College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Postdoctoral Researcher Selected for Global Women in STEMM Programme

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A postdoctoral researcher in the School of Life Sciences, Dr Céline Hanzen, is one of 100 women selected to participate in the global Homeward Bound programme, an initiative to promote leadership among women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine (STEMM).

Hanzen, who was selected from a pool of 376 applicants, will become part of an international network of more than 400 Homeward Bound alumni, her membership involving participation in a year-long online programme, starting in March 2021 and followed by a three-week expedition to Patagonia and Antarctica for which she is raising funds through crowd-funding.

Using a mixture of online and face-to-face coaching, participants will receive training in leadership, science, strategy, visibility, and well-being from an international group of experts.

Selectors looked for applications that demonstrated a clear understanding of Homeward Bound’s vision and purpose, which is to enhance women in STEMM’s participation in global leadership and proactive contributions to building a sustainable world and managing the planet. Selectors also recognised participants’ evident leadership capabilities and skills and their interests in making collaborative, collective contributions to the programme.

Hanzen’s application demonstrated her strong scientific background and academic qualifications as well as her interests in components of the programme, including women in STEMM, gender equality, and climate change.

Homeward Bound selectors noted that Hanzen’s expertise in the area of freshwater ecology and her potential to lead and enact change, made her a natural choice for the highly sought-after leadership programme.

‘I want to train the next generation of women in sciences, to be fierce and strong but also to produce and communicate sound and reliable science,’ said Hanzen, who has set up Facebook and Instagram accounts to share her Homeward Bound journey.

She graduated with a PhD in 2020 after doing research into four species of elusive African freshwater eels, conducting pioneering research on their spatial ecology, thus contributing to the conservation of the Anguillids.

Her research showed that the eels might be declining in number at an alarming rate, raising concern about the connectivity of rivers in South Africa and the plight of these creatures as they are prevented from following their migratory paths. Her doctoral research, supervised by UKZN’s South African Research Chair in Ecosystem Health and Biodiversity in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape Professor Colleen Downs as well as Dr Martyn Lucas and Dr Gordon O’Brien, resulted in the publication of papers and a book chapter.

Hanzen – a recipient of a postdoctoral fellowship from the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust – now conducts research in Downs’s laboratory, focusing on the migratory and spatial ecology of African freshwater eels.

The work forms part of a multi-country project funded by the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA).

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied