Very soon Caroline Chasara’s name will bear the title of “Dr”. This will not only be her proudest moment but also a culmination of a long academic journey and fulfilment of a long-held childhood dream of helping to “eradicate viral infections”.
“My passion for science, medicine, and positively impacting lives through academia is in-born. I have always aspired to help eradicate viral infections from a young age,” says Chasara, adding that, “ever since then, my passion for science and curing diseases continuously burns in my heart”.
Chasara was born and raised in Zimbabwe where she studied and completed an Honours degree in Biochemistry and Master of Science in Biotechnology degree before re-locating to South Africa for her PhD studies. She is presently enrolled as a second-year PhD candidate in virology at the Nelson Mandela Medical School, University of KwaZulu Natal, Africa Health Research Institute where she conducts laboratory-based HIV and Covid-19 research.
Chasara says she has been lucky as throughout her academic journey she received several scholarships and awards that she says have positively impacted her studies. But she says she could not have gone this far had it not be the “incredible support system” from her family, mentors, and colleagues. “The support and guidance from my supervisors and mentors have also played a significant role in shaping my career,” says Chasara.
Chasara says her background and life experiences have also heavily influenced her current pursuit. She says her stint at college also helped solidified her values, principles, and goals. Chasara says throughout the years she has participated in various team-building activities under the Higher Life Foundation programme that also helped build her character.
She has also participated in some exciting programs such as the 2020 FameLab SA regional competitions, she says. Chasara also draws inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s quote which says, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
Importance of science to humanity
When asked to share her views on the significance of science, Chasara says:
“Science does not only bring people together, but it has become a global language, bringing cultures, systems, and ideas together. The endless search for solutions aids in gaining more insight into how we can better solve global problems. In addition, science provides us with laws that govern our day-to-day living, making it easier for research growth, networking, and skill sharing.”
Challenges facing women
Chasara says she has not yet encountered “significant gender-biased challenges”. But she says she “presumes one of the challenges women face in the science field is handling societal beliefs”. She says when she was growing up men dominated most science-based careers and that sadly some countries still hold the view that it is not vital for women to pursue science-related careers as they may find it challenging to strike a balance between work and house chores.
“Fortunately, the world has evolved significantly, and this evolution has aided in the repudiation of some myths,” she says, noting that “numerous funding opportunities are now available to upcoming female scientists”. She says she does not doubt that “if we all work together to harness our strengths as female scientists, we will eventually create the world we want to see”.
Achievements and career highlights
Chasara says one of her career highlights was “culturing thermophilic bacteria obtained from the Zimbabwean Hot spring soils. What fascinated me the most about this bacterium was that it would constantly change colour from orange to red under various pH conditions, which was quite interesting to observe in the laboratory,” she says.
Chasara says this finding provided impetus for further downstream research in molecular biology. She also co-authored a publication that summarised the major scientific hurdles in HIV vaccine development and perceived future directions in this field. Last year, she joined ‘Africademics Ambassadors’ cohort, which “granted me an opportunity to interact with scholarship seekers through offering scholarship advice and identifying challenges that scholarship seekers face”.
Practical tips and professional messages to future generations of women scientists
“I would greatly encourage young women willing to pursue science to believe in themselves, be confident, innovative, and versatile. The science field is diverse and demands commitment and continuous skill development,” advises Chasara. She says she would also like to emphasise the need for a support system. “I believe that everyone needs a team of trusted individuals that believe in them and constantly cheer them on. We cannot choose what life throws at us, but we can actively participate in shaping our future. Life is a marathon, and it takes many steps to add up to a lifetime of success. Avoid cutting corners, embrace the process of who you are becoming, and allow life to offer you its endless possibilities,” says Chasara.