Category Archives: Reflections 2022

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.

The Importance of Contemplation in The Journey of Life

by Siphamandla Ngwenya

I’ve always found it hard to express my thoughts, be it in writing or properly articulating what I’m thinking. As hard as my honour’s year has been, I have to say it has been one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in my life because it has allowed to me to grow as an individual. One of the major practices that has given me the mental capacity to surpass my limits this year is contemplating about all the things that have happened to get me to where I am today, and what the future holds for me based on the choices I make.

I would define contemplation as the act of continuously pondering over a question in the mind without bias to investigate the nature, the truth, or the very essence of the thing in question. Contemplation techniques in my eyes are a fundamental requirement of any individual who aims to improve their way of living, emotional intelligence, learning abilities and overall, their mental well-being.

When I was younger, there was a moment when I wondered how I was breathing and I had a brief panic phase because of the series of questions I asked myself – “How am I breathing?”, “How am I thinking?”, “Why am I me?”, “Am I inhabiting the brain?”, or “Am I the brain?”. Children are naturally curious but when we grow, our curiosity is drained out and these reflective questions broadened my horizon and re-ignited my curiosity to all my surroundings. Indeed, there is so much to unearth from the path taken by a curious mind.

The state of the school system these days rewards standardization and adherence to rules, rather than rewarding exploration, which has led to a lot of students losing curiosity. I am fortunate enough in the sense that when I look back at the schools I studied in – from primary school to the tertiary institution, they played a significant role in preserving my curiosity. Over time, my imagination and curiosity expanded and at present, I’m in the field of infectious diseases and immunology, because I’m overly curious of how the body interacts with microorganisms and how it influences the onset of diseases.

Through my honours journey, what I’ve found particularly interesting is the relationship between contemplative practises and critical thinking. As scientists to be, it is crucial that we improve our critical thinking. Contemplation plays a crucial role in this because science itself is an art of deep thought based on questions that keep us awake at night and conducting experiments to answer those burning questions. In essence, the best scientific innovations were born out of great minds, who were not confined to a narrow thought process.

Contemplation especially this year has been a cornerstone in creating meaning to my life in a world that is pointless, but at the same time not pointless. I find comfort in that because I know that I can create my own meaning of life, while other people may feel an empty void. Considering this, I would challenge the latter to put down their expectations of what the world should be and unlearn the negative assumptions of meaninglessness. I ask you to take a moment and reflect on this – If you do see your life as not having a purpose, exit that mind space, contemplate, and try to see your life’s worth as part of a puzzle that would be incomplete without you.

Trust your gut.

by Micaela Louise Swart

At the end of last year, upon the completion of my undergraduate degree, I was faced with an incredibly difficult decision. The decision was whether to pursue my honours degree in Medical Microbiology, or in Biomedical Forensic Science.

You see, I had majored in Medical Microbiology during my undergrad and was actually pretty good at it, so that was a comfortable option for me. The thought of studying Medical Microbiology however did not excite me like Forensics did. I guess I have the same reason for wanting to study forensic science as most other students – because of CSI and those other intriguing true crime documentaries. My boyfriend never understood my love for those shows. My longing to study forensic science went deeper than that though. I wanted to contribute to the medico-legal system of South Africa. I wanted to seek justice for families, and help them find some level of closure. I wanted to be part of something greater.

I made an effort to speak to individuals from the SAPS Forensic Laboratories to obtain any valuable advice or information about the forensics field. They warned me about the lack of resources and other issues experienced in their labs, as well as the lack of growth opportunities at SAPS specifically. Some even tried to steer me away from forensics as a career choice because of their negative experiences. This made me doubt whether forensic science was the route for me to pursue.

I spoke to my family and friends about the decision that had to be made, and asked for their thoughts and guidance. Hearing their perspectives was so incredibly helpful, as they are all in the working world. They expressed that my voice and body language changed when speaking about forensics, like something lit up inside of me. They knew that forensics was the path for me, and deep down, I knew it too. I guess the difficulty rested in whether I wanted to pick the safe, comfortable option, or the one that I was truly passionate about, but came with more uncertainties. After much debate with those in my life, going backwards and forwards with myself, as well as writing pros-and-cons lists, I decided to trust my gut.  I decided to choose something that I was going to look forward to studying every day, even if I didn’t know what the future held for that particular field.

