Category Archives: Reflections 2022

What a rollercoaster ride!

by Kayla Lesch

In 2021, I completed my BSc degree in Biotechnology at the University of the Western Cape with a Magna Cum Laude and did exceptionally well in all my modules. Although everything was online due to COVID-19 including lectures and exams, it was still tough. Somehow, 2021 was one of my greatest academic years. This was probably due to me working at my own pace and having discipline. It all paid off, as it landed me quite a few jobs and most importantly my acceptance for honours at the University of Cape Town. 

My honours year (2022) has been anything but easy. However, I’m thankful that I’ve been given this opportunity. I’m proud to say that I’m one of four students in the BMedSci (Hons) Biomedical Forensic Science, Department of Pathology, Division of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology. 

Throughout the year, I never thought I was capable of being an honours student. At the beginning of the year, I wanted to drop out, but something told me not to give up. The toughest part was initially the overall workload. I experienced plenty emotions and had a lot of ups and downs with my academics. During this year, the BMedSci honours students done coursework (lectures, tests and exams), assignments, and project-related work simultaneously. We had presentations and assignments due straight after one another. I was afraid that I could never meet any of the deadlines, yet I did! 

Honours was a massive leap from my undergraduate degree. Mainly since my two years out of the three-year undergraduate degree was online-based and this included exams. This year was the first year since 2019 that I wrote in-person exams, and it was tough! I forgot entirely how to study word for word and retain information. However, somehow, I managed to write each exam and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. To my surprise, I happened to get extremely good marks in all my modules.

This opportunity has also allowed me to meet amazing and educated people! The individuals within my honours programme overall were very friendly and helpful. Each individual within my division was extremely welcoming and supportive. Everyone was willing to share their experiences and knowledge. I appreciated how each of them also gave their advice on ways to cope, handle stress, calm the nerves and mentioned tips for growth in the specific Forensic Science field.  I would’ve never thought that my classmates, would now be a few of my closest friends. Honestly, without these people, I don’t think I would’ve been able to cope with this year as well as I am. 

Honours has coached me to be independent and take initiative. It has shown me that it’s okay to make mistakes but learn from them, and that you’re definitely not the smartest in the room! It has taught me that hard work pays off and to always do the that best you can, as your best is enough. It has taught me that I am capable and educated and lastly, it has shown me how strong I am. Honours has also taught me a lot about the research sector and how important research is overall. It helped me focus solely on my education and my goals, and in some strange way, it helped me evolve. Honours improved my reading, writing, my critical analysis, and so much more. I was told by many, that honours are one of the worst years in post-graduate studies, and according to my knowledge I must agree. Even though being in honours is a tiring, bitter-sweet journey, I can honestly say it is worth all the stress! 

Forensic Science has always fascinated me since I was young! I loved the fact that the individuals involved aimed to solve cases for justice. I loved that they aimed to serve and help others. Honours in Biomedical Forensic Science made me even more intrigued, experiencing first-hand how the field of Forensic Science works in South Africa! Surprisingly Forensic Science is way more complicated and diverse than the CSI TV shows we grew up watching. Did you know, Forensic Science consists of science, law, and medical aspects!? It makes me feel so important, to be involved with real-life cases and learn all the things that’s needed as a forensic scientist. In the beginning, we learnt the different disciplines within forensic science which included Entomology, Medico-legal Death Investigations, Genetics and lastly Toxicology which is what my honours project titled “Retrospective Analysis of Routine LC-QTOF/MS Toxicological Screening Results in Post-Mortem Casework” entails. I never knew forensic science was so diverse and that it had so much room for professional development. I cannot wait to one day contribute to this field and positively impact the lives of others.

Regardless of the rollercoaster of emotions I’ve been on during this year, experiencing both good and difficult times, I’m grateful. Without this experience, I wouldn’t have been this resilient and shaped into the woman I am today, and one day will be. I still have 6 weeks left of my honours year and I’m ready to face it head-on!

A student’s job is to learn, not know

by Imraan Dixon

There’s a cognitive bias called the Dunning-Kruger effect first described by two aptly named researchers, David Dunning and Justin Kruger (funny how things always line up like that, huh?). Essentially, it causes people with limited knowledge to overestimate the extent of that knowledge. Regardless of how true to life the Dunning-Kruger effect is, there is a popular interpretation of it that looks something like this:

When we’ve explored the tip of the knowledge iceberg, ignorant of what lies beneath, we assume we are more knowledgeable than we actually are. Once we are able to see into the depths and how far out of our reach it is, we realise that what we know is a but a droplet in the grand scheme of things.

