Villages are often associated with poor economic conditions and general lack of resources required to improve the lives of ordinary people living in these environments. Ironically, these dull and uninspiring spaces have also become fertile grounds for producing outstanding individuals and legends some of whom hold leadership positions in various key organisations today.
Miss Nosiseko Mtati is one such individual who, despite the harsh living conditions she faced when she was growing up, worked hard to become a qualified scientist. Although she was born in rural Willowvale in the former Transkei, Eastern Cape, Miss Mtati was raised by her grandmother in a village called Mendu. She later moved to Ntsimbakazi, another neighbouring village, to stay with her parents and siblings.
She spent her primary and secondary years between Mendu and Ntsimbakazi Junior Secondary schools. She completed her Grade 12 at Bethel College High school in Butterworth, also based in the Eastern Cape.
The education she received from these institutions, based as they were in the rural villages, laid a firm platform for Miss Mtati to proceed with relative easy on her academic crusade. Upon finishing her matric she enrolled for a BSc in biological sciences at the Walter Sisulu University. She later moved to Rhodes University after her honours and obtained two MScs degrees.
Gratitude to supervisors
She says she owes her current career choice to her two supervisors. “Elize Cloete took me under her wing”, Mtati says, and adds that Cloete also provided guidance on her project. “My project was scientific but also included social aspects, which was something new in the Botany Department. Once I completed the project, she introduced me to Professor Charlie Shackleton, who later became my supervisor,” adds Miss Mtati. She says the two supervisors shaped and influenced the trajectory of her academic journey.
The importance of science
Miss Mtati says she chose science because it is “essential for humanity as it helps us understand things as they stand”. She strongly contends that science should respond and provide solutions to challenges that confront society. But she hastens to add that significance as it is; science “should not overshadow or undermine indigenous knowledge as it has before”. She says: “In previous years science, which is Western, has imposed its way of doing things in places and areas that already have their system that works perfectly fine without science. I think science combined with local ecological knowledge is robust.”
Challenges women faces in science
She also highlights some of the challenges young women face in the STEM field. Some of these include instances where [some] “people [do] not take me seriously either because I am a woman or because I look young”. Another challenge is having to abide by specific dress code in some areas, she says, adding that “some spaces do not allow a woman to address them. In some others, my race is an issue”, she reflects.
But in spite of these setbacks, Miss Mtata still managed to attain some accolades. The main highlight is being a two-time finalist for the ‘Student Researcher of the Year’ award by the Rhodes University community engagement unit.
Practical tips to young female scientists
She shares words of advice and professional tips with future generations of women wanting to get involved in science stream:
- Be confident in yourself and your abilities.
- Dream big and work hard for your dream.
- If they undermine you, don’t argue but instead let your work speak for itself.
- Working with people is complex, and you have to be patient with them and yourself.