Now, looking back, I realise that Medical Microbiology has not once crossed my mind since my first day of honours in Biomedical Forensic Science. This year has been life changing. I’ve been privileged enough to be supervised by one of the most knowledgeable individuals I’ve ever come across; I’ve formed some of the healthiest friendships I’ve ever had; I’ve been shown patience, encouragement, love and understanding by my small but incredibly supportive department. Truth is, I’ve enjoyed this year so much that I’ve decided to pursue my MSc in Biomedical Forensic Science. I guess you could say my gut was right.

Discovering my limits

by Darshni Naiker

I completed my undergrad in the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in Medical science: Anatomy, thereafter I moved to Cape Town, where I got the opportunity to study in the University of Cape Town doing forensic science and as much as this as always been a goal of mine the difference in level of work load was evident from day one. However, during the course of the first semester, I learnt so many new and intriguing concepts of forensic science including performing different analyses, scientific writing, and professionalisms. There was times when things would get overwhelming but being exposed to new ideas and concepts I have not been introduced to in undergrad pushed me to work harder and challenge myself. I learnt to questions issues or situations and try to apply the theory taught into assignments given and problems I faced.

Even though I did have to work on a project in undergrad, the experience is entirely different. I have gained a lot of knowledge of a field I previously had no interest in. Every component of the project has helped me grow as an individual and scientist. The research done for my project helped me understand the value of reading articles and even though I sometimes still find interpreting articles difficult, reading many articles and talking to other students in the field as only further sparked my interest in entomology. A large component of my project has been lab work, and this allowed my to gain skills I did not have a chance too. Performing them for my project has not been without challenges and there are times when I get disappointed when experiments fail but I have learnt to accepts the outcomes, figure out what went wrong and work harder on the next one.

Another important part of the course that has left an impact on me is the presentations that was required of me to be done as assessments or for journal clubs. As someone who is afraid of public speaking this aspects was nerve wrecking and caused me a lot of anxiety but after completing a few the experience helped me be more prepared and get used to the idea of talking in front of people. This was an important skill to gain and helped me develop as a student and scientist. Throughout this roller-coaster of a year, I also gained some of the most supportive, encouraging, and inspiring friends. Despite their crazy busy schedules, they always seemed to make time to check in on me and sharing our daily troubles made each day better. All the situations, good and bad I have experienced so far has been so instrumental to me and my journey in University, I have discovered my limits and that I can handle more than I thought I was capable off. 

Taking a step back

by Katelyn Kalil

The undergrad experience is no doubt a stressful one. There are always numerous assignments that need submitting, tests every other week and practicals that seem to last entire evenings. The combination of this stress with the drop in marks from high school that the majority of us experience, also frequently leads to impostor syndrome. It is no wonder that by the time these three years are finished, many of us send off our applications for honours, take a vacation, and put it to the back of our minds.

I think that this lack of time to ourselves can often be detrimental. Paradoxically, we lose touch with our subjects and how we feel about them because we spend too much time fully engaged with them. My undergrad seemed to fly by. I enjoyed it and loved my majors, but I felt a little confused about where my future would take me or even what options were available.

COVID-19 came about during my 3rd and final year of my BSc undergrad which lead to me moving back home. It quickly became a year that lacked any form of routine, this was very detrimental to my studies at first. There seemed to be nothing but an abundance of time and I could not seem to spend it correctly no matter how many schedules I drew up. Luckily, I got a bit more of a grip on things in the second half of the year and my marks began to improve.

I also began to reconnect with some of my work again. Having some time to assess how you feel about the work you are doing is incredibly important. Undergrads are relatively broad and so when we pick what we want to specialise in it is helpful to have a good idea of the type of work we enjoy and the type of work we are good at and identify any overlaps.

I believe that the second half of the year helped me to do just that and I began to cross-check all of my work against my strengths and likes. Having time to do some of the things I enjoyed again was also incredibly helpful. It is important to not lose ourselves to work but rather to bring our best selves to the table- and that means living an all-rounded life, in whatever way that means to us as individuals.

After my plans of studies fell through due to air travel restrictions and applying for UCT honours and not getting in for the following year, I decided to take a gap year. During this gap year, I worked and completed online courses which have made this current year, doing honours, much easier.

I am aware that I was incredibly lucky with my COVID-19 experience. I had a supportive family and all the resources I needed. While, like most people, it also took its toll on my mental health, it also served as an opportunity to take a breather and reconnect with myself and my work. Although I still lack a clear plan for my future I am confident I am doing what I enjoy and for now, that is enough.

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