Miss Tiza Ng’uni has always been fascinated by science from a young age. By the time she reached high school, she already knew she wanted to pursue any health or human body related field. Her mother was also working in the medical field and this piqued her interest in the field even more and since then she never looked back. Her mother also provided further support in the form of guidance, advice and motivation for her to excel.
Miss Ng’uni was born and raised in Lusaka, Zambia. Upon completing her undergraduate studies in Biomedical Sciences, she worked as a laboratory technologist at the Zambia-Emory HIV Research Project (ZEHRP), currently known as Center for Family Health Research in Zambia (CFHRZ).
Enrolling for medical biosciences
In 2010, after working for a year, she enrolled at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) to pursue a BSc (Hons) degree in Medical Biosciences under the supervision of Professor Burtram Fielding. She says Professor Fielding played an instrumental role in motivating her to pursue her MSc (in Molecular Biology and Virology) and PhD (Medical Microbiology and Cancer Research) degrees. She says working at ZEHRP also provided a unique platform for her to gain valuable knowledge in HIV research. So, when an opportunity presented itself for her to join an HIV immunology research group, she instantly jumped on board.
At the moment Miss Ng’uni is working as a post-doctoral researcher in the Zaza Ndhlovu laboratory at the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) in Durban, South Africa. One of the projects she is working on involves the use of the flow-based high throughput screening technique to screen small molecule compounds to enhance HIV-specific immune responses.
In addition to this project, she is also working on some Covid-19 collaborative projects and is also part of Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV Research Excellence also referred to as SANTHE. Here she is working on a project aimed at determining the mechanisms associated with HIV control in HIV-infected individuals that naturally control HIV without treatment.
Contributing to body of knowledge
Miss Ng’uni says she is excited about the research projects she is currently involved in as they have the potential to make a difference in scientific community, contribute to the body of knowledge and ultimately benefit the future generation of research scientists. The projects also provide her with the opportunity to constantly learn through interacting with “brilliant minds in the HIV, TB, and COVID-19 research fields”. Furthermore, she learns, among others, about how to optimise experiments, read various articles etc. she noted.
Like most women scientists, Miss Ng’uni experienced some of the effects of working in a patriarchal setting. “As a woman, it is very easy to second-guess yourself and over-think, particularly when you are in a male-dominated environment. This is mainly due to us trying to fit in and prove ourselves. This has happened to me on several occasions,” she says.
But Miss Ng’uni says she also noted that, in most instances, male counterparts also want them to succeed. She says even though some of the challenges they face in the sector may be unique to women, they should “always keep in mind that we are in that workplace because we deserve to be there and have the capability, strength, intelligence, and brilliance to handle anything”.
Some of Miss Ngu’ni career highlights include:
- the paper published in Frontiers in Immunology in 2020 shortly after she joined the Ndhlovu lab
- co-ordinating a Covid-19 collaborative project to gain insight into the immune responses of Covid-19 patients in two African countries
- publishing her medicinal plant research in South Africa’s best postgraduate science writing publication called Science Today
- her PhD work was also highlighted during Research Week and cited as one of the celebrated stunning student successes during the UWC Summer Graduation 2017
(links:https://www.uwc.ac.za/news-and-announcements/news/research-week-2017-tiza-nguni-kraalbos-and-fighting-germs-769 and https://www.uwc.ac.za/news-and-announcements/news/uwc-summer-graduation-2017-celebrating-stunning-student-successes-703, respectively).
For Miss Ngu’ni the major highlight is the interaction she has had with both undergraduate and postgraduate students through the work-study program. The initiative was a part of over seven years and it involves facilitation and co-supervision of various research projects for BSc and MSc students.
Miss Ngu’ni’s tips to young women aspiring to pursue career in STEM are:
- to remember that women can accomplish what men can and should never feel inadequate or limit yourself in any way.
- that you will always invest your time in something, but what you choose to invest your time in will determine whether you succeed or fail.
- sometimes things may not go according to plan, even then, you should still get up with new energy and new ideas and push yourself to achieve what you intend to and
- that you can never succeed alone; you need to have great mentors and colleagues that you will learn from and who will contribute to ensuring that you soar to great heights. In short, keep moving forward until you attain greatness.