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Lessons learned

by Pheziwe Mshunqwane

This year has been one of the most challenging years yet the most fulfilling year. I have laughed until my stomach hurt; I have cried until there were no tears coming out. I have also prayed like I have never prayed before.

This year has taught me two most valuable lessons that I will always carry with me and these lessons are:

(a) ‘No man is an island’

I always thought that success depends on me and I can do it all on my own, but this year has taught the power of community. I have been blessed with the most supportive bunch of people; my fellow mates, supervisors and every one in my lab. I can confidently say, without then I would have probably given up.

(b) ‘Closed mouths never get fed’

I was this year that I learned to open my mouth and say ‘I’m not okay’, ‘I need help’ and it was then that I was able to get help and find the support that I needed. This was one of the hardest things for me to do but the environment that my group created has allowed me to break out of that cocoon.

I am grateful that I got to learn these lessons this year. I will take wherever I go.

You need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable in order to see growth. Read that again and slowly.

by Limpho Thipane

This year was a journey I was not ready for! From when I arrived in Cape Town, I struggled with accommodation, and I kept telling myself that I majored in Psychology, so I know how to counsel myself and deal with it. However, there is a famous saying “a doctor, cannot heal thyself” so the Psychology I learnt did not help. Bear in mind, I am far from home with no accommodation and funding. There were 2 voices, the first one told me to go back home because this is too much handle and the other one that I chose to listen to, said I should stay, and I will get through this and within days it was sorted. After that, another struggle or weight on my shoulders was funding. After weeks of stress, it got sorted out. Now another struggle was the transition from NWU to UCT and going back to contact lessons. We might have studied the same work in undergrad, but the content was totally different. In between my struggles of accommodation and funding, we had classes too. In my entire schooling years, I have never struggled academically the way I did this year! It came as a shock and even now I still ask myself what went wrong or what did I do wrong, because the frustration stemmed from putting in the hours, but they seem like they were not enough. Again, another struggle I faced was losing a loved one during all of that. Doing neurosciences and physiology came as a blessing and it is something I do not take for granted, because I managed to help my relative while he was having a stroke over the phone. Even on his funeral, I was unable to go because I had class, so I had to show up and exams were close. Basically, the most written word here is STRUGGLE and no matter what happened, I told myself that I should just take it 1 day at a time and it shall pass. Now my honours project, which challenged me to be uncomfortable because I had no background in immunology but the day I started, I told myself that I came here to learn and that is what I did. From doing lab work until late hours, my samples getting contaminated week after week, using chemistry calculations I did in Garde 10 which felt like decades ago and working with MICE! I know, you would expect me to be scared, but I wasn’t like which surprised my supervisors, like I said my project challenged me and I was grateful. But I’m probably going to scream when I see a mouse on the street! One thing that got me through this year was the support system I had, which I will always be grateful for! This year, I learnt a lot about myself and as much as I went through a lot in a short period of time, I am filled with gratitude and I learnt that life or growing up is not swift, easy or gradual, but it is a bumpy road, and it works out in the end. The months became weeks, weeks became days, and I am typing this after being finished with my academic year. So push, it will be worth it at the end. As the journey continues….

Honours- Don’t knock it till you try it.

