Ms Boitumelo Setlhare graduated with Masters in Microbiology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Setlhare, who described it as her greatest achievement, said, ‘This moment in my life is a celebration of hard work, sacrifices and investment that will open up a world of possibilities.’
Her passion for microbiology stemmed from her fascination with micro-organisms. ‘I was intrigued by the applications of micro-organisms, when I learned that they don’t only cause diseases but also keep us healthy. I was amazed to learn that they can be used to make wine, yoghurt and cheese,’ she said.
She said becoming a scientist often means forging financial rewards to further one’s career. ‘It was not easy telling my mother, who is a pensioner, that I was furthering my studies after honours instead of getting a job. Up until that point, she and my sisters had assisted in funding my studies’, she said. To follow her dreams, Setlhare also had to relocate to KwaZulu-Natal from the Free State to join UKZN.
Setlhare knew that she could not rely solely on family support and worked on weekends doing promotions and also worked as a demonstrator at university. Finally, things got better when she secured an NRF-grant linked bursary from her supervisor.
Setlhare’s success can be attributed to her tenacity, a sentiment echoed by her supervisor, Dr Paul Mokoena. ‘Boitumelo’s impeccable tenacity in times of disappointments and hardship has earned her the stripes to be a successful person in the academic arena,’ he said.
She plans on doing her PhD and using her work to make a difference in the world. ’I want to pursue my doctoral studies and develop innovative ways to solve existing problems, boost our economy and change lives through science. I want to be a leader in my field and mentor young people one day so that they become the best versions of themselves,’ she said.
Her advice to fellow students was to look beyond their books for answers. ‘Not all career information can be found on a page or online. ‘Go find yourselves a mentor in the field, who could guide you in your career path and give you a practical perspective,’ she said.
Words: Sashlin Girraj