Category Archives: Reflections 2021

From a Game Design undergrad to BMedSc in Bioinformatics

by Oscar Megan

Since I was a toddler I have always loved computers. Fixing, building, optimising; you name it! I’d never pictured myself in a lab with a white coat, working with my hands. I’ve always aspired to be the gremlin in the computer lab learning to shave minutes off the time it took to complete a task instead of shaving his face.

Naturally, I’ve taken any and every subject/course that helps me achieve this goal. Physics, mathematics, IT were crucial for my early development in computer science, but I chose one wild-card subject in high school, life sciences. Seeing animals and plants and viruses at a systems level brought me to the understanding that we are all just highly complex machines. I found myself just as fascinated in the silicone-based machines I had grown up with, and the fleshy, squishy machines I was now learning all about.

Regardless of my new found fascination, when the time came around I chose to pursue Game Design. What I considered to be the culmination of all that is cutting-edge; learning to push hardware as far as goes to build fantastic new worlds.

That was until the world as we knew it, had been put on hold. In 2020, all of a sudden, we were forced out of the world where we spent our free time, and left only to the digital worlds my peers and I were learning to create. Be it your Zoom meetings, the MSTeams collaborations, even the World of Warcraft! All of us were forced out of the real world and into the worlds others had made for us. As an avid video-gamer, at first I thought, “Well this can’t be too bad”! I had never been so wrong… The year 2020 came with the realization that the worlds I had been learning to create could never be the world I want to live in, the world where families spend time together, friends go on adventures together, where one can explore until one’s feet become sore. That’s the world I want to optimize, that’s the world worth building, and importantly, the world worth fixing.

So I jumped ship and applied to medical science, and I got accepted! Since day one of this course I haven’t looked back, to re-acquaint myself with flesh-machines has been a dream. Learning to avoid viruses in silicone is nothing like the hurdle of creating treatments for viruses in humans. Learning genetics and medical science is forcing me to confront what computer scientists understand least; people, and what makes them who they are.

I cannot lie and say that it has been easy, or a piece of cake. It’s been the most
head-ache-inducing year of my life. Learning three years worth of theory in a couple months was never going to be easy, and with no live lectures, I had a lot on my plate. But, now the halfway mark has been reached, exams written, modules done and for the first time, I feel like I’m learning how to fix, build and optimise the world I truly care for; the real world.

My journey through Honours

by Imaan Amien

Upon finishing my third year of medicine and a year of molecular medicine I was excited to be able to take a break away from the stress and anxiety that comes with being a full-time medical student (although I am sure this sentiment is common amongst all undergraduate programs).  I had heard from older students that there was a certain level of freedom associated with being termed a ‘postgraduate’ student, and that the Honours program would be like no other, although I was never really sure what I was getting myself into.

After the longest holiday period of my life, I couldn’t believe I was actually looking forward to class starting, and to hopefully meeting new people.  As the year progressed, I feel that I was able to build good relationships with my classmates, particularly those in the IDI stream, and I am looking forward to hopefully meeting them in person sometime in the near future.    

When comparing the honours program to the MBChB program that I came from, I can’t believe what a different experience it is.  One aspect that myself and fellow intercalated students found interesting and unique is that we now have time to digest the work that we are being taught.  The relaxed schedule gives us the time to enjoy what we are learning and take everything in, without constantly getting as much work done as possible before the next deadline arrives. 

Writing this post I cannot believe more than half the year has gone.  The thing I was most fearful of – exams, is now over, and the idea of starting fulltime lab work excites me.  I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of the year pans out. 

TOUGH TIMES NEVER LAST!

by Mbalentle Madolo

If someone would have told 23-year-old Mbali, a young budding scientist that had just been accepted into the honours programme of her dreams, that her honours year would leave her feeling emotionally drained, she would have told you that you are lying, but sadly it is absolutely true. Now don’t get me wrong, Clinical Anatomy still remains my passion and the fact that I was selected amongst many who applied to be a part of this honours cohort is something I don’t take lightly, but it can’t be escaped that this year has been one of my toughest years to date.