by Casey Valentine

As the year draws to the end and there are only final presentations left to go, I find it is the perfect time to really reflect on how this past academic year has treated me and what I have learned from it. Before starting the year, I was filled with excitement. I was coming to a new university after achieving my undergraduate degree from the University of the Western Cape. When the course finally started, it began with a general course with all the Honours students (studying different degrees), and I felt quite lost. I didn’t know how this university functioned and what was really expected. It was quite unsettling at first which made me feel quite worried as I didn’t want to fall behind and have my first year of postgraduate studies not go well. However, once we were settled into our separate little groups of different divisions and faculties, I could be excited again. Since lockdown took over the past two years, I had limited lab experience when starting however I didn’t need to worry as everyone around, including supervisors or lab managers were so supportive and helpful, it really gave me the reassurance I needed. That support made me feel like I was doing the right thing and I was in the right place. The different modules were so interesting, and it opens your eyes to different options within your field in case you’re worried about where to go next. Without a doubt Honours was a challenging year and there were many long nights and early mornings and -make sure to stay hydrated, because there will be many tears. However, I would do it all again. Of course, it is a honour to be able to continue your studies and not many get the chance, but I feel the best past of this year has been the people that I have encountered. From my phenomenal honours class to my supervisor, HOD and of course my family. Everyone has helped to build me up. When you feel like you’re at your lowest point and doubt being able to finish the year and doubt your abilities. All the encouragement and support gives you a fight to continue. You develop such a deep and strong relationship with everyone around you that I would advise anyone to do Honours just to experience this relationship. It is worth every tear to be here. I trust that everything happens for a reason and God has set out a plan for us that we are unaware of. I am so grateful that this was part of His plan for me.

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. 

pov: I am dating my project…

by Sethu Poswa

It was Valentine’s day when we first met, and I remember being excited to have been introduced to them. As soon as we had met, I did not expect to move as fast as we did. I found myself spending more time with them, finding out more about them and gaining a deeper understanding of what they are about as our weeks together progressed. The more time I spent with them, the more I found myself pondering them, whether I was at church, during my lunch breaks or while I was going out for an afternoon stroll. I even found myself dreaming about them at times.

As much as I enjoyed our time together, I will still be petty enough to bring up the fact that it was a love-hate relatiuonship in that I loved them but they hated me. Slowly but surely, “Where have you been?” was the new “Hello” when answering a phone call from friends and relatives and I had wondered when I had started placing so much emphasis on ensuring that they had my undivided attention for 24 hours of the day. Perhaps it was during all those late nights spent together at the lab or perhaps it was when I would turn down at least 95% of my weekend plans just because I was not sure whether they would approve of me spending time with anyone else. Of course, it did not help that I was always spoke of being with them if I wasn’t in their presence. One could have called me obsess-I mean infatuated at this moment in time.

Oddly enough, the saddest part of this relationship was the break-up. Yes, the break-up. This relationship was coming to an end, and we could both feel it. The only way I know how to describe that feeling is to describe it as something that felt as though it was coming to completion. Nowadays I still find myself yearning for just a little bit more time with them, even if that means there is a chance that I might pull out my hair out of frustration.

With all that is said and done, this was a very enjoyable relationship that helped me realise what I am capable of. Never have I ever been pushed so hard by anyone or anything in my life, and the fact that I was able to make it has taught me a lot about myself. In the distant future I am hoping to meet with other projects along the way, who knows maybe the next project might lead to a proposal…A project proposal, that is, for master’s….

Your happiness lies in your own hands

by Jeanice Rose Bourobou Boukamba

I am tempted to write that 2021 was not so bad, but after deep reflection I will say it was great!

It’s the year when I finally managed to free myself from my bad anxiety and panic attacks. It started on a good note, I made some awesome resolution, after three years of isolation, I finally decided to boost my social life and start connecting with people. In 2021 I decided to just let myself “be”, and I learn how to balance my student life with the rest.

2021 was the only year I felt a profound disappointment; I received reject letters from most of the Universities I applied to. After four years of hard work, the letters I was receiving made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. It was with sadness that I was thinking that my efforts where meaningless.  I was seeing my dream of becoming a medical researcher flying away until I received an acceptance letter from UCT.

The bitter taste I had from the eight letters I received before my admission prevented me from savoring my achievement. I regret this moment. With hindsight, I understood that I can’t always have everything I want therefore I decided that in 2022:

I must always be happy and celebrate my achievements. This attitude will keep me motivated and productive.

I should stop focusing on what I did not get but rather on what I have or can get from my hard work. One needs to go through the falling down to learn how to walk.

To end my short reflection, I will say that positivity is the key to happiness and success, at the end of the day we become what we think we are.

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