Ms Leah Hemraj’s graduation with her Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and Genetics summa cum laude is paving the way to a career as a medical practitioner that she hopes will help her be a catalyst for change.
Having always nurtured an interest in biology, Hemraj was interested in pursuing studies in genetics as it provides insight into understanding the world on a minute scale, a prospect that she said exhilarated and captivated her. Choosing biochemistry as her second major complemented her studies in genetics and contributed to her growing knowledge of biological realities and the human body in particular.
Hemraj’s choice to study at UKZN was informed not only by its proximity to home but also owing to the value she placed on the quality of the education she would receive at the Institution. Fielding several offers for a degree that is heavily research-focused, Hemraj knew UKZN had excellent research facilities. She also appreciated the Institution’s diverse community as she sees this as an important facet in every sphere of life.
‘I knew that by choosing UKZN, I would walk out a well-rounded person at the end of my degree, which I completely feel that I am,’ she said.
Despite having to complete much of her degree remotely owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hemraj found that the opportunities provided by the School of Life Sciences to develop and experience her studies outside of the traditional learning environment meant she did not feel isolated despite the removal of a social setting in which to study.
‘Once I found my footing within this new environment, I was able to immerse myself in my degree and experience the euphoria of the dedication and commitment that I had made to it, not only in what I was able to achieve but also the beautiful friendships I’ve made along the way and the experiences I had,’ she said.
The subjects that intrigued Hemraj during the course of her studies were genetic diseases and cancer research, helping her understand these diseases at a simple level and inspiring renewed appreciation for her life, which motivated her to continue studying these diseases and their treatment.
Of her success in a challenging degree programme, Hemraj said that while it appears daunting from the outside looking in, each person has potential within them that they may not realise they possess.
‘Achieving your goals is a mindset, something that I taught myself very early on in my tertiary education,’ she said.
‘It’s important to understand the sacrifices, determination, dedication and perseverance that studying for a degree requires, and working on time management and an effective schedule will never let you down, and will diminish any anxiety you may experience,’ said Hemraj.
Tools that helped her included intentional self-reflection that assisted her to readjust her approach to her studies constantly to achieve the results she wanted and remain focused. She also prioritised a balance between her academic and personal pursuits and seized opportunities for new experiences when they came along. A sound support system was also important, and she encouraged students to form long-lasting friendships.
Hemraj also highlighted that the University had ways of helping students along their journey that students should make use of.
‘It is a privilege to be able to study for a degree; I urge those who have been given this opportunity to grab it with both hands and never let go. Your education is your sharpest weapon,’ she said.
Noting that her achievements should not be viewed in isolation, Hemraj credited her family, especially her parents, for their emotional support and for encouraging her growth. She also expressed her gratitude for her lecturers and academic mentors’ understanding and support.
‘The abundant support I received from this team of people kept me motivated to achieve something that they would be proud of too,’ said Hemraj. ‘They carried me through my lows and celebrated my highs with me.’
Having realised her passion for making a difference in peoples’ lives, Hemraj has now enrolled for a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery degree at UKZN, a demanding programme that leaves her with little spare time to catch up on her reading, favourite series and time to spend with friends and family.
Words: Christine Cuenod
Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal