PhD candidate Sinenhlanhla Sikhosana is a celebrated woman in science at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Picture: Gcina Ndwalane
PhD candidate Sinenhlanhla Sikhosana is a celebrated woman in science at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Picture: Gcina Ndwalane

Five women scientists honoured by UKZN

By Nosipho Mngoma Time of article published Aug 31, 2017

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The University of KwaZulu-Natal has honoured five passionate, pioneering and persistent women, who are making waves in the field of science.

Speaking at the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science's Wonder Women in Science celebration in Durban, vice-chancellor Dr Albert van Jaarsveld said the university was blessed to have these women driving the institution forward. 

Held this month to coincide with National Science Week and  Women’s Month, the ceremony honoured Sinenhlanhla Sikhosana, Refilwe Mofokeng, Dr Alaika Kassim, Dr Julia Sibiya and Dr Brenda Moodley. 

“As a university, we are immensely proud of the contributions and the work done by our women scientists,” Van Jaarsveld said. 

He said the university had only two A-rated scientists – professors Linda Richter and Quarraisha Abdool-Karim, who are both women. Of the 319 NRF researchers, 30.5% are women. There were seven women among the 15 research chair positions and 43% of their doctoral students were women,  van Jaarsveld said. 

“Not only in the homes but in the work environment, women play a very big part in us living our Reach values.” 

These UKZN values are respect, excellence, accountability, client orientation and honesty. 

Sikhosana is a PhD candidate in the Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit whose research project focuses on galaxy clusters.

Born in rural Harding, the 24-year-old said her future was laid out for her, as a medical doctor. “My family was disappointed when I registered for a BSc in applied mathematics and physics. Not only because this was a foreign and possibly non-existent career path, but because I had taken away from them the ability to boast that their daughter was going to be a doctor.” 

But this all changed when she obtained her degree cum laude, as with her honours. 

It was not always a smooth ride. In some classes Sikhosana was the only woman. “Even though it was unspoken, I could sense the need to prove that I belonged there. To survive university, especially as a science student, one needs a clear mindset, clear priorities and a passion for problem solving. By applying this in my life, I can now proudly tell my mother that I will soon be a doctor, although it’s a different kind of doctor than they imagined,” she quipped. 

To the young scientists from various schools around Durban present at the breakfast, Sikhosana said: “Let’s make science fun and fashionable, let’s erase the belief that science is for the uncool and the lifeless. Science is beautiful and needs to be recognised as such,” she said. 

Fellow wonder woman in science Dr Brenda Moodley,  a senior lecturer in the School of Chemistry and Physics, said although challenging, her work was rewarding. 

“Being a female researcher in chemistry requires a lot of hard work and dedication.” 

Currently supervising a post-doctoral, four PhD and four masters students, Moodley said balancing work and home commitments was possible, if you are doing something you are passionate about.

 “Women bring a unique perspective to science. We are nurturing and caring and we want to make an impact on the next generation. We are able to mentor students, encourage and nurture them to give of their best.

“Women also don’t give up very easily, we leave no stone unturned until finding the answer to that problem.”

The Mercury

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