SPOTLIGHT

Mishumo Nemathaga

#Agriculture
#InfectiousDiseases
#SouthAfrica
#Zoology

I am a 27-year-old South African black woman, born in Limpopo Province (Venda). My childhood was very normal even though I come from a family that was always rich in heart but disadvantaged. My parents never made my upbringing feel poor. My dad worked as a gardener after we move to Gauteng Province. He studied to become a carpenter and has been working as a carpenter to provide for his family. My mother worked as a domestic worker and later studied to become a caregiver and has been working to provide for us with my father. I was the only child for 11 years, my younger brother was born in 2004. My parents hard work has brought us this far and given us a chance to a better life.

 

Currently based in South Africa.

What is your educational background?

1. I have a Bachelor of Science in Life Science (Microbiology and Zoology stream) (BSc in Life Science) obtained from The University of South Africa (UNISA) in 2019.

I believe in the conservation of wildlife to promote agricultural diversity, help with human health and improve lives. I have great passion for our environment and a sense of appreciation, believing we can be the change we want to see in our environment. Protecting our biodiversity is very important and I want to contribute to continued solutions for the near future. I want to contribute to the detection of diseases and research the cause in human and animal life to find solutions that can control and even prevent the spread of the diseases within the environment.

2. Bachelor of Science Honours in Life Science (Microbiology stream) (BSc Hons) obtained from The University of South Africa (UNISA) in 2021

My research project was on THE IDENTIFICATION OF ASCARIDIA GALLI PARASITES OF EXTENSIVELY RAISED CHICKENS OF LIMPOPO AND KWAZULU-NATAL PROVINCES USING ITS2 GENE. I was under the Supervision of Dr DP. Malatji an amazing supervisor who not only supervised me but gave me reason to believe that as a black South African woman in the science academic journey my dreams are valid and every day I am a step closer to becoming a globally recognized Scientist. She motivates me daily and I am encouraged to work harder and smarter.

3. I am currently studying towards my Masters of Science in Agriculture (MSc Agriculture) from The University of South Africa (UNISA).

What is your current occupation?

I am currently a full time Masters of Science in Agriculture student at the University of South Africa. My aim is to conduct more research that will have a greater impact on the smallholder farming environment, and biodiversity as a whole.

I am part of an organization called Black Women in Science (BWIS) as a 2021 Fellow. The fellowship programs provide knowledge and awareness of science and exposes female emerging researchers to research opportunities. The fellowship developed and educated me more on scientific writing, scientific communication, financial management and investments, entrepreneurship and business.

I also volunteer during my spare time at the Pretoria Zoo assisting with preparing food and feeding seals and penguins. During my volunteer visits at the zoo I also assist with cleaning enclosures for seals and penguins and this has been an amazing experience and fun to contribute to the safety and health of zoo animals.

 I am also the creator and Admin of a Facebook page called Free Science a platform that assists senior phase (Grade 10-12) and university students who are pursuing academic science fields and those that would like to pursue academic journeys in science. The platform is there to mentor learners and impart knowledge and awareness of science careers. We also encourage the reading of journal articles at an early stage (senior phase) to enrich ones mindset and grow their science awareness. The goal is to promote a generation of conceptual thinkers, breaking the practice of remembering to write and forget and develop a generation of idea runners and thinkers.

Through my science academic journey I have been inspired to create a “let’s have a moment of science” platform that will encourage and impart an interest of the science world to a rural learner. Free Science aspires to deliver mentorship that will encourage great passion for science and breakdown misconceptions and barriers that surround science. The goal is to reach as many senior phase learners as possible before they set their feet into universities. We want to impart knowledge and insight and room to process information that will help learners understand the STEM fields. At a later stage the platform will also provide educational resources to rural and township high schools that can better educate learners. The platform also assists undergraduate and Honours students that are embarking on research journeys with steps on how to write research proposals, research dissertations as well as scientific reports.

I am also a South African Women In Science and Engineering member as well as a Golden Key International Honour Society member.

Finally I am a Unisa (University of South Africa) Student Mentor Volunteer. I voluntarily assist under the Collage of Agriculture and Environmental Science. My duties are to encourage and support mentees to make the most of themselves and their studies, including career choices and personal development. 

What or who got you into STEM?

My love for science started when I was in Primary school. I really enjoyed the lessons and mini projects that we had to complete during our life science and technology classes. The computer center classes where the best and helped us grow our computer skills and do research for our projects and homework.

I started to have a greater interest in life science when I was in grade 6. The mini projects that the teacher gave of mammals, reptiles etc. and the ecosystem gave me reason to find myself searching the internet looking for the meaning of life sciences. Internet explorer gave me a definition that changed my future goal, dreams and desires forever. The explanation spoke of living things and even gave examples of animals and small organisms. I continued to search until I saw the word biologist and the definition fascinated me so much. I decided then and there that when I grow up I want to become a biologist. I went home that day and told my mom “when I grow up I want to become a biologist).

