NAS Women: Be grateful for your opportunities; not many get them
Women's Month: Focus on Ms Meta Leshabane
Q: Job title and in which department/research entity do you work?
A: My official job title is project manager for the NRF Communities of Practice (CoP) in malaria elimination. My most significant job role is research assistant for the Malaria Parasite Molecular Biology (M2PL) laboratory headed by Prof Lyn-Marie Birkholtz (Department of Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology).
Q: What has been the highlight of your career?
A: The opportunity of being involved in the NRF CoP from 2018. I have learned so much from so many people - all passionate about what they do. Research isn't easy, and sometimes one can get so lost in the small challenges and feel isolated. But a project such as this has taught me to look at the bigger picture; there are so many people working towards the same goal in their unique way. The CoP project has allowed me to sponge off knowledge in chemistry, molecular biology and even nanoparticles, among many, and I am richer for it. They say if you're the smartest one in the room, then you're in the wrong room. The CoP project has ensured that I am never in the wrong room, richer for it.
Q: What inspires you?
A: Sometimes, it's my brother and sister who make me feel like I can do anything. Sometimes it's my mom who has a character I hope to develop into one day, and other times my grandmother who cannot read or write but has her own spaza shop. Sometimes it's the senior students and staff from who I always learn. Sometimes it's my supervisor who has achieved so much at a young age, with the challenges she must have faced as a woman. But, if I have to choose one, it would be children in general because they are unapologetically curious, creative and have a teachable spirit.
Q: What challenges have you experienced in your career?
A: The biggest challenge in research is research. You can plan things, but nothing ever really works out the way you want it. This can leave you feeling a bit useless and tired, especially if it takes several times doing something to get it right. A career in science is a passion, but it isn't always easy, and seeing others go through challenges with their research can also be disheartening, especially when you don't know how to help. Another challenge is balancing work and life outside work because some days can be pretty long, but I have grown in this department. I think those are some of the challenges even as I decide whether to pursue a PhD because it can be challenging.
Q: What message do you have for the youth of South Africa?
A: This is a strange question for me to answer because I am still one of the "youth", but I think firstly, is to grab hold of every opportunity that can help you grow, even if you feel insecure about it. You are not too young, too inexperienced or undeserving, and you have every right to take up spaces that weren't necessarily created for you. Another is to reflect on how far one has come constantly. We are so busy that we always finish one thing and move onto the next without acknowledging the progress, accomplishments and growth. Lastly, always work hard, be adaptable and disciplined, be kind to others and yourself, and be grateful for your opportunities; not many get them.