Youth Month June is a time to celebrate the achievements of young scientists who are making waves around the world. Today we feature Nathasia Muwanigwa, a scientist originally from Zimbabwe.
Nathasia Muwanigwa has traversed the world to help African scientists gain recognition and benefit from networks across the globe. There are thousands of scientists doing great work. Speaking to Forbes ,she says after completing high school she moved to Cyprus to further her studies in Human Biology as a precursor to a degree in medicine. “But in my final year, I got to do my own research project at a leukemia research institute and discovered my love for being in the lab.”
She told Science Journalist, Andrew Wright, that she was then able to study towards her master’s degree in a highly competitive program in the Netherlands, on a full scholarship. “The financial support came at the perfect time because the economic situation in Zimbabwe was getting pretty dire and it would have been challenging if my parents had to pay the tuition,” she said, “I battled a lot of impostor syndrome during my Master’s because my colleagues were all incredibly bright and many of them knew the ins and outs of how research in academia wor, and I was still rather clueless.” Now, she is based in Luxembourg, doing a PhD where she studies the molecular mechanisms underlying Parkinson’s disease using human stem cell derived brain organoids (aka “mini brains”). “A young girl from Zimbabwe should not feel that being a neuroscientist isn’t for her because of where she is from, her gender or her ethnicity.”
She says the people of Africa remain under represented in the STEM sector despite making up 16% of the world population. “Africa needs more youth to be interested in STEM fields, because these fields are crucial to the development of the continent,” she told Wright. “We need people with the expertise to solve problems that are specific and relevant to the region.” In this regard, she has helped create the site Visibility STEM Africa (VSA) and the Twitter handle @ViSTEM_Africa.
“In recent years, we have been hearing about the importance of representation in mainstream media, in the fashion and beauty industry –STEM fields are no different,” she said ”We are providing Africans in STEM across many different disciplines a platform where they can network with one another and create new connections.” Muwanigwa says the initiative will also show new opportunities for collaboration. “The biggest opportunity I see is the potential for collaborations. In science, it has become increasingly apparent that collaborations are necessary for pushing the needle forward,” she said. That’s not the only benefit to the initiative. “Not only do we highlight Africans in STEM fields, we also have an Opportunities page on our website where we link people to organisations or funding bodies that can help them find scholarships, funding etc,” she said.