Category Archives: Reflections 2021

The Real Heroes of Universities

by Sharief Hendricks

The real heroes (or heroines if you like) of our tertiary institutions are the administrators and support staff. And like true heroes, their superpower often goes unnoticed, unrecognised.

No doubt, a University will not function without the work of the administrative and support staff. Our research, travel, teaching, and every day would not be possible.

The superpower though, is the care, kindness and generosity in their work. Work that is aimed to help us achieve our goals.

This time of the year, as we process postgraduate applications for the upcoming year, I always remember the kindness and generosity of our Faculty’s Postgraduate Office when I was a student applying to the Honours programme (back in 2007). The Postgraduate Office frequently shares this fond memory with me, a memory that serves our current working relationship well.

I always needed help with my student administration, and visited the Postgraduate Office more than usual, which I think provided me with the opportunity to experience their superpower. I can’t help wonder though, in today’s age, where everything is online and most communication takes place via email, are students and staff missing out on similar opportunities?

I have many stories similar to the above, where the care regularly goes beyond the call of duty. A more recent example is my trip to a conference in Monaco. On the Saturday, the last day of the conference, South Africa was issued a travel ban and my flight home got cancelled. True to form, my heroes emerged, and what could have been a complete nightmare without their kind and generous support, finding my way back home turned out to be somewhat of an adventure instead.

Have you experienced the superpower of your administrators and support staff? Please share.

As thanks for their work, I wanted to end off with naming all the administrators and support staff that have used their superpower to help me achieve my goals, like an author list on a paper. I decided against this though, in fear of missing a hero (and there are many heroes to mention). Also, like many of our favourite fictional superheroes in suits, anonymity is not a bad thing. So I’ll simply end with thank you.

In my own bubble

by Kaylene Baron

What makes the university experience more valuable is time spent with classmates and other students outside the lecture theatre. Due to COVID-19, that was minimal as all our lectures were online. With only a select few that were in person. Whenever we have a contact lecture or contact meeting, we have to wear masks. Needless to say, it is very uncomfortable for me. The reason is, if I do not know the people, then it leaves a very unsettling feeling inside me.

This year has just been eating, sleeping, work repeat with time for nothing else in-between. Even when we started with lab work, it was still very isolating as we are all trying to avoid contact with people.

For me, I am extra dependent on my peers for emotional support as I am a first-generation student. Meaning that I am the first person in my family to attend university, much less to obtain a postgraduate degree. Hence why getting emotional support, encouragement and motivation were very challenging. Yes, there is social media but in-person interactions for me at least, are much better. The ever-changing lockdown levels also aggravated it as it affects how much time I have in the lab, and how quickly I need to commute home when necessary. Nonetheless, even if it was virtual for the most part, I know that all my classmates and friends were supporting me in spirit

2021 Dissections

by Astrid Kühn

The first part of my year was spent in the pam lab, a small dissection hall, a temporary home to six bodies. My initial feeling upon entry to the lab was that this was a sacred space, housing those who had made a huge and noble sacrifice in their death, to teach someone like me a lesson in anatomy.

In the weeks to come, I would learn that my idea of the dissection hall was naïve and romanticised, some of the bodies are actually unclaimed- unknowing of their fate during their lifetime. It was advised by one of my lecturers that due to certain characteristics of the body assigned to my study, he was most likely one of these unclaimed people.

I began to feel that every mark I made on his body was a mark I did not actually have permission to make. It is common for students to name their bodies due to the amount of time spent with them and the strange intimacy foundered. But who was I to name someone who already had a name, to superimpose my own narrative onto a body whose soul I already felt unhappy, restless and turning? The more I dissected, the more I became cognisant of the fact that I had no clue what he had been through, what these hands had held, lost, hurt, cared for, perhaps prayed to. My familiarity with him was always marked with a respect, he was a stranger, a reluctant participant in my well-intentioned butchery. He will be cremated at the end of October 2021, his ashes scattered in a barren garden, unbeknownst to his loved ones- if he had any. I still feel a profound sadness and guilt for my part in the violation of his body, the vessel that carried him for a lifetime. However, through his circumstance I am reminded of my privilege, not only to learn anatomy in this deeply intimate way but for the support of my loved ones- a blessing I still, somehow, wished for him.


by Lwanda Ndwandwe

To whom it may concern

It took me a while to figure out what I could say my honours year has been like, I’ve had so many mixed emotions and I haven’t taken the time to process everything. So instead, I thought to write a letter, a letter to myself 6 months ago, and to those who’ll soon find themselves on this incredible journey.

