Curiosity and keen mind is what propelled Priyanka Davechand to pursue the STEMi field. Born and bred in Mondeor, south of Johannesburg, Davechand says she grew up playing science related games with her sisters and pretend to be ‘scientists’ experimenting with a variety of materials in their makeshift laboratory.
Endless scientific possibilities
Since then her love and passion for science grew intense and she made sure she took part in the annual Eskom Expo for Young Scientists, a platform that encourages young people to identify problems, work towards resolving them and presenting their findings. “I was always amazed to see the fantastic scientific work that people produced if they put their mind to it. It was then that I realised the endless scientific possibilities in STEMi,” says Davechand.
Current research area
Currently Davechand is pursuing her PhD studies at the School of Geosciences, University of the Witwatersrand. She also holds a BSc degree with Geography and Geology majors and a BSc Geology Honours from Wits University. Davechand’s current research focuses on using calcium isotopes on fossil tooth enamel to trace palaeodiet and palaeotrophic levels of ancient animals like dinosaurs.
She says the research is beneficial to society as it allows people to compare modern ecosystems with ecosystems of the past. “It allows us to understand the different dynamics and importance of different species. South Africa is also palaeontologically rich so this research would be beneficial to the tourism in our country,” says Davechand.
Davechand says what she enjoys and loves the most about her job is the fact that she gets to ask questions, conduct interesting experiments and get answers to those questions. “I enjoy being curious about the work that I do and the opportunities to work on different types of samples and instruments. You are continuously learning in this field,” adds Davechand.
Her career highlights include:
- Becoming a SuperScientist (2022)
- Chairperson of Wits Bridge the Gap Geoscience Guidance program (2022)
- InspiringFifty nominee (2021)
- Being a panelist at a Women in Mining South Africa (WIMSA) women’s month event (2020)
- Recipient of the Thuso Magonya Leadership Award, School of Geoscience (2020)
STEMi impacts lives
Asked why she thinks STEMi is significant, Davechand says it is because it empowers people to find solutions to challenges they face on a daily basis. Solutions to challenges can only be developed by encouraging and educating more people through STEM. She says if we encourage our youth to pursue the STEMi fields, we would be contributing towards a better world, adding “by equipping them with the right tools at a young age, it will definitely prepare them for their future”.
Addressing stereotypical challenges
Davechand says she is worried about fewer women who are involved in the STEMi and blames this on the fact that women’s contributions or opinions are not taken seriously and their skills and knowledge are undermined. Many women are still undermined in their respective fields and face stereotypes, she says, adding that more needs to be done to empower womenand to encourage people to stop their stereotypical bias against women.
Promoting women empowerment
To resolve this, Davechand believes that women need to be more vocal and to consistently exert pressure on people in charge to appreciate the valuable contribution women make. She says women need to educate people in these fields to treat everyone with respect and that one’s worth should not be determined by what you identify.
“We need to promote women empowerment from a young age and be role models to the youth…to encouraging women to pursue and take up opportunities in careers that they are passionate about even if they are male-dominated. We need to remember to uplift the next generation as we move through our own paths,” advises Davechand. She calls on young women to pursue STEMi stream and also encourages them to be willing and should always be willing and open to learning.