September 2013 | MSc student, Excercise Science, University of Cape Town
Ms Shameemah Abrahams is a member of SAWISE who is always willing to participate in our mentoring programs. She was awarded the DST women in science award 2013 at the Masters level. Shameemah majored in Biochemistry and Physiology for her Bachelor of Science (BSc) undergraduate degree and thereafter, completed a BSc (Med) Honours degree in Physiology, specialising in Neuroscience, at the University of Cape Town (UCT). She is currently studying towards a Master of Science (MSc) degree in Exercise Science at the UCT/MRC Exercise Science and Sports Medicine research unit, UCT. This study program requires the completion of a research project in which a written piece, or dissertation, of the project is used as a form of examination of the student.
1) Briefly describe what your study involves.
My research project involves both the non-genetic (e.g. type of sport played, training surfaces) and genetic risk factors for concussion in South African adolescent rugby. As a consequence of the severity of concussion injury, especially in the youth, my research is geared towards investigating the underlying physiology that may increase an individual’s risk to concussion and the neurological changes that occur during recovery from concussion.
2) What inspired you to enrol for this course?
After completing a small research project in my Honour’s year, I felt I needed to explore the research process further to decide on a future career path. Writing and compiling information were my main interests in research and the flexible working hours!
3) What would a typical week of your studies entail?
Often, I read scientific or medical articles relevant to my research topic and write papers on these literature searches or on data collected from my study. I may work in the molecular biology laboratory to analyse DNA samples from individuals involved in my research study or perform practice tests to ensure optimal results. I attend and actively participate in at least two journal club meetings in which recently-published scientific articles on various topics are discussed and the results of undergoing or completed research studies are presented. My ‘fieldwork’ includes visiting high schools to invite the school and learners to participate in my research study.
4) Can you describe the most exciting part of your studies?
The writing process is the most interesting part, as you get to combine the different parts of your project into a written document explaining the entire process in a logical flow – almost like a story.
5) Where did you hear about your study program?
From lecturers who taught me during my undergraduate career.
6) What are some of the challenges you have experienced?
Working within a team is both a challenge and an aid. It is a challenge as you have to juggle the schedules, work ethic and personalities of different people to get the job done. But it is advantageous as there are more brains to pick if you need to solve a problem and if everything works smoothly you can get things done quicker by divide and conquer. Another challenge is convincing people to participate in your study as well as the ethical approval required from education institutions or government, as appropriate.
7) What are some of the highlights of your study program i.e. your achievements?
I have co-authored two manuscripts submitted recently for peer-review and presented part of my Honour’s work at the 18th Annual Congress of the European College of Sports Science in Barcelona, Spain in June 2013. So I got the chance to travel overseas for the first time and partake in an international gathering of researchers presenting their work.
8) What are some of the skills you have acquired during your studies?
I have been certified to draw venous blood from humans (phlebotomy) after completing a basic 3-day course. I have gained many basic molecular biology laboratory techniques mainly on genetic analyses and have improved my writing and communication skills.
9) What advice would you give girls who are considering a career in science, technology, engineering or mathematic (STEM)?
As there are many different options, research all the different career paths. I think it is best to get in touch with both students and professionals in the different careers to get an understanding of the profession. Job shadowing or getting a more ‘hands-on’ experience may help you in deciding on a career path. Most importantly, whatever your decision may be make sure that you enjoy what you do and work really hard to achieve the best results in your chosen career.