“Honours will be honours”, I am sure you are probably tired of hearing this line but trust me when I say you will grow to understand it. The honours programme itself needs you to be fully prepared not only to work hard but smart, it comes with a lot of exciting and different content that you will be engage in which will challenge your thinking while shaping you for the field ahead. The year will be a different experience for everyone, it may be difficult to adjust both to the environment and the work but keep in mind that this is all part of the process. While trying to be productive and on track with everything I had to learn these 4 lessons below, that may seem silly but really helped to keep me calm and enjoy the year thus far:

Lesson 1: It is okay to not be okay, please read that again. This year is meant to be challenging bringing you out of your comfort zone, but with that comes growth.

Lesson 2: Set a timetable and stick to it, this will help you stay ahead while being productive with your time. There will be activities, lab work, a project, individual and group assignments that will be expected from you, multitasking comes into play and this will be highly effective if there is a schedule/ timetable to work with.

Lesson 3: Give yourself a break, add it to your timetable, whether it’s a walk or going out for lunch it’s easy to forget to take a moment off your laptop or cellphone, so go outside and breath.

Lesson 4: Enjoy the process and the pressure it comes with; the year goes by so quickly and before you know it, you’re sitting in your room wondering where the time has gone.

Overall, this year is going to be an adventure filled with excitement, tears, disappointments, procrastination, self-doubt, great achievements, and most importantly new skills and greater knowledge; and through all this don’t forget to take care of yourself.

Warm Regards,

A Proud honours student

Facts, some realistic heartbreak story, and an outrageous ending paragraph

by Sagel Kundieko 

At first, I thought it was a new virus that was practically wiping out the Chinese population. It was unrealistic that it would actually spread to the entire continent and cover all the many kilometres that there is to cover. Then we heard of Italy and the consequences of their stubbornness. Then finally it hit us too, in waves and lockdowns. It is really scary to think about how the economy has plummeted in this very short period of time. Also, how easily a virus from one corner of the world was easily able to cross barriers at such an overwhelming rate. On the other hand, the global pandemic aspect of it brings a sense of “we are all on this earth together” at the end of the day.  

The recent lootings and taxi violence is an offspring of the (increased) poverty, depression, and frustration from the lockdowns. It is clear that those most affected are from the black community because they have to commute to work and do not (literally) have pantries full of food or big companies that can make them money while they lockdown at home. This is not even considering that some do not have “homes” conducive for a lockdown or quarantine. Acknowledging that the lockdown was necessary, the inadequacy of the government in providing the necessary food to those who needed it, was problematic. 

On my immediate hand (usually written as on the other hand), the lockdown meant that I could not pursue my driver’s license because our documents needed to be renewed by the Home Affairs. In the grander scheme of things, that seems like a minimal issue, but the sense of unfulfillment still lingers, getting behind on an imaginary timeline I had set for myself. 

Furthermore, last year started off on a left foot (in the heat of the rising cases and lockdowns). I always felt that a problem is only a problem in relation to the other problems at hand. I imagined that something worse than my heartbreak would happen and I would forget about the man that broke my heart and move on, and it did. The idea of the possible end of the world or how insignificant and fragile our bodies are and how my life is worth nothing more than a statistic if I and those around me were to die, cured me of my heartbreak. A terrible parallel to draw between actual real world problems to a common heartbreak, it is unforgivable really. It is not even a parallel if you think of it, it is more of a mountain and me realising that because I am a pebble, then my problems must be a grain of sand, thus nothing to ponder ever so deeply on. I am more motivated now to do better, study harder, work harder, love God more, help those in need, go after my dreams and goals, and as I find true love, I experience it to the fullest of its capacities, because we do not know when another virus will head our way and who it will want to claim. I pray we survive through this as a world and do better for the future (do better in reference to the social class structures that have governed our countries, now we should realise that we are more the same than different and more together than apart).  

I also realise that the virus is the main topic at hand, but everything else that was wrong with the world before still exists. Even more so, humans are the deadliest virus this planet has ever been invaded by. That is an undeniable and uncontained fact.

A Whole New World

by Jesmika Singh

Am I really writing a piece about being in HONOURS? I still feel like I was just yesterday sending in applications for my first year of university. When they say university is over before you know it, they really weren’t joking. Regardless, it has been an exciting ride (even though parts of it have been stressful).

