Meet Soyama Sivatho Nyangwa from Stellenbosch University's Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics

Tell us about yourself and what obstacles you had to overcome to get where you are today?

I was born in the Eastern Cape, in a small town called Keiskammahoek, and am the youngest of 6 children. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to become a doctor or scientist. Coming from a previously disadvantaged background, growing up was not easy. My parents worked hard to provide my siblings and I with the best opportunities to enable us to pursue our dreams. During my training as an iGqirha (Traditional Healer), I faced many personal challenges which shaped me and added to my passion for wanting to solve the world's problems – especially in relation to health and diseases. This fueled my interest in science, as it made me want to find the link between traditional medicine and modern medicine as we know it today. The most recent challenge I faced was the loss of my grandmother, who was one of my biggest motivators. This was a very difficult time for me, but my determination to achieve my goals, which I believe represent our ancestor’s wildest dreams as they fought for freedom and equality, was what helped me through this time. It is important not to let setbacks such as this, which you have no control over, hold you back from accomplishing your dreams. 

Why did you choose your field of study – what or who inspired you?

My motivation to pursue a science career was inspired by my mother’s passion for nursing. Being a professional nurse, her work introduced me to the field of medicine. I still remember watching her study and going through the pictures in her Anatomy and Physiology textbooks. I was fascinated and wanted to understand what was going on. As I got older and started studying science, my love for medicine grew into a passion for medical research. Research allows us to answer important medical questions. I began my science journey pursuing a diploma in Biotechnology at Cape Peninsula University of Technology and then a BTech degree in Biomedical Technology. After my studies, I worked in the wine and cosmetics industry, but still had a thirst for knowledge. This prompted me to further my scientific studies and I joined the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics at Stellenbosch University where I am currently conducting TB Research for my PhD.

What advice do you have for young people who are considering a career in STEM?

Science is a passion. If you see becoming a scientist as simply a job to make money and not something you are truly excited about, then maybe it isn’t the career you are destined for. Why? Because science is never easy. To sum it all up: work hard, play hard, ground yourself in something you love doing and don’t forget to pray!



This content was created in partnership with Stellenbosch University.

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