Thokozani Sikhosana - South Africa

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Thokozani Sikhosana

Dear fellow students and researchers,

I am overjoyed to have been selected as the SANBio Student Ambassador for South Africa.

As the SANBio Student Ambassador one of my main aims is to encourage and promote post graduate research among undergraduate students in the science field and to help share information on opportunities of study and financing. South Africa, for example, is a country that is expanding in terms of providing funds for higher education learning and the opportunities are not always well communicated to prospective students. I also aim to increase the visibility of SANBio by constant interactions and sharing of information on my social media pages and also by communicating with the young people I come into contact with. I foresee many interesting activities I can undertake under this very welcome scheme. I also look forward to collaborating with my fellow Student Ambassadors from the other SANBio member states.

I began my career as an aspiring young scientist when I enrolled in the BSc (Hons) program in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Pretoria in 2014I am currently doing my MSc in Biochemistry, with my project focusing on the production of antigens that are potential vaccine candidates against economically important livestock ticks. Thus, this research encompasses animal health using biotechnology.

To date I have successfully produced an antigen in a novel eukaryotic expression system and we are currently concluding results on a small scale cattle trial in which this recombinant antigen was administered. The success of a vaccine against ticks, more specifically Rhipicephalus microplus, will have a positive impact on the community as it will ensure that rural and emerging farmers have access to targeted tick control. Rhipicephalus microplus is an economically important tick, with an estimated negative impact on livestock between R3-5 billion per annum. The losses caused by this tick species severely hinder the development of small-scale rural farmers and impact negatively on commercial farmers. Losses incurred within the rural and commercial industries in turn place a strain on the job security to the 2.2 million workers employed by these sectors. In developing areas, where malnutrition is rife, ticks add to the burdens that resource-poor communities face on a daily basis.

I originally enrolled for a science degree for completely different reasons than what has actually kept me in research: I initially wanted to pursue a career in forensic science, but a turning point for me was when I had a conversation with Prof Debra Meyer, about the contributions and value of science and how it improves human and animal life. I’ve also come to realise the amazing potential in the plant life found in our beautiful continent Africa.

As a passionate young woman in science I feel it is important for us to explore all our natural resources, learn and develop under the guidance of those who are at the top of their field and then use those skills to contribute to human and animal life. Another critical factor for our countries’ development is the role of women in science. We have proved to ourselves and society that we are more than capable, with one of the greatest examples being Evelyn M. Witkin who was awarded the National Medal of Science for her work on DNA mutagenesis and DNA repair.

I enjoy the thrill that comes from waiting for results of the experiments I undertake. I find being in the lab absolutely fulfilling, even when I don’t get the results I expected because that means new ways need to be explored which leads to acquiring more knowledge. I would advise anyone interested in pursuing a science career to do so without holding back and to never give up. Background is never indicative of where you are going in life; determination will have the biggest impact as to where one ends up.

I firmly believe that science is a tool we can use to improve our communities and opportunities to do so for Africa are important because of the many challenges faced, including malnutrition and spread of poverty related diseases. Most of these problems experienced by Africa can be resolved by science. My long term goal is to be involved in scientific research that has a positive impact on the world, especially the poor.

I also believe that the communication of science to the general public is important which is why I share a lot of scientific information I find interesting on social media that is informative and easy to understand. I often get annoyed when the media shares scientific stories without properly communicating the science or even reporting it incorrectly. I think it’s thus important to share this sort of information correctly on informal platforms like social media making it easier for people to understand that science has a significant effect on people’s lives.

Science is the answer and we should do all we can to make that widely known – I will do my part as both a scientist and a SANBio Student Ambassador!

 

Yours sincerely,

Thokozani Sikhosana

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