Throughout my schooling career and general social life, I have been someone that gets stressed very easily. I put a lot of pressure on myself to achieve my academic goals. Particularly in the third year of my undergraduate degree in 2020, I felt an even stronger need to push myself and put all my time and effort into my studies since everything was done through remote learning. As a result, the stress I felt during that year was unexplainable. Directly following that, I came into honours with the expectation that my stress would be even worse- I was moving to Cape Town from Durban; gaining more independence; being isolated from the majority of my loved ones and having to begin what I was told would be the hardest year of my university career. Granted, these things have been as challenging as expected, yet, I’m surprised to say that this has been one of the least stressful academic years I have had- perhaps I have gotten used to the stress or lost my ability to stress my usual amounts.

Honours is a year that I was told would push me to my breaking point- granted the year is far from over and there is still plenty of time left for that, somehow I have enjoyed the academic aspect of this year much more than any previous academic year. To be fair, if it were not for online learning, recorded lectures (I don’t know where I would be without these), teamwork and the lecturers, I doubt I would have been able to cope.

Something I have admired greatly about how this course has been run and kept my morale up- is how we are assessed. Unlike previous years, we were allowed (in some cases) to indicate the type of assessment we felt would best showcase our understanding of work and the way we were marked has been one of my favourite parts of the year. From the time I started school if your answer was not exactly what was in the memo, you didn’t get the mark- that was not the case this year. The lecturers took their time with each individual script/assignment to determine whether someone understood the work or not. If we didn’t get the correct answer but showed understanding, we could still do well. This kind of teaching and learning has helped me better understand my work, but more than that, it has helped me grow my confidence. If I had been marked like this for my entire schooling career, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so stressed and I may have been able to retain my work better. Being able to chase knowledge and understanding over answers from an unseen memo, has made a big difference in the way I take in knowledge.

I was also very fortunate to get a very helpful supervisor and co-supervisor this year. Without the constant guidance, kindness and willingness to assist from my co-supervisor, I don’t think I would have managed half of the challenges phased by my project and even the modules. By allowing me to ask questions at any time of the day and equipping me with the ability to solve problems I had myself, she has also assisted in helping me deal with the stress of Honours.

I am very grateful for being given this opportunity to do this incredible degree this year. I have made great friends, met highly accomplished academics, and opened doors for my career goals that I didn’t think possible.

If there was anything I would change about the way I handled this year, I would go into every assessment to aiming show my full understanding of topics rather than just putting down answers I thought were wanted.

To every individual that has helped me along my way through this Whole New World of Honours at UCT- Thank you!

Reflective piece.

by Nkosazana Shange

As time goes by, I think to myself, when is the end coming, I need a Holiday. I had already imagined in my mind what I will do to relax my body; sleep all day, watching TV with my family or going out to eat at a fancy restaurant with my friends. Meanwhile I have assignments to finish and tests to prepare for. Well, the progress has been excellent, and all due dates are met. What then is missing? a long break.

Many might agree with me when I say nothing ever comes easy in life, it all requires hard work and determination. As students, we have worked probably for more than 12years, and it’s no joke. In the end the wages of hard work are good. This is encouragement for those time where you feel down and drained. However, a break is still needed. It is no crime that want you to take a day off and do something nothing related to your work. There is no condemnation in relaxing amongst busy days. We all do need time some time to alleviate stress and burdens. Therefore, take a break and keep calm. The world will not end when you ease up. That has been my experience this year as a student. Yes, the work is plentiful and when one might feel burnt out that is the opportunity to take a break. Mental health is very important. If we take very good care of our mental health, then we can easily overcome a lot of challenges we face every day.

We do get tired and its okay, we have overcome so much to reach where we are, and we can persist. Thus, even though you have a busy schedule, take some time off and reward yourself for your hard work. Fill your day with sunshine and go to the beach. Remember you are important and awesome, be good to yourself and persevere.

ADHD, Honours and Me

by Robyn Lesch

I’m tired. I’m lonely. I’m bored. I’m happy. I’m excited. I’m torn. Honours has been a wild ride – the best year of my life and simultaneously the most emotionally, academically and mentally taxing year of my life. I knew it would be crazy from start to finish, but I wasn’t prepared for this. Studying in a pandemic – where university is basically a subscription streaming service? Madness.

