Master’s Student Learns Lab Skills in Denmark
The months of August and September 2014 have been a life-changing experience for Ms Colisile Mathonsi, a UKZN Master of Medical Science student who received an opportunity to complete the laboratory component of her research at the Statens Serum Institut (SSI), one of Denmark’s largest research institution in the medical field.
The 25-year-old research enthusiast, who holds an Honours degree in Medical Biochemistry, said she could not believe it when she was awarded a grant by the SSI and the College of Health Sciences (CHS) to master laboratory techniques at the SSI which is situated in the city of Copenhagen.
‘My time abroad is helping me to develop my research capacity by learning new techniques,’ she said. ‘I hope to teach those techniques to others when I return to South Africa. I am working with leading international experts and I believe that will have a great influence on my work at home. It is a strong foundation for me as an aspiring medical researcher.’
Mathonsi’s friends and family were happy and excited about her trip. Her research supervisor and Head of UKZN’s Optics and Imaging Unit, Professor Anita Naicker, who conducts ongoing collaborative research on preeclampsia with the SSI, notified her of the grant. Hypertension in pregnancy accounts for 14% of maternal deaths in South Africa and is linked to the development of preeclampsia. Although she had never ventured abroad before, Mathonsi said her fears and anxieties could not hold her back.
‘I have always been a curious individual and during my Bachelor’s degree I studied various subjects including immunology, developmental biology, biostatistics, toxicology and metabolic diseases, all of which made me even more curious and more interested in medical research.’
Mathonsi’s penchant for research intensified during her Honours year when she investigated the effects of Tulbaghia violacea's bulb, stalk and leaf on Madin-Darby Bovine Kidney (MDBK) Cells.
‘I recognised then that medical research is significant in our society because we live in a world where diseases emerge and re-emerge. It is important for medical research to be done so that we can find ways to combat such diseases which are threats to human health. I am passionate about my studies because I love helping people and I strongly believe that a career in medical research will help me make a difference in other people’s lives.’
Mathonsi said she was also passionate about youth development and loves to be involved in community projects that aim to advance young people’s lives. She serves as a mentoring co-ordinator for the Umkhumbane Schools Projects which is sponsored by the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH) and is focused on helping schools in the Cato Manor region. ‘Together with other mentors we provide guidance to high school learners in areas such as time management, study skills, career planning, and handling peer pressure. I am also a project officer for Driving to Success which is an organisation that helps with youth empowerment.’
Travelling in the efficient public transport system of Copenhagen has been a definite highlight for Mathonsi. She said she loves the cleanliness of the city and meeting people from different backgrounds. She also loves the architecture and how proud locals are about their culture and Danish history.
Mathonsi looks forwards to pursuing part of her PhD abroad and gaining expertise in cutting-edge laboratories, using high-tech equipment and learning techniques that will be of benefit to those she can teach back in South Africa.