The reason why I pursued an academic journey in STEM (microbiology, zoology and even agriculture) was due to my 12 year old self. I stepped out in faith and walked into the unknown, my courage, ambition and drive for something challenging brought me this far and I hope that my story will give a young girl child the ability to see a scientist in herself because it is possible.

 

What is the biggest challenge/barrier you have faced as an African in STEM?

The challenges that I have personally faced is not having a mentor when I needed one and studying through an Open Distance e-Learning University. My previous learning experiences (High School) had never prepared me for a long distance institution. The topic of finding a mentor is rarely discussed so it is something that I was informed about after tough/hard times had already made me stronger.

At the same time, the challenges developed a person that works 10 times harder. I learnt that I am responsible for my studies and that giving more time to my studies means I’m a step closer to becoming a Scientist.

The challenges faced by Africans in STEM is “recognition and the adequate and accurate science communication of STEM” in a developing country as compared to developed countries. Recognition is very important as this grows a countries visibility within STEM fields and opens doors of greater opportunities for those in STEM. This is one of the reason why I started my Science page (Free Science on Facebook) with an aim of not only communicating science to senior phase (grade10-12) learners and university students but to also develop a platform that recognizes the STEM fields and provides accurate and adequate science communication to the society at large.

 

How do you think your background/upbringing has been beneficial in your journey/career?

Coming from a disadvantaged background, a home that was poor but rich at heart motivated me to not only believe in myself but to also believe in my parents, that as I grow and develop they will also grow and develop. My upbringing made me value life from a different perspective (through the eyes of a young girl who can only wish, dream and believe that one day she will become a well-recognized scientist). My mentality keeps me running and reminds me to never give up. We fail but we never fail to try again. I had my share of failures throughout the journey but because I have faith in myself, I walked into the unknown with courage, ambition and a mindset for greatness I conquered and my parents conquered.

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How do you think we can start to change the narrative surrounding African contributions
to global STEM research & careers?

“Africans We are not History but The Future”. If we could look deep into Africa and see the potential, conceptual thinkers and researches that we have in STEM we can indeed change the narrative surrounding Africans. We are a continent full of academic excellence and we can lead STEM research in Africa and bring the globe to us (here).

What advice would you like to give to young, aspiring Africans in STEM?

Challenges make you stronger and without them, we wouldn’t work harder. Believe in yourself and in your abilities. Work hard and never be afraid to ask questions. You can never live long enough to know everything. In the STEM world, we learn from those who pursued it before us, they are the greatest mentors. Learn, analyze information and compile insight. You are intelligent and a force to be reckoned with, GO FOR IT!

Do you have any projects you’re working on that you would like us to highlight?

I run a Facebook page called Free science a platform that assists senior phase (Grade 10-12) and university students who would like to purse STEM career fields. The aim is to mentor learners and impart knowledge and awareness of STEM careers. The platform aims to encourage the reading of journal articles at an early stage (senior phase) to enrich ones mindset and grow their science awareness. One of the goals is to promote a generation of conceptual thinkers, breaking the practice of remembering to write and forget and develop a generation of idea runners and thinkers.

I would like to solve the “science misconception” problem. Learners do not always grasp fundamental science ideals and teachings in class and even though they may give correct answers to questions asked, they are only using correctly memorized answers.

This problem is important to solve because it is important to develop ways that will assist learners to understand the underlying scientific concepts. Improving educational engagement with the necessary educational resources and scientific concepts means we can develop/mentor a generation of learners that will learn to analyze situations, information or abstract concepts to compile insight at high school level. If such problems are solved in senior phase levels, this will reduce the concept of science being hard and add vision to learners wanting to pursue STEM fields.

I have also shared my research journey with a number of platforms The Catalyst In Me, The Root of The Science Podcast, and the National Research Foundation Youth Month (2021) feature with an aim of inspiring the next generation of scientists. I am a firm believer of having role models especially career wise, and being in the STEM field I grab any opportunity to forster science interest to young girls and boys, and these platforms have done just that. 

And I believe that success doesn’t compare to making a generational difference and I am here to make that difference 

https://www.thecatalystinme.com/single-post/bsc-life-science-to-msc-agricultural-science 

https://rootofthesciencepodcast.buzzsprout.com/809081/8812685-ep-76-mishumo-nemathaga-msc-student-in-agriculture 

https://www.nrf.ac.za/content/youth-month-2021-mishumo-nemathaga 

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    SPOTLIGHT

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