LaToya Seoke, a PhD student in the faculty of veterinary science’s department of production animal studies at the University of Pretoria (UP), was selected among only 20 women researchers to receive the Sub-Saharan Africa Young Talent Award for academic excellence.
The 2020 winners of the 11th Sub-Saharan Africa Young Talent Awards, under the auspices of L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science, were announced at the end of last month. They included 15 PhD students and five post-doctorates from 16 African countries. Through their backgrounds and research subjects, these women reflect all the diversity and the continent’s science potential. What they all have in common is the excellence of their projects and the desire to contribute towards innovative Africa.
Seoke is an accomplished scientist – a virologist by profession, she obtained her undergraduate degree in genetics at the University of Cape Town and a Masters in One Health (Molecular Biology) in Tanzania. She them enrolled for her PhD at the faculty of veterinary science, UP. Her research interest is in the diagnosis of infectious diseases and she has been specialising in the diagnosis of foot and mouth disease (FMD) at the Botswana vaccine institute for the past 10 years.
Commenting on her award, Seoke applauded the organisers of the award for creating a platform that promotes women’s excellence. “I am grateful to the L’Oréal-UNESCO partnership which empowers women by affording us equal opportunities to excel in science and break the glass ceiling.” Seoke and her fellow researchers are joining the community of 3 400 women researchers around the world who have been supported by the ‘For Women in Science’ programme since its creation in 1998.
The 20 Young Talents were selected by the jury of the Awards from nearly 330 applications. An award ceremony had been planned for November this year in Gaborone, Botswana; unfortunately this was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seoke is currently a second-year PhD candidate in the faculty under the guidance of Professor Geoffrey Fosgate in the department of production animal studies. Her study focuses on developing and validating improved diagnostic tests for the detection of foot and mouth disease (FMD) in goats.
As part of the award, Seoke is receiving financial support through a grant of €10 000 which will enable her to pursue and consolidate her research work. The once-off endowment is exclusively for promoting the researcher within her professional context, and these include buying personal computers and other equipment, attending training courses and conferences, and travelling to meet collaborators. A further incentive of the award is in-person leadership training that is being planned for next year.
The recent science report by UNESCO, estimated that only 2.4% of the world’s researchers are African scientists, 31% of whom are women. Said Alexandra Palt, executive vice-president of the Foundation L’Oréal: “The need for research by Africans for Africa has never been greater to address the challenges facing the continent. To overcome the current crisis, Africa’s research sector must accelerate its transformation by becoming even more digitally connected and empowering young women who wish to pursue scientific careers.”
Through the research areas of the Young Talents, the 2020 Sub-Saharan Awards reveal several fundamental trends in the continent’s science, all closely linked to the challenges it is facing. Women scientists are leading ground-breaking research across the world. But despite their remarkable discoveries, women still represent just 29% of researchers globally, and their work rarely gains the recognition it deserves.