The academic content covered so far has been extremely interesting but also difficult to grasp. The challenges that I have faced so far this year go beyond handling academic stress and delve into the emotional turmoil that this year induced. As a black woman, I can’t say that I have been able to look around and see a lot of people who look like me in this field, something that has always bothered me when looking at the sciences as a discipline overall (in my opinion of course). It was this year where my imposter syndrome truly kicked in, and this left me feeling as though I was not fit to do this honors programme, like I was not intellectual enough, like I was too old etc. Granted, these feelings were fueled by academic stress and the fact that we are still living through a world-wide pandemic, but they were mostly exacerbated by how I felt that I could not speak to anyone about how I was struggling to adjust or ask for assistance as I felt that no one would understand.

On the bright side, the support that I have received from my mother and classmates has been absolutely amazing, hence why I find myself happier. I find myself going back to that 23-year-old Mbali who was ready to take on the world and, as cliché as it sounds, cement myself in the science community as a force to be reckoned with! This change came about because I decided to reach out to those around me, that included calling my family whenever I was overwhelmed instead of bottling up my emotions. It also included talking to my classmates about my anxiety, or even asking for assistance with understanding course material if needed. Because of that I will be eternally grateful to the Clinical Anatomy Honours Class of 2021. The friendship and support they have given me is unmatched, I discovered that I was not the only one feeling emotionally drained and overwhelmed, I discovered that I was not the only one having difficulty adjusting…. I discovered that I was not alone.

The first 6 months of my honours degree were extremely challenging for me, but I still recognize how much I have grown not only as a student, but as a person. It’s because of this growth that I am so excited for the next 6 months of this year. The rest of this year will be filled with academic success, further growth and blessings…I can feel it in my bones!

Reflection

by Luxolo Mdolo

This year has been long. Students have literally seen flames. Many times, I find myself trying to exist in isolation from the world we live in because the show must go on. There have been wars raging in the streets on which I walk. Severe taxi violence incidents have left us fearing for our parents who commute to put food on the table. Strikes and looting have turned the country upside down to reveal a side that we have all been trying so hard to hide in the name of freedom. The COVID 19 pandemic just keeps coming at us in waves – meanwhile the people are so fatigued from trying to keep afloat. I personally do not know how other students do this thing of living each day as though these things do not concern them. I even pay attention to my colleagues in MBChB as they continuously talk about the lives lost to COVID in the wards they work in. I reflect at times and just wonder what form of normality is left to go back to when we have finally overcome this pandemic? How do we mourn the lives lost when we could not even attend their burials or night vigils? It has stripped so much from our understanding of what is important to society. Schools were closed and education of children did not mean anything to anyone. The churches were closed, and religion became an afterthought. Businesses were closed and the economy did what it does best. My grandmother said that the last time she saw so many restrictions was during apartheid. It is interesting how this life never ceases to amaze us.

Anyway, on a lighter note, this year in Honours has given me the greatest gift that medicine (MBChB) continuously failed to offer. Time. I have had time to sit, think and reflect. It gave me the time to do things that I always thought I would do immediately when I got to university. I joined the gym. I found some work to make extra income. I do spur waffle Mondays with my friends. I play soccer with other friends at 4pm twice a week. I go on double dates and baecations. I do educational talks. I run a YouTube channel of 500 subscribers. I love it here. The most amazing thing about this year though is doing an amazing research project with a Supervisor who cares.

One of the biggest fears among the people who are in the intercalated programme like me is the fear of detachment from your classmates in the MBChB class and having to integrate with a new group of students. It is more like a fear of the unknown really because you can easily assume the worst of what could possibly happen. However, I have met the most amazing, easy and outgoing people that just fill up your day with smiles and laughter. I never even thought I would be doing study sessions in coffee shops and building solid friendships with my Honours colleagues. This has been such a holistic experience. The hardship and the joy in my life are at such a wonderful reversible potential. I was even going to make a joke about allostatic load, but I realized that it was too soon. Thank you for reading though.

Online

by Marlu Mclean

When I started Med School in 2018, I was intrigued by the intercalated program they offer at UCT.  I immediately knew I wanted to do it and that it would require me to do well to continue with honours.  Going through the first three years of Medicine, I really enjoyed and gained so much from the interactive learning activities.  I would love to go to campus and spend my days from 8 to 5 running from the lecture theaters to Groote Schuur hospital and back to the anatomy labs.  Coming from a class with 250 students, I looked forward to the 10-student class to build connections, friendships and life-long relationships.  Little did I know how this year will turn out.