Honours really gives us the freedom to search and learn about the topics we want to. Undergrad coaxed us with the gentle guide of lecture material. But Honours is conservative on that front, opting to encourage us to seek out knowledge autonomously, bounded only by our own eagerness and deadline constraints. It is through this that I’ve plummeted into the so-called “Valley of Despair”.

Aware of how little I really know, thoughts creep in. Thoughts that I’m not living up to the Honours standard. See, I wasn’t originally accepted into Honours. The only reason I made it here is because space opened up from other admittees leaving. Where does that put me amongst my peers? An off cut that was only put in the final product, because the packaging still had some free space in it…

You know what, though? That’s a bit self-centred, isn’t it? Tsk, tsk, tsk. Let’s not pretend that there aren’t people out there who feel like they are underperforming. I’m not saying there’s definitely people out there who feel like that – I speak only for me, myself, and I – but chances are that I’m not the only one with these insecurities. It makes sense, in a way. Students are integrated into labs where it’s likely that the majority of their interactions are with people on a higher level than them. They’re constantly exposed to Master’s and PhD students who are more experienced. In a way, perhaps those students start to be seen as peers regardless of the degree they hold.

What’s comforting for me to think about is that it’s okay to feel incompetent. It’s okay to feel like I don’t have it all or that I’m lacking knowledge that I assume is supposed to be basic. It’s okay if there’s some things that I can’t do with my current skillset. I’m a student. I’m not here to do. First and foremost, I’m here to learn. The practical aspect is there to facilitate this. The idea that, just because I’m a postgraduate, I’m supposed to be a full-fledged researcher swimming in grants and sleeping in sheets made up of hundreds of my published papers is absurd.

The takeaway, for me, is that I should be a lot more forgiving on myself for my gross inaptitude. Sure, I shouldn’t be complacent, but shooting myself in the foot by psychologically punishing myself like this will hamper my ability to walk forward. After all, I could very well be at the level of knowledge I’m expected to be at and I’m just looking at things through murky lens. Such a preposterous idea! But maybe I just need new glasses…

Learning experiences in 2022

by Caylin Mc Farlane

I realized I needed to pace myself when it comes to how much I put into my studies. People had told me Honours was going to be difficult, but this is much more difficult than what I expected.

The course I chose is Clinical Anatomy and we had our first techniques exams in March. Most of our learning was crammed into 2 months of intense studying and understanding of human anatomy. This would be the first time I had written a test in 5 years, so I had decided to give it my all, because I had wanted great marks. Yet, after the techniques exam was done, I felt I had failed. It felt as if all the hard work I had put into studying was for nought. I had to accept that I wasn’t cut out for academia or lower my expectations of myself.

With all the intense learning and studying for techniques, I had stopped taking care of my mental health. Therefore, I had a breakdown. I was burnt out and the year wasn’t finished. I didn’t realise how much I had put into getting great marks. Yes, I enjoyed myself, and yes, I received great marks, but the cost wasn’t worth it. I had to find a way to balance my studies and the other parts of my life, otherwise I wouldn’t survive 2022.

It’s been a few months since then and I’m getting better at finding the balance. Now, I’m working to achieve good marks. The lesson I learnt was to be realistic about my expectations regarding Honours and myself. Yes, Honours is difficult, intense and sometimes crazy, but that doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy Honours.

Mary Poppins (1964) said, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and ‘snap’, the job’s a game.”

Finding the fun in writing this, was finding a way to incorporate the quote.

Goodluck to all the future Honours students. Remember to take care of your mental health and yourself.

I would be just fine, right?

by Gomolemo Molope

Hey, I am Gomolemo. A young individual from Gauteng who is aspiring to be a scientist. I cannot share a whole lot more about myself right now, but I will share something in particular. The final semester of my undergraduate studies was the most nerve-wracking time of my life. I would try to make the most of my days but my thoughts were always about doing well on my final exams, ultimately getting my degree and then furthering my studies. On top of that, I would check my email regularly to see if any of the universities I had applied to do my honours at had
accepted me.

