Dr Caroline Pule is a biomedical scientist who is passionate about global health, medical research, and wants to ensure we have a disease-free nation. She completed her doctoral degree last year in Medical Sciences (Molecular Biology), Tuberculosis (TB) research field in the department of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics at the University of Stellenbosch (SU).
Pule is also a final year Doctoral student at the same institution. She says her PhD project research focused on “deciphering the physiology of drug-resistant and tolerant Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and how these bacteria modulate the host response in the context of the macrophage infection model”. Her research findings may lead to the identification of novel biological pathways and the development of novel drug targets to combat the spread of drug-resistant TB.
Pule also attained her MMedSc degree in Medical Sciences (molecular biology) from SU 2015 with upper class pass. Before this she attained her BTech (Hons degree) in Medical Biotechnology from Faculty of Biomedical Sciences, at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) with an overall achievement of 14 distinctions in 2012. It is also from here that she completed her undergraduate degree in Biotechnology.
Pule says she knew when she was in high school that her dream was to become medical scientist. She says she wanted to find cures for incurable diseases and help save lives. “But I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do within that field, I was mostly interested in HIV and TB,” says Pule.
But when she was doing her undergraduate degree she noticed that many lives were lost because of TB and “I thought that maybe I could contribute to global health by understanding what causes drug-resistant TB and figuring out how to cure it,” explains Pule. She was also motivated by her “desire to travel the world and to share my TB research work and learn more about the groundbreaking research work being done by other scientists across the globe”.
The value of science
Pule believes science is important to humanity in many ways in terms of creation, understanding of the circle of life, the connection between human beings and the ecosystem, also new inventions in terms of technology, which has allowed for many important discoveries for decades. She says it was through science, that the structure of DNA was discovered leading to the understanding of human anatomy and physiology from genetic code, DNA replication- RNA translation-protein synthesis and to cell function. In addition, science has also led to the discovery of the bacteria that cause Tuberculosis (TB).
Pule says women face challenges in the science environment. She says she has to prove that “as a young black woman I have what it takes to become a renowned independent scientist and a leader in my chosen career field”. But she says she uses such challenges as a motivation to work harder and excel in a field still highly male dominated.
She says there is still a huge gap in terms of women in STEM representation and recognition particularly in areas such as women doctors, scientists, engineers, technologists and mathematicians in leadership positions, in grants accessibility, in research publications etc.
Pule has won several prestigious awards including, to a mention a few:
- Winner of Inspiring Fifty 2020 Award presented by CocreateSANL organization
- Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans, Health Category
- Semi-finalist in 2019 Harvard South Africa Fellowship Program (HSAFP) award to go and study MPH degree at Harvard University School of Public Health.
- Awarded the prestigious Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Global Health Travel Award in 2018 to attend the Keystone conference “Tuberculosis: Translating Scientific Findings for Clinical and Public Health Impact” in Canada.
- She was a recipient of Women in Science Award 2016 TATA scholarships category, which she also won in 2014
Pule has advice for both girls who are considering a career in STEM and women who are already in STEM careers.
Firstly to the girls considering career in STEM, Pule says self-esteem and believing you’ve got what it takes to reach your goals, that everything is possible through hard work.
Secondly, when considering a career in STEM, it all starts in high school; you need to have science subjects as majors and to volunteer in science and technology clubs etc.
Thirdly, you need to work consistently, be smart and run-the-extra mile to get good marks, especially grade 12 results.
Lastly, life is about choices, it doesn’t matter what family you come from…
To women already in STEM careers, Pule says they should know that:
“You are you own competition; your success is not measured by comparing your progress to others.
Do what you love, don’t settle just for a pay cheque and be trapped in the rat-race without being happy at your work environment!
Build a career that you are passionate about, that will guide you into your purpose and will make you wake up every day with a smile.
Go out there and follow your passion, choose your career wisely, do what you love.