L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Grants for UKZN Scientists
Dr Yogandree Ramsamy from the College of Health Sciences and Ms Sinenhlanhla Sikhosana from the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science are among seven women who have received research grants from the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science South African National Programme in recognition of the quality of their research.
The South African programme for the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science South African Young Talents is one of two programmes that emerged from the former L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science sub-Saharan Africa Regional programme, the other being a regional programme for the other 48 sub-Saharan nations.
The programme promotes and encourages young women in science by identifying and rewarding talented young female scientists working in formal sciences, life sciences, environmental sciences, physical sciences, engineering and technological sciences.
Ramsamy and Sikhosana each received one of five doctoral research grants of R80 000 awarded to PhD students enrolled at a South African institution completing their doctorate in a research laboratory.
Ramsamy, a qualified Medical doctor who completed her Master’s in Medical Microbiology at UKZN, is a practicing Pathologist specialising in clinical microbiology with the National Health Laboratory Services. She is serving at Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital while pursuing her PhD part-time.
The mother of two describes receiving this grant as unbelievable, calling it an honour and a privilege.
‘I now see myself as an ambassador representing young women in research in Africa and feel motivated in spreading the word of women in the world of research,’ she said.
Ramsamy added that she hopes to show other women that they can be a mother and have both a family and a career.
‘It is my belief that all aspects can be accomplished successfully and society needs to be more proactive in embracing young women engaged in career development and raising a family,’ she said. ‘Uplifting women is uplifting society.’
Ramsamy’s research has focused on antimicrobial resistance in animals, humans and the environment, and earned her the 2018 Institute Mérieux-ICAN Young Investigator Award. Her name also appeared on the 2014 WHO’s WHO in the World listing, and her research on antimicrobial stewardship was featured in the prestigious Lancet Infectious Diseases journal. She is now investigating common resistance genes among these three areas to establish if there is transfer between them.
‘Antimicrobial resistance is a major threat to global security and raising awareness, especially in the community, is of paramount importance,’ said Ramsamy. ‘This grant will assist me to complete my PhD research and in raising awareness about antimicrobial resistance locally and internationally.’
Ramsamy acknowledged her masters supervisors, Professor David Muckart and Dr Khine Swe Swe Han for inspiring her to progress to PhD studies. She thanked her PhD supervisors, Professors Koleka Mlisana and Sabiha Essack, women she called the epitome of success in the research world. She said she owed much of her success to an unseen, unheard, constantly present God, credited her husband Prenolin for his unwavering support, thanked her mother for demonstrating true strength and thanked her brother, in-laws, friends and extended family, as well as her daughters Saskya and Sarvani for inspiring her to achieve her best.
Sikhosana, a PhD candidate in the Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit (ACRU) at UKZN, is passionate about astrophysics, and is conducting research on diffuse radio emission in ACTPol clusters. She also does commissioning science for the MeerKAT telescope. Her research involves using radio telescopes to observe non-thermal diffuse radio emission in the plasma of galaxy clusters. Sikhosana hopes the project will aid understanding of how this emission evolves over time and how the dynamics of the host galaxy cluster impact the formation of diffuse radio emission, with large statistical samples being used to quantify this behaviour.
‘This study will help refine the formation theories of diffuse radio emission, and offer insight on the merger timescales of the host clusters,’ she said.
Sikhosana said she was humbled and honoured to win such a prestigious award, which will enable the completion of her PhD and facilitate meetings with collaborators across the country and internationally.
‘It’s very rewarding to know that, based on my academic performance and research outputs, the judging panel saw fit for me to receive the award,’ she said.
Sikhosana, a natural problem-solver with a curious nature, was drawn to science from a young age and decided to pursue astrophysics after attending an ACRU career week in her matric year, attracted by the prospect of working towards solving the mysteries of the universe. She has been recognised as a ‘Wonder Woman in Science’ at UKZN, received the TATA Doctoral scholarship for African women in scarce skills fields, and was selected to participate in the 69th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in 2019.
As an African female in a field that is predominantly White and male, Sikhosana has had to combat a sense of ‘imposter syndrome’, working hard to convince herself that she is intelligent enough to be there and that she belongs.
‘The advantage is that now I get to pave the way for younger aspiring female scientists, to make their journey less uphill than mine was,’ she said.
Words: Christine Cuénod