Once the exam season had finally ended and the long-awaited festive season was approaching. I received an email confirming my admission to UCT. To say that I was happy would be an understatement. I was over the moon! I could not wait to share these amazing news with my family and friends. As excited as I was though, I realised that going to UCT would mean that I would have to move to a different province and stay in a place that was completely new to me. Extremely far from friends, family and home – my comfort zone. However, I will admit that in high school my friends and I would constantly say, “I can’t wait to leave high school. I will finally feel grown and independent.” Needless to say, that is every teenager’s dream. However, it started to feel like everything was suddenly happening way too fast and I felt like I was no longer ready to be grown and independent. On the other hand, I kept thinking that it really could not be all that bad. I would be just fine, right?

Soon after New Year’s Day, I finally made it to Cape Town. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of excitement and a dash of fear. But surely I would be just fine, right? A few days into my stay I eventually got to meet my stream convenor and
classmates for the first time. Surprisingly, many of my classmates were just like me, in that they had now moved to a place which was totally unfamiliar to them. It was during our orientation that we realised that the journey we were now embarking on would not be as terrifying as we had imagined. Although we had all just met, we discovered that together we would form the best support system for one another. Our similarities would be what allow us to form a strong bond which would make those days away from family and friends slightly bearable. Our connectedness would be the source of strength and courage needed to help us through the eventful year ahead of us.

It certainly did not take me months to finally believe that I would be just fine. All my uncertainties and fears were slowly overcome with each passing day. That was all thanks to my stream convenor, lecturers and most importantly my
classmates. A small group of compassionate and friendly people who somehow showed me that change is not always scary. They revealed that stepping out of your comfort zone allows you to live a fulfilling life in which you discover your
abilities and potential. You learn to stand on your own and experience moments that will allow you to grow as an individual. So with all that I have shared, trust me when I say that throwing yourself into the unknown seems daunting. But take that leap of faith because in the end, you will be just fine.

NOTE TO SELF: You are growing and learning, it’s okay to fall but remember to get back up again.

by Thando Kubheka

With this piece, I am going to take you back to the very beginning and set the scene, it’s 2021, I am in my room preparing for the final exams of my undergraduate studies and I received an email that had me smiling for the rest of the day, it read: “Congratulations! You have been firmly admitted to the BMedScHons program at UCT in 2022.”

The day I arrived in Cape Town, from Joburg, was filled with so much anticipation, I had never experienced such a cocktail of emotions before, a mixture of excitement and joy laced with fear and anxiety. I got to my room at res and before doing anything else sat down and wrote down all the things that I was grateful for at that moment, little did I know that this would be an important grounding exercise for me throughout the year. This was followed up by me writing down my hopes and goals for the year on a blank A5 sheet. I put down a variety of things both academic, like
improving time management and asking as many questions as possible; and some personal things, like strengthening my relationships and working on my overall health through reading, journaling, and eating. I had placed this beautifully decorated sheet strategically on my wall so that it was the first thing that I saw when I woke every morning. I was fully prepared for the year ahead, or so I thought. The reality of what the honour’s year was to bring first hit me when I was faced with an excel spreadsheet titled “Student Year Planner 2022”, and I quickly realized that what I had ahead of me was a beast, truly going into the lion’s den and looked my little sheet and was filled with doubts, could I get through this? This question still looms over me as I write this.

As the real work began, I found it harder to stick to those goals I had written down. I could feel my mental health deteriorating exponentially, and with the people I love being so far away, I felt more alone than ever. For the first time it had got to me in such a way that I was unable to compartmentalize; separating my personal struggles and worries from my academic commitments/requirements became an incredibly difficult feat, and with this year being one that I
planned to find myself and determine whether this whole ‘being a scientist’ thing is really for me, you can imagine how heartbroken this made me feel because it made me think that maybe I wasn’t cut out for this. Nonetheless, I continued pushing forward and taking on each day and its lessons.

When the second half of the year started, I decided to revisit that list of goals I made and made the necessary adjustments that would allow me to be more flexible with the changes that come with this honour’s year. The old list is now stored away and now I wake up to see my new redesigned list of goals, it’s not as beautifully decorated but it is a better fit for the person I have grown to become. Despite the rocky beginning, this year has shown me just how resilient I am, I will not give up even when my world is literally shattering around me, which it has several times, and despite the pain and discomfort, I do believe that the struggles that I faced this year were necessary for me to truly
appreciate this trait in myself. I have also learned the importance of having a great support system, I had always thought this meant only my immediate family, but this year showed me that that support is through a variety of different people: from friends to lecturers to my incredible supervisors and lab colleagues who I truly appreciate for all their guidance and mentorship, and for handling me with such care and compassion.

