspiring people here and there.
10. Where can more information or insight into your work be found?
You can find me on social media, follow me on LinkedIn or you can drop me a mail to collaborate/network Taahira.email@example.com
Taahira Goolam Hoosen 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on twitter @dhrutidd