From an online open day to registration, introduction and techniques course, I only met the people in my class after 4 weeks of online teaching.  The first week together was amazing, I got to know the people a little bit and got to experience the “real-university life” for the first time this year.  But we soon returned to the “real-COVID-life” again with more online classes, tutorials and a handful of in-person lectures and presentations.  Instead of spending most of my time on campus and in the library, it was now spent in my bedroom, also known as my study and also known as my workout space.  It was just me and my laptop.  The space got smaller and smaller.  I escaped to run trails on the mountain.  I would come back and work without any motivation.  I would leave once a week to see patients in the hospital.  I tried figuring out how to do things in the lab with countless fails.  I got sick and was in bed doing lectures and studying because I didn’t want to fall behind.  It was scary, lonely and hard. 

It was different from what I expected.  Many days I wanted to give up, but through prayer, I was able to fight, learned how to step out of my comfort zone and most how to be resilient in ways I never thought I would have to be.  But today I am grateful for the hard times.  Grateful that I have this amazing opportunity to do something I wanted to do from the start.  I learned that if it wasn’t for the trail running, church, friends, family and their support I wouldn’t have been able to pull through.  I was able to believe God has a bigger plan with this year, even if I can’t see it yet.  I have slowly adjusted to this new “normal” and I am excited that the second semester is here, and I am able to focus on my research without running to class and studying for tests.  Let’s hope this will be the best one yet!

Far, far beyond

by Vennesa Subbiah

In my short life, there are many experiences that could qualify as metamorphic. At one time or another, every new experience was the first experience and for good or bad, each instance has altered the trajectory of my life. But none have been as daunting and transformative as the day I walked into my Honors year.

My Honors year is something I like to refer to as a happy accident. You could liken it to the first encounter with your best friend – you don’t exactly like each other but give it a few months and you’re as thick as thieves! Don’t get me wrong! This is not to say I’ve mastered my course work because that would be a blatant lie, but more of an appreciation of how I have come to fall in love with the lessons I have learnt from the pressure and challenges of this year.

Unlike most people, my first day of school wasn’t at all exciting. For starters, I was late to my lecture so that was not a good impression at all. Half the time while I was in that lecture, I was daydreaming because my mind was still on ‘holiday-mode’. I was completely unprepared so naturally I was out of place. I felt this way for the first few weeks of the Honors year and waking up early for lectures was not helping me in any way. I have never been a morning person so you must imagine my pain. I was also not eating properly or taking care of myself because I ‘had’ to keep pushing to meet my deadlines and make sure I was prepared for all my classes. Let’s face it, no one likes to be the student who’s constantly behind. I, for one, aim to always be on top of things. So, when I found myself not having a certain level of control over things, everything seemed to stir into a wild frenzy. For someone who’s always organizing almost every aspect of her life, I found it difficult not being able to manage my time properly. I struggled with this, and I still am but I am also learning to take it easy on myself and try my best without punishing myself for not being able to achieve more than I can at that moment.

In between lectures and reading journal articles and attending meetings, I found myself constantly exhausted. I went from having absolutely all the time in the world to having none at all. Most of the time I had, I spent reading through mandatory journal articles. I enjoyed most of them, but I was often lost in the process which meant I had to go over paragraphs multiple times. I have never despised reading so much in my life until I had to read a journal article. But there was an upside to this because I gained certain critical thinking and analytical skills which enabled me to differentiate between excellent pieces of work to those that aren’t. Having Journal Clubs also enabled me to engage with scientific pieces of work in a thorough manner whilst simultaneously improving my competence in formal presentations and public speaking. So, you see, a challenge presented was a lesson I needed to encounter and learn from.

Overall, I haven’t really been too excited about this year. When we started with General Techniques, I was the most miserable person you could find. Many times, I was not finding the purpose of the lectures or why I had to learn the information in front of me. This isn’t quite what I imagined this degree would be like and I absolutely detested every single moment. I contemplated a lot – whether I had made the right decision to come back to school, whether this degree was the right one for me or if I was doing enough. I was not motivated to learn or engage with the material coupled with the hurdle of not having any people around to actively challenge me. Before the pandemic, I saw my colleagues and friends almost daily and we could exchange ideas on how best to study or what better resources were available to help us excel in our work. Now it’s only me. At first it was unusual, but it was a life-changing moment too because it taught me to be more independent and confident in myself and what I am capable of producing. I am deeply grateful for this moment because in the quiet and absence of the world, I found a great power within myself – the power to believe in myself.

