Where do I even begin? 

by Yanelisa Pulani

Perhaps I should begin by saying that this year has been a serious rollercoaster ride – fun, scary, stretching, yet rewarding. 

My path to becoming a clinician scientist began only a year ago. Or perhaps I’m lying. Perhaps the journey began in 2013 and 2014, and most recently in 2018. In 2013, and 2014, I lost my aunt and nana to pancreatic and oesophageal cancer, respectively. Between the early years and 2018, we discovered that my uncle has schizophrenia, and in 2018, my sister was diagnosed with epilepsy, the cause of which is still unknown. These experiences motivated me to seek solutions for which a medical degree alone would not have allowed me to search to the best of my abilities, and thus the integration of science and medicine made perfect sense and gave me hope for the future of health care. And the confirmation I received in 2019 to begin research in neurosciences or genetics was the final nail in the coffin for me to take the first steps on this less-travelled path that serves as a pillar for the future. 

Last year, I took the first step into my journey by pursuing my third year of medicine with molecular medicine and, in the end, being accepted into the Neuroscience and Physiology stream, and my second step toward becoming a clinician scientist began. I joined UCT’s best lab, the Raimondo lab (this is scientifically proven, so don’t come after me). Officially, I am a member of the Raimondo lab, and unofficially, a member of the Crypto team, which is led by Dr. Dangarembizi, the greatest female neuroscientist of all time if you ask me. I couldn’t have made it through the year without the help of these two groups. But I have to give special credit to my supervisor, Joe; I couldn’t have asked for a better supervisor. I’ve never met anyone so humble and caring. He prioritized my mental health, and coming from Medicine, where mental health is often treated as a foreign language and pushed to the side, I appreciated being seen and treated as a “feeling” human being for once. If you need a lab that will push you to do your best in a less-stressful way, this is the lab to be in (if you’re doing Neuro). Thesis writing almost caused me to quit, but the encouragement I received from my team, Joe, Thijs (who was always up with me in the early AMs), and Roxanne, was so compelling that I had to get up. 

Friends were never on my list of things I expected to walk out with this year. I am extremely grateful for the friendships (the 2022 Neuro crew) I have made. We’ve made so many wonderful memories together, from First Thursdays to Saturday food markets, color picnics, pizza, and games night. We connected, in part because of our extremely weird personalities, and I loved every minute of it. I could not have done honors with a better group of people. I’m looking forward to seeing what these wonderful people accomplish in their careers. 

My second step toward becoming a clinician scientist was fantastic! I have gained many valuable skills that I will carry with me on my next journey of intercalated Master’s. 

If you know me, you know that I can’t end a reflection piece without mentioning God. It may appear inappropriate to many, but until you know my life and how God has shown up in the darkest of times, this will appear useless to you, but I guess I don’t really care. The right ears will hear this and that’s all that matters.   That being said, I am most grateful for the way God always shows up in my life. From instilling in me the desire to conduct brain research to paving the way for me through the intercalated program and now my honors degree. He is far superior at aligning my needs with His plan for me. This year could have been much worse, but His plan was far greater, and He carried the rope and brought people into my life to help me get through this season seamlessly. 

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