2. Course/ job
PhD in Health Science and Physics at University of Sydney (@Sydney_Uni)
3. A levels/ equivalent
International Baccalaureate (IB) – biology, history, English, art, German and Mathematics
4. Journey in 3 words
Challenging, fulfilling and motivating
5. Briefly describe your role or course
My PhD is in the fields of eHealth, machine learning, computer-vision technology and anatomy. I am lucky enough to teach anatomy and histology to undergraduate, and postgraduate students (Medical and dentistry students). I am also passionate about promoting the equality of underrepresented groups in STEM so I co-founded Visibility STEM Africa (VSA - @ViSTEM_Africa) with Nathasia (@Tasia1409).
6. What motivated you to pursue a career in science
I was always curious about the intricacies of the human body. Growing up in Botswana shaped who I am as a person and I wanted to give back to the communities. At the time Botswana had the highest global prevalence of HID/AIDs globally and I thought the best way to tackle that was by becoming a HIV immunology researcher. By the time I completed my undergraduate degree (Bachelor of Medical Science Honours in Immunology), the HIV/AIDs epidemic in Botswana was more manageable due to the increased availability of anti-retroviral therapy. I also felt that the field of immunology and infectious diseases was more geared towards data acquisition and publication output rather than research transferability.
I wanted to try something different and I was lucky enough to find a summer scholarship project about the use of technology to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals. I enjoyed it so much that it became my PhD project!
I ended up realising that I can contribute to communities using different methods and that is why the VSA initiative is very close to my heart. The initiative aims to promote the visibility of Africans in STEM on the continent and beyond in order to inspire future generations.
7. Work- Life Balance
I am pretty good at time-management because I had to balance working in hospitality and studying throughout my undergraduate degree. I am currently a PhD student, an anatomy and histology tutor and the co-founder of VSA so I tend to experience busy periods often. I have gotten better at putting my wellbeing first before my work, but it is still a work in progress. It does not help that I am more of a night owl due to all the work in hospitality. My aim for this year is to try to get into a better sleeping habit and to go to health-associated appointments (i.e. dentist and optometrist) more regularly. The irony of being a health researcher is that we do not always look after ourselves!
8. What advice would you give someone wanting to follow the same path?
Do not let the anxiety of what might not even occur in the future prevent you from trying
Learn to make time for self-care and for friends and family
Be open and honest about failures
If you are struggling, reach out to others for support. If you cannot find support in your immediate environment the twitter STEM community is really lovely.
Be open to new opportunities even if they seem scary at first
Dip your toes in interdisciplinary projects. Working with people from different fields is such an important skill to have.
Learning how to say no, especially when you are busy is such an important skill.
9. Did you do a summer internship before your PhD? If yes do you believe has benefited you? - if not do you think it made applying for a PhD any harder ?
I completed a summer scholarship that lasted 3 months, which ended up becoming my PhD project. The experience was extremely beneficial for me and gave me an idea of what the field would be like as well as how my supervisory team would be. Because of this experience, I managed to transition into a field that is different from my undergraduate studies.
10. Do you feel a shift in research culture (positive/ negative)
I feel that universities, especially in Australia have had to change their operating models to a more corporate structure to accommodate the cuts in government funding. Such corporate models does not seem to translate well to academia. Due to this I think universities tend to be more focused on how many students they can fit in a classroom rather than the quality of student learning. I also feel that general university student culture has become more focused on getting good grades rather than enjoying the experience of learning. I have noticed for instance that students sometimes choose courses because they have heard they can be awarded an easy high distinction rather than because they are interested in it. This tends to lead to a lot of students expecting that getting good grades will immediately result in a job.
All university services have now become centralised (i.e. ICT, student support, HR and finance services), which from my experience has not made things easier for me.
However, I am quite optimistic that researchers will persevere through this period and that university models will shift back to a focus on the quality of learning rather than university revenue when more government funding returns.
11. Do you feel like scientist salaries reflect the amount of effort put in?
It depends on whether the scientist is in academia or industry. From my understanding industry paid jobs tend to be better paid than those in academia, but the overall enjoyment of what you are doing is what matters most to me. I do wish the PhD model in Australia was more like that in Europe where you are treated as a professional rather than just a student.
12. When considering your career path, how much has your potential salary affected your decision?
Most of my career decisions have been based upon finding a fulfilling career that I am passionate about rather than a high-earning career. Reading “How to find fulling work” by Roman Krznaric helped me tremendously with major career decisions and transitions.
13. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I hope to have completed my PhD and received a post-doctorate fellowship in a different country. I want to become a leading researcher in the eHealth and digital health fields. I want to change the way people monitor their health and interact with health professionals. I hope that I can continue teaching as I thoroughly enjoy it! I hope that the VSA initiative keeps growing and that we can eventually hold more events and perhaps even scholarships/funding.
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Where can readers find you?
Linkedin: Natasa Lazarevic
Visibility STEM Africa
Twitter, Instagram and facebook: @ViSTEM_Africa
Linkedin: VSA – Visibility STEM Africa
Nataša Study Abroad Post
Nathasia, VSA co- founder profile
I hope this post inspires you to follow your passions and acknowledge that at every stage of your career will involve perseverance, consistency and discipline to help you achieve your desired goal. Never forget that “ no accomplishment is too small and no goal is too high”
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