With an adjustment in attitude and the start of the actual modules, I found myself falling back in love with the idea of being in a class and learning. It wasn’t a gradual process as some might expect. I just woke up one morning and realized that this is what I was meant to do. It’s crazy when I think about it because it literally boils down to timing. Timing is so important for any person because when you give yourself room to experience life as it is, you find your passion even in the smallest moments. I was so focused on how well I needed to be performing and how hardworking I should have been from the beginning instead of letting time tell me what to do. Ms. Oprah Winfrey always says one should listen to the whispers of the universe. Sometimes the universe is trying to tell us something, whether it is to slow down, to make an adjustment, to change a habit or to work harder at something. My mistake was not listening to the whispers when the universe told me to be patient with myself and the process. I was quick to rush myself and expect certain things out of the year when it had hardly begun. I learnt the hard way through multiple encountered failures, and I can safely say that it is one thing to have goals and aspirations and another to rush those goals based on where you think you need to be instead of where you are meant to be.

It turns out that life isn’t always what it presents itself as. One moment you have things all figured out then the next it’s all shambles and you’re left to pick up the pieces. But no matter how rocky or rough the path may be, it shouldn’t take away from the splendor and beauty that awaits us at each and every step along the way. Because with each and every challenge we’re faced with, we come out stronger and with a greater set of skills to help us face even bigger challenges in future. Not only that but we acquire a heightened knowledge of ourselves and our abilities and how much more we can reach towards.

I walked into this year feeling quite small and afraid at what lay ahead. I’ve been handed jabs, hooks, uppercuts, you name it. But I’ve learnt to fight back too and stand a little taller. Whatever position and path life may place you in, allow yourself to be present in that moment, taking in everything as it comes and appreciating that knowledge is something we can never fully acquire. So yes, there are times where you will be clueless about everything and that’s perfectly okay. But an inquisitive mind that is willing to learn will take you far, far beyond.

Certainty should have started here…

by Aishah Taliep

Transferring from another university, everything seemed a little scarier, everything was unfamiliar, and everything was new. But this was supposed to be a new beginning, where the road towards the rest of my life should have begun. Having faced numerous disappointments after high-school, being rejected from what I initially wanted to pursue and falling into a degree I knew nothing about, leaving me uncertain of where I would be going and what I would be doing, this year should have been the year where I do what I want and learn what interests me, and in a broader sense it indeed was.

I was nervous, but I was excited too. The first weeks came and brought with it a massive wave of anxiety and uncertainty. I was not on the same level as my peers. The work they were teaching was unfamiliar and everyone seemed to understand while I just slipped further and further into a black hole. I cried every week for the first month, I didn’t think I could handle this, maybe this time I would fail. Despite how I felt I pushed, I put in the hours I tried my best to understand, and I completed whatever was given to me. It wasn’t so bad after all and these few months taught me much, now I can do those things which scared me because I did not understand. Now I understand and now I can enjoy what interests me. My favorite time was that spent in the lab, being there made everything feel more realistic and learning things in the lab was easier to understand. Whether it was simply balancing Eppendorf tubes properly in the centrifuge or using the micropipette, anything I could do made me happy.

The exams were approaching, I was very scared, so I studied a lot and while preparing I realized that this is truly what I enjoy. Microbes and the human body working in its complex ways is extremely interesting to me. I still have fears and uncertainty, I wonder about what I will be doing next year, will I be accepted for masters, will I be accepted for an internship… what should I do? Will I still be studying aimlessly, uncertain of where my future is going, where I would find a job and when that would happen. My consolation is that right now, all I can do is what I’ve been doing all this time, work hard and try my best and trust that eventually everything will fall into place.

Because the reality is that we don’t need to have it all figured out. We don’t need to know where we are going to be in five years, we can plan and try our best, and sometimes things will not go according to plan, but that’s your destiny and something better is waiting for you, something which you love and something which you will enjoy. That’s what I have learnt from life.

~ An uncertain honors student

Adapt, adapt, adapt!

by Marischka Lee Ford

“Change is the only constant in life. One’s ability to adapt to those changes will determine your success in life.”- Benjamin Franklin. If 2020 taught me anything, it was that change is the only constant in life. Finishing a degree amid a pandemic taught me that you always need to flexible and that I can’t let the unexpected topple me over. After graduating at the end of 2020, I was excited for my honours year especially since most of the course would be offered in person.