I am going through the remaining months of this year, feeling immensely grateful for the lessons I have learned in and out of the classroom and lab. I’ve had the opportunity to learn many valuable lessons about myself and have met such amazing people who have shown me that what makes this life beautiful are those little moments in between the chaos, when you share a laugh with a friend, or when you have random dance parties as a mid-week pick-me-up to energize and relieve stress. So, with this last stretch, I want to allow myself to fall and get back up again, I want to open myself
up to more opportunities and forgive myself for the mistakes that I made while trying to figure things out because I am capable of achieving a lot more than I think or even believe sometimes.

And finally, thank you 2022 Honours year, you are truly a gift, I really see and appreciate that now.

The people behind the science

by Bianca Rijkmans

Patience. That is what the past couple of months have been teaching me. Patience. Waiting over 6 weeks for equipment to arrive in order to start your experiments for your thesis tends to do that, I think.

In the meantime, I have thrown myself into learning as much as I can with the research group my project falls under. They are the best bunch of people, all interesting and unique and kind and helpful. I got a teeny taste of what it is like working as a team sorting through old patient files and documenting certain details on a group spreadsheet, and enjoyed celebrating with everyone once the task was finished. We had a debrief session after this period of working through some pretty heavy and hectic patient files (mostly dealing with motor vehicle accident traumatic brain injuries) and it was a safe space to process the emotions of reading through the files over the past couple of weeks. I learnt about everyone’s different hobbies outside of the research space; they range from yoga, to dungeons and dragons, to sewing and baking. We talked about work-life balance, and coping mechanisms, and celebrated the birth of the baby boy of one of the researchers in the team. I think what I love most about science at the moment is the people, and how they can shape your experience of working in a lab. Interacting and getting to know different researchers and their stories has been the best thing, and I know that in whatever direction I take my studies, people will be a part of that story. I think this is really special and something to be treasured, along with scientific progress and academic accomplishments and all that. Isn’t there a saying that rather than what you did or said, people remember how you made them feel? Well so far I have felt very welcomed and encouraged working with this wonderful group of people, who also happen to be spectacular scientists I can look up to and be inspired by.

Okay, back to waiting for the equipment to arrive and stressing about my project…

From Jozi to Stellies to CPT – Stepping out of my comfort zone

by May Krause

I was born and schooled in Johannesburg. Big, bad, crazy wonderful Joburg, I was a Jozi girl through and through. When I moved to the quaint and historically beautiful town of Stellenbosch for university, I happily donned my Matie shirt and threw myself into my own independence. Last year, after graduating I was more than ready for a change. Two years of covid had exhausted me (and almost everyone) and I felt stuck in a time warp, with the same faces who still had one goal and one goal only, to party as hard as they could. I was over that and had been since 2020 when my degree kicked into a higher gear. So, with my 3-year undergrad coming to an end, I knew it was time to leave. I needed a change, a fresh start, a new view, another layer to me.

Cape Town was the next beautiful Western Cape destination for me. I had visited my UCT friends on weekends and was already halfway in love with the vibey atmosphere, incredible nature and too- numerous to name stunning views at every turn. Whether those be of the sparkling sea, the magnificent mountain, vineyards or bustling busy streets or markets. Moving here and starting my honors at a new university knowing no one both excited and scared me but it has been the best decision I have made.

From watching the sunrise while driving around the mountain to campus, to being in my happy space, the lab, and having catchups with the wonderful friends I study with – my days are filled with interesting, challenging, expansive learning and then sensory delights in the beautiful cape. I have grown so much, in all the ways that are important. I am studying and learning what I am most passionate about. I most importantly, to me, I am the happiest I have been in a while. So, for those out there that are worried about making a change, moving away from what you know or what may feel comfortable, just do it. You never know… it might just pay off with a bigger, brighter, happier more challenging, varied, stunning view.

