Monthly Profiles

Prof Jacquie Greenberg

June 2013 | Professor of Human Genetics, UCT

Professor Jacquie GreenbergJacquie Greenberg is a Professor in Human Genetics at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and has been involved in research looking at inherited monogenic neurodegenerative diseases in SA for nearly three decades

1) Briefly describe what your job involves.
I teach Human Genetics, train scientists and raise awareness about genetics and the associated ethics in this field (genethics) I oversee the molecular genetic diagnostic testing performed at GSH/NHLS and UCT, and, I research and develop new tests for our diagnostic laboratories. I am a Genetic Counsellor which means that I often deliver genetic test results to patients and their families who suffer from genetic diseases. Finally, I undertake and oversee basic research and I play an active role in the administration of the University as well as in giving back to the people and the public of SA.

2) What would a typical day at the office/clinic involve?
There is no typical day at university as I have numerous responsibilities as a teacher, trainer, researcher and carer/counsellor and most of all, caring for and about the people around me, every day. Therefore I may be teaching in a lecture room, then later in the laboratory or at a clinic. Teaching can also happen off campus and often outside of the country too.

3) Can you describe the most exciting (coolest) part of your job?
My passion is in developing people and what inspires me most is mentoring early career scientists. Bottom line, I am a mother hen!

4) What would be your favourite part of your job?
Seeing and sharing the enthusiasm and excitement of a junior post graduate student or colleague who answers even the teeniest part of a research question OR resolves a problem that has been holding back the scientist from attaining her/his goal for weeks.

5) What would be your least favourite part of your job?
Failure, in any form! Probably the worst being when I can not help in any way.

6) How did you make your career choice?
I followed my gut. If it felt right, I went for it. If I felt bored, uninspired or uncomfortable in any way, I moved away and changed direction. The key is that you have to be happy in what you are doing.

As Bryan Dyson (Coca Cola CEO) said in his famous 30 Second Speech:
"Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air.
You name them - work, family, health, friends and spirit and you're keeping all of these in the air.
You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball.
If you drop it, it will bounce back.

But the other four Balls - Family, Health, Friends and Spirit - are made of glass.
If you drop one of these; they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered.
They will never be the same.
You must understand that and strive for it."

7) What qualifications do you require to work in your field?
A basic BSc in the Biological Sciences to start with. Then an honours degree, which is essentially about getting hands-on experience in using various techniques; then a MSc where one masters the technology and applies it, followed by a PhD where one conceptualizes and composes a research question, which requires the application of available resources, the correct discrimination of whatever skills that you have to do so, the acquisition of additional skills that you need to answer the question and finally, to promote what you have accomplished and always, to complete what you have started.

8) Can you describe the most important skills you require for this work environment?
Tenacity ("hanging in there through thick and thin", patience, a thirst for knowledge, being committed to lifelong learning and most of all, the love of and for people, and constantly developing and improving your people skills.

9) What does leadership mean to you?
To me, the geneticist Judith G. Hall is a true leader:
She was named one of America's top 1,000 doctors by American Health magazine in1996.
She said:
"To me, high achievement is not the number of publications but being a successful female in a world of professional men. And by that I mean caring more about peacemaking and nurturing the individual and the environment than success, winning, owning or directing."

And then there was Winston Churchill who said:
"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."

I have always tried and will continue to strive to do both of the above.

10) What were some of the issues you had to overcome to achieve success in your career?
My own insecurities, of which there were many. In addition, I am not really a leader in the sense that most people perceive a leader to be. I lead from behind, not from the front. I support rather than race ahead but I believe that I am still a leader as I try to empower people to do things for and by themselves, knowing that I am there to help and support them, if they need me.

11) What advice would you give girls who are considering a career in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM)?
It is NEVER too late to follow your dreams and what you are passionate about. I graduated with my BSc when I was 20 years old, had my children when I was in my 20/30’s and then gave birth to my PhD when I was 40 years old.
I often replay in my head the song by WHITNEY HOUSTON entitled :
"The Greatest Love of all"

I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be

Everybody's searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone who fulfilled my needs
A lonely place to be
And so I learned to depend on me

I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone's shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I'll live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can't take away my dignity
Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all