I can be the smartest and dumbest person in the room, the hardest working lazy person, the most introverted extrovert, the most distracted person who can tear a concept apart into a million tiny details and then reassemble it into total clarity in a second, all at the same time. One of the odd things about ADHD is that if I’m unmotivated, walking through glue, and I try to push myself harder, the glue actually becomes deeper. So the harder I work, the harder it becomes. And either I manage to get there through supreme, superhuman effort, or I just get bogged down in the glue. Too exhausted to go on. Motivation happens in short bursts. No one is motivated all the time, what separates me from most is discipline.

That being said, in honours, I’m tired and overwhelmed. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Sometimes I feel like there’s so much work to be done and not enough of me to get it done. I’m lonely. With all these feelings and the loss of the social element of university due to online learning, we’ve lost the connection as students that bonds us. We don’t get to talk to one another as we would in person and as such you don’t form proper, authentic connections with people. You don’t know where to turn when you’re stuck without feeling like you’re bothering someone because all you have is text. On the other hand, I’m happy because I finally get to focus on my area of interest completely and excited because the realm of possibilities seems infinite. This is what keeps me disciplined. I have a goal and I will achieve it.

However, I think more provision should be made for mental health related issues – there should be more support for students, particularly non neurotypicals. I think educators should be more empathetic towards their students, especially in a pandemic and lastly, because of the lack of social interaction due to COVID-19, I think universities should put more emphasis on teambuilding activities to boost morale and develop and nurture interactions among students.

In closing, if you take nothing from this reflection but this, may it be that the devil works hard, some people work harder, but no one is working harder than non-neurotypicals striving to reach their goals competing in a world with odds stacked against them. May setbacks never stop us. 

A year of challenges

by Muhammad Adeeb Fakier

Before starting the Honours Programme, my expectation was that it would be just another extra year of sacrifice and that it would be relatively straight forward. This idea was especially brought on since lockdown regulations prevents student from going to campus and therefore everything is online. I was basically picturing the ideal life of sitting by a computer with a cup of coffee and working through the courses materials, stress free. This was definitely not the case.

This year has presented itself as waves of deadly deadlines, with the durations getting shorter and workload getting more intense. For example; completing a module within a month that entails different content including assignments, project proposals, presentations, and worse… Exams. I have always felt that I coped well under pressure and that my organisational skills have allowed me to adapt to uncomfortable situations at a reasonable rate. However, having done my undergraduate three years ago, I completely forgot the feeling of exams and was genuinely reminded of its horror.

Despite my misjudgement of the process for furthering my education to Honours level, I found the challenges to be truly fulfilling as I have learned a lot within this year. The content within each of the modules are extremely interesting, with some of them also being super intensive that completing the module just immediately leaves a sense of satisfaction.

During this year, I have become especially appreciative of the contribution that articles have on the science community. A specific moment that comes to light was where in one of my modules, I was required to prepare a presentation of any choice relating to a high throughput biology article. The people in the module all presented incredibly interesting articles and could present the article as if it was written by them. At that point I realized how embedded science has become with us.

Level up

by Sahar Jamal

It is hard to wrap my head around the fact that I have just completed one of the last major exams of my life. I am both excited and daunted by the future. It feels like a ‘coming of age’ experience, to be focusing on research as opposed to studying. I am grateful to have made it this far, to be surrounded by such accomplished people. To be amidst individuals with similar interests and goals is illuminating. I am delighted to be apart of a community and to share my passion with others.

During my undergraduate degree I preferred self-studying from textbooks rather than attending lectures. When my class size jumped from 300 to 4-10 in the first half of this year it was energising. Attending classes became an engaging experience. I feel incredibly privileged to be attending seminars and participating in journal clubs and I look forward to working together with my peers on the pioneering projects that await.

The humanity of the health sciences is especially consoling. The focus is on wellbeing and there is no disconnect from people. Being able to express myself in a reflection like this and actively sharing knowledge with the community, for the community, is wholesome.

The periods of practical engagement were especially enlightening. I am particularly appreciative of my supervisor, Dorit Hockman, for introducing us to the foldscope in the last week of term. This was a great way to end off. I have subsequently started an Instagram page, scopes_and_quotes, where I post photographs I’ve taken of the world around me at 140x magnification. Each image I reflect on and assign a quote to. It is a combination of literature, art and science. This holistic energy is what resonates within the health sciences. I am thankful to be apart of it.

« Older Entries