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Mobilising the next generation of woman scientists

On 25 May 2018, a group of ten highly motivated Grade 11 girls, visited the C·I·B and the Department of Botany and Zoology to learn more about women in science. This event, which forms part of the annual Cell C Take a Girl Child initiative, gave the girls from Vusisizwe Secondary School in Worcester, the opportunity to interview a variety of women about their careers, the highlights and challenges that come with their jobs and why they chose these careers.

After a warm welcome, Prof Sophie von der Heyden and her students introduced the girls to the world of molecular ecology and evolutionary biology, and also let them have a go at pipetting some reagents. Thereafter they visited Karla Coombe-Davis and Dr Elrike Marais who spoke to the girls about their roles as C·I·B Database Manager and Research Manager, respectively. Karla had always had a passion for IT and she figured since she had a passion for technology and problem solving, IT would be an ideal career for her. Elrike, in turn, shared a vast amount of insight into project management and how the C·I·B works with other government Departments. Although she initially had the intentions of working with animals, she feels that her job has a much greater impact as it deals with projects that restore ecosystems health for all living things.

The girls also had the opportunity to interview C·I·B post-doctoral fellow. Dr Heidi Hirsch, about the example of Eucalyptus as invasive species. She explained to the girls how population genetics are used in invasion biology. Heidi shared a lot of insight into her studies abroad before she came to South Africa and the girls were intrigued to find out about opportunities for studying oversees. Megan Mathese, C·I·B Senior Technical Officer, gave the girls the opportunity to perform DNA extractions on plant material. She highlighted that the most interesting part of her job is supporting students with their work and she gets to meet students from all over the world.

Moving on from the genetics laboratory, the girls met up with Dr Tammy Robinson and her students in the Marine LAB. “We encountered a very interesting shrimp-like creature called the skeleton shrimp, which is originally from Japan and almost invisible to the naked eye. We also saw an alien mussel and compared its looks to those of two native mussels, the black mussel and the ribbed mussel” explains one of the girls, Palesa Raisibe. Tammy also answered questions on how she juggles being a mother of two kids and an academic career, one of Tammyís responses was “I have mastered the skill of scheduling my entire life into my calendar. I schedule my time with the family and my time for work in the same way so that I donít feel deprived of the time with my family nor my students at work and in that way I am able to give 100%”

The day also included a tour to the Universityís underground library and to end the day, Ntsiki Langa, Marketing and Recruitment Officer of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, took the girls through the different courses offered at the faculty.

“The day was fruitful. Our learners got the opportunity to visit the University, laboratories and state of the art library. They had fun working in the laboratories and got a clear understanding of science orientated careers. They also got to see what people do in different careers!” says Boniswa Mphepuka, educator at Vusisizwe Secondary School and who accompanied the girls.

Picture collage of Take a Girl Child to Work day - 25 May 2018