Lwazikazi Madikiza is a PhD student at Rhodes University and a science communication and engagement intern at the university’s Biotechnology and Innovation Centre. Lwazi obtained her bachelor’s degree (in Microbiology and Chemistry), her honour’s degree (in Biotechnology) and her master’s degree (in Environmental Biotechnology) from Rhodes University. She is passionate about science engagement and actively works in its promotion in her province.
What led you to this profession?
I was always curious as a child and interested in how things work and why the world is the way it is. In high school, I really enjoyed biology I looked forward to biology class and when we did a section on Biochemistry that is when I was introduced to Biotechnology. I decided then that is what I want to do post high school.
Did you always intend to be a scientist, if not, what was your dream career?
I knew I wanted to be a scientist of some sort I just wasn’t sure what type of science I wanted to do. I thought I might be a doctor but when I began to learn more I really got fascinated by biotechnology.
At present, what are you working on?
Presently, I am a science communication and engagement intern at the Biotechnology Innovation Centre. At the same time also pursing my PhD in Biotechnology.
What is your opinion on female representation in the biotechnology industry?
There is a fair representation and this is due to funding agents that encourage and prioritize women in Biotechnology. There is a lot more females coming in and contributing value in the industry as a result of this intentionality of empowering women in science.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far in your journey as a scientist and how did you overcome it?
As a budding scientist, you encounter challenges everyday especially in the laboratory. Experiments are always unpredictable especially when you are working with something novel and innovative. The way to deal with these daily challenges is to be persistent, get perspective from your colleagues, read up a lot of literature, think out of the box and have a positive attitude.
Which undergraduate degree should someone enrol in, in order to become a specialist in your field?
Different universities offer different programmes; some universities offer a Biotechnology diploma that is 3 years. However, Rhodes university offers biotechnology at a postgraduate level so you need to have at least one biological science major (e.g. Biochemistry, Microbiology etc.) to qualify.
Share a turning point or defining moment in your work as a scientist
In undergraduate we were not really exposed to science engagement and so it happened when I was doing my masters, our research lab had programmes that involved science communication and engagement. It was then I realised that I have a special passion for communicating science and conducting science engagement programmes. Consequently, I have done a lot of work in science communication and engagement across the Eastern Cape Province for over 5 years.
What is your advice to young, aspiring female scientists and students?
Science is open to all and you are good enough to pursue a science degree if you are passionate about it. From my experience, I have realised that nothing beats hard work and a healthy dose of self-belief and not comparing yourself to your male counterparts. Focus all your energies in being the best in what you choose to do and you will reap great rewards.
What is your next move, career wise and what are you most looking forward to?
I hope that by 2020 I will be Dr Madikiza (laughs) and will be making waves in the science communication and engagement space.