As the year began, I knew I should expect many things to change. Not only was I changing universities, but I would also be moving from being an undergraduate student to entering the big world of postgraduate studies. The one thing I hadn’t factored in was the constant flux the pandemic would still cause almost a year later. Coming from a university that (in hindsight) had a relatively good admin system, I was expecting to have my schedule in hand and my routine planned out long before classes began. Oh boy was I naïve! I had to adjust my expectations and learn not to be disrupted by last minute schedule changes. ‘Adapt and overcome’ is one of the mantras that has gotten me this far! Once I figured this out, I established a rhythm and felt well adjusted to my new environment. This feeling waivered many times throughout this year as we have seen many devastating events such as the Cape Town fires occurring. Which disrupted not only my routine but impacted many lives besides my own.

Although this year started off really rocky, it has taught me so much. These are the four main lessons I’ve learnt so far:

  1. Focus on what you can control.
  2. Always have a back-up plan.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask if you need help or advice.
  4. You get answers quicker face-to-face or on video calls.

My supervisor always says that research never goes according to plan. That you can schedule everything to a T but there is always something that happens that you don’t expect. If that’s true, then I believe I have gotten a really good crash course on how to be tenacious and to do the best with the curve balls thrown my way. I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to grow and develop into a well-rounded scientist. I am excited to see what else my honours year has to offer!

And just like that, its August

by Indiana van Rensburg

2021 has been nothing short of a roller coaster. To think that we are already halfway through our Honours degree, have successfully finished possibly our last set of theory exams ever (if we’re lucky), and are on our way to beginning our research projects full time, is definitely something to tap yourself on the back for.

If I were to say that this year has been a breeze, I would be lying, but I can definitely say that it has taught me so many things. If anyone needs a little life advice at this time, I could not stress the following enough:

Get yourself into a good routine. This is absolutely key to ensuring that you stick to your schedule and keep up to date on all your deadlines. The worst thing is when an assignment pops out behind you when you least expect it.

Take some “me” time. Now this I learnt the hard way, and let me tell you, burnout is not pretty. You are the one that is responsible for getting yourself through this degree, so pretty please be extra kind to yourself.

Help each other. Honours is tricky, and trying to get through it alone will be even trickier. Everyone is in the same boat, so supporting one another and helping however you can will only benefit you.

When I look back on the past 7 months, I can honestly say that I have made myself proud. There were so many times when I thought that I was going to drown under the workload, or fail to finish a project to my best ability, but here I am, still standing. I am extremely grateful for the opportunities I have, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds, but for now, I’m going to fully enjoy this short break, and I hope you all will too. Good luck for the rest of the year, you’ve got this.

Flexibility in changing times

by Zwile Zungu

It’s been decades after the last pandemic, although we have seen outbreaks of some diseases in some regions of the world like Ebola, no one predicted the impact of COVID-19 on our livelihoods. The words “new normal” have been mentioned several times, but is everyone prepared for the new way of living? What about all the plans we had in the old way of living? How long is the new normal going to last until there is another new normal? We all have dreams and life goals; some are short-term, and some are long-term. The pandemic forced a lot of people to pause their dreams. But how does one resume the paused dream and pick up the same momentum?

This pandemic taught me the importance of flexibility things will go our way every time, Gayle Forman was quoted “You win some, you lose some”. The trick is to never lose hope and learn to live with what life gives you. Mandy Ingber once said, “no matter what twists and turns your life offers you, your ability to be adaptable and flexible will help you to stay open to all of the hidden gifts that difficulty may offer.” I had plans to start a business in 2020 but neither of that was possible, because of the COVID-19 restriction. Does this mean I have failed? Of course not, this delay has made me realise that I should not be hard on myself because some things didn’t go as planned but I should look on the brighter side.

During the lockdown, I got a chance to spend a lot of time with my family and learn things I never got the chance to because I was always away from home due to school. I also got a chance to be an active member of the community in small youth forums exchanging ideas, this assisted me to change my approach to my business of interest. I got other people’s opinions that I can add to make my plan an even better one. In my mind now I appreciate the delay because it made me better prepared about the things I will be doing.

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