October 2013 | PhD student, Morphological Sciences, Stellenbosch University
Elsje-Márie Geldenhuys (HonsBSc. cum laude) is a doctoral (PhD) student in Morphological Sciences at the Division of Anatomy and Histology, Department of Biomedical Sciences at Stellenbosch University. Her main research focus is the appearance of pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) in the anatomical setting.
1) Briefly describe what your study involves.
As a student researcher in a department where we train medical students in the fields of anatomy and histology, we dissect cadavers on a regular basis. I do anatomical pathology research on the dissected cadavers. We evaluate and investigate pathology seen in cadavers and in particular the appearance of tuberculosis (TB) in different clinical settings. We use different ways to describe and diagnose the pathology, such as molecular analysis, radiology and histology.
2) What inspired you to enrol for this course?
Ever since I can remember I wanted to become a scientist. I was 9 years old when I dissected my first animal (a bird) as I was very curious as to what was underneath the feathers. In grade 6, the field of pathology started to intrigue me. When I was in grade 10, my science teacher played a big role in shaping me as a scientist. After school, I enrolled for a BSc. degree at Stellenbosch University and the rest is history…
3) What would a typical week of your studies entail?
A typical day starts either in the dissection venue where cadavers are dissected and organs are evaluated or in the genetics lab doing molecular analysis on the lung tissue removed from the cadavers or in the histology/microscopy lab. In the afternoons, I usually spend time behind the books preparing for an upcoming exam or work on my thesis. Sometimes we as postgraduate students have to lecture anatomy and/or histology to undergraduate students, tutor to them or help out in the dissection venue when they are dissecting.
4) Can you describe the most exciting part of your studies?
As I have mentioned before, anatomy and pathology are my favourite disciplines. Whenever I dissect a cadaver I keep in mind that they are all different in their own way, so it is in actual fact like going on a treasure hunt to find pathology or abnormalities to ultimately make a diagnosis.
5) Where did you hear about your study program?
When I was an undergraduate student, I have met someone who was at that stage busy with a Master’s degree in chemical pathology and he took me for a tour through the Anatomy Museum on campus. After the visit, I was hooked and applied for an honours program in morphological sciences.
6) What are some of the challenges you have experienced?
Over the past seven years of being a student, I have experienced a few challenges. Coming from a primarily Afrikaans-speaking community with English as a second language, I was obliged to interact in English with colleagues and students in the academic environment. By giving presentations and lectures on a regular basis, I started to become more confident in my way of expressing myself. I have always had insecurities about my own capabilities, but I have learned by now that it is not about “how clever you are” but rather “how hard are you willing to work”.
7) What are some of the highlights of your study program i.e. your achievements?
As part of being a postgraduate student, we have the opportunity to represent our University at conferences, both on national and international level. It is a great opportunity to present one’s research and to network with fellow colleagues in the field. I was second runner up in the category “First time presenter” and “Best presenter under the age of 35” at two different conferences. I have also had the opportunity to represent Stellenbosch University at International conferences in Turkey and Austria.
8) What are some of the skills you have acquired during your studies?
Time management, problem-solving and research skills, and lots of patience!
9) What advice would you give girls who are considering a career in science, technology, engineering or mathematic (STEM)?
My advice to young girls who wants to follow a career in STEM is to never be afraid to aim higher or take on leadership roles, to never underestimate your abilities and never give up! If you can dream it, you can do it!