Not waving, but drowning

by Husnaa Bux

The amalgamation of twenty-twenty and twenty-twenty-one can only be separated by levels of
lockdown, like waves of an unexpected tsunami – isolated, estranged, remote, and restrained.
Entering twenty-twenty-two, the anchors were loosened, masks were lifted, and we were able
to come up for air. Life returned, or rather resumed, to (a new) normal – yet I still feel
restrained. Waking up for eight am lectures seems almost impossible. I struggle to comprehend
the ease with which I sailed through twenty-nineteen’s daily eight am to five pm. After a single
hour in a lecture this year, I almost feel as if I deserve to take the rest of the day off. The beach
always looks inviting, but I cannot find the will to go as the afternoon traffic tests my patience.
Even the simplest activities, like standing in an elevator with another person, seem suffocating;
it’s almost as ridiculous as staying out later than midnight and not sleeping for at least eight
hours. Suffice to say, being locked up has had a lasting effect.

Although I was present on campus last year, crowds were sparse. Now, the newly fallen
regulations have created upheavals, with everyone wanting to be above board, leaving me
feeling overwhelmed. It seems I am sinking. The sentiment of feeling alone while surrounded by
people has become my reality.

Fortunately, Honours has made the adjustment slightly easier. Coming from my third year of
MBChB, I was concerned that my background was insufficient and that I would be drowning in
work. I questioned whether the science boffins would be welcoming or deterring; especially
considering my now questionable ability to socialise and connect with others as an estranged
being. To my surprise, not only have I made friends, but the workload is manageable. Hybrid
learning, both physical and remote, has given me the space I need to transition, while still being
engaged with others.

In many ways my balance remains slightly skewed. It feels odd to be achieving a postgrad
without an undergrad, but the increased freedom and decreased working hours, has allowed
me to navigate through this new normal. At times I feel as if the tides still pull back, but I
continue to paddle in search of more stable ground.

BMedSc (Hons) in Personal Growth

by Anna Jellema-Butler

I entered this Honours program expecting to walk away with the field-specific knowledge and technical skills required to become an excellent scientist. However, as I have come to realize over the past six months, the primary outcome of our Honours year has little to do with a degree in science. The real takeaway will be immeasurable personal growth that can be applied to any career field, relationship, or goal.

Among the skills we have developed are time management, data analysis, problem solving, literature searching and review, project planning and development, and – perhaps reluctantly – public speaking. Our analytical minds were ceaselessly engaged as we were pushed to think and write critically. For the first time in our academic careers, we took personal responsibility over our work and found independence in the laboratory. We built relationships with fellow students and supervisors that will persist beyond the boundaries of campus. Most importantly, we practiced perseverance and positivity in the face of many, many mistakes and failures.

Undoubtedly, a portion of our class will go on to studies and careers unrelated to medical science. Still, we will have been well-prepared by this Honours year. Because the true challenge it posed was not in completing the lecture content or solving the scientific questions posed in our theses. Rather, it was a challenge of personal character, and one which precipitated immense personal and skill-based growth. For this reason, I am confident that my peers and I have been well-equipped for our future pursuits, wherever they may lie!

The Covid Storm

by Pearly Joubert

An unexpected storm
Wild and unpredictable
Such an unusual form
But undeniable

Wind, hale and rain
Increasing world-wide pain
Help! The children are crying
Scientists and doctors were trying
But Covid couldn’t care less; did its best,
And put people to rest

Hospitals overcrowding
Made the beds limited
Businesses drowning
Humans became intimidated

So, we created lockdowns
Morning, afternoon and evening, we stayed in our gowns
Working from home
Having zoom meetings with colleagues from Rome
Every five minutes, washing our hands; trying our best
To not let Covid, put us to rest

Unfortunately, the rate of mutation,
created a Beta, Gamma and Omicron nation
Wearing masks couldn’t even make the storm end
Covid made sure it became a legend.

Friends became round icons on a screen
Some lecturers became a meme
WhatsApp became my hang-out spot
And although Covid is smaller than a dot
Its impact greater than a storm
Covid became our norm

Despite it all, I had time to look at the stars
Also, read about Elon Musk and Mars
I could spend quality time with my sister
Which usually only happened end semester
Almost beat my dad at chess
And helped my mom clean up the kitchen mess

There were conspiracy theories
Bill Gates using vaccines to implant microchips
Storming influx of online queries
We realized the need for improvement in our leadership
Learn from our history
To prevent a similar catastrophe

We can now un-mask?
I heard everyone ask…

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