Reflecting: A lesson in respect

by Carl Belger

Countless friends from my old high school have transferred degrees, taken gap years and even dropped out. It is so difficult to know what you are supposed to do in this world; to have a calling. I am one of very few blessed individuals who has always known what they wanted to do: I have always known I wanted to do research. How to go about that path, however, is a challenge on its own. Perhaps here I can share some of my insight to prospective or even current students unhappy with where they are.

I started my undergrad in Biochemistry and Chemistry but swiftly changed to Biochemistry and Genetics when I learned that electrons aren’t actually just balls floating around other balls but rather probability clouds (right? I’m still not okay!). Three years later I found myself graduating at my family friend’s house in the middle of a pandemic. But was it worth it? Would I change a thing if I could? [] In short: absolutely not. Well… maybe. I think I would change the fact that I had to see some people walk around campus and venues without shoes – lecturers included. If you want to brace yourself for anything about UCT life, brace yourself for that.

The hurricane of first year, whirlwind of second year and earthquake lockdown of third year went by in a flash. My honours year is the perfect attachment to that. Being lectured by some of the greatest minds in the field, getting to conduct my own research project, and speaking to many professionals all the way from neurosurgeons to sports scientists. If I had to give one word to describe how I felt this year it would be ‘respected’. This year I was treated like an adult – not just someone who is here to learn, but someone who is capable of creating something new, on my own. For this first time in my life, I was left in a lab alone. And although I was afraid, I also felt one of the best feelings: independence. It was very fulfilling to know that my supervisor – someone I admire deeply – trusted me enough to perform on my own in the lab.

To anyone who thinks research might be for them, consider my path. There are many honours streams to choose from: neuroscience, medical biochemistry, human genetics, and cell biology (just to name a few). Every person I have encountered on med campus has devoted their lives to improving the lives of others. I look up to all of them and hope to be just like them someday. If you do too, then consider this your invitation.

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