The year is 2019 and big things are happening! For me, this is the year of grabbing opportunities by the neck and using them to my advantage. It is a year of further growth! I’m a believer in fortune cookie messages and one fortune cookie completely re-enforced my thinking and how I approach life. The fortune is pasted on the wall in my bedroom and it lingers there to remind me of what is possible. Through this exciting journey of exploring and grabbing opportunities, I’ve had several life-changing moments that presented themselves and opened up an even bigger world of possibilities for me. It’s a snowball effect as the fortune said. In 2019, I decided to take another big step. A step which was as big as taking on FameLab Cape Town and Pint of Science South Africa. I made a life-changing decision to take on TEDxUCT. I use the words “take on” because it isn’t an easy task. It requires bravery and self-confidence. I went for it, spoke about my journey from the first steps into education till the present and it was a great success!
TEDxUCT granted me the opportunity to polish my science communication skills and confidence, to engage with my audience in a “relaxed” (not for the speaker of course) fashion. The platform allowed me to educate the UCT community and many others about the PhD research I am so in love with. Science communication, as I have demonstrated in my previous posts, gives me euphoria. I love and enjoy it. In fact, I always tell people that it’s a fun hobby for me within this very complex PhD program. One of the treasures that came out of doing TEDxUCT was meeting the inspiring Tshiamiso Makwela also known as Dr of Moon who is a PhD candidate in Astronomy at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Let me just say she is life changing! I, therefore, connected with Tshia, weeks after the event with the intentions to collaborate with her on a piece for the blog. Tshia agreed and as the saying goes, the rest is history.
Tshiamiso Makwela’s TEDxUCT reflections
My name is Tshiamiso, which means to fix, to correct and to make right. I was born in Diepkloof, Soweto. I was raised in a typical black household, which included my mother, grandmother, aunts and cousins. Although I am the only child, I grew up with my cousins, which I call my brothers and sisters. I attended schools in Diepkloof- Soweto, Ipolokeng Primary and Fons Luminis Secondary. Astronomy has always been my field of interest from a young age. The night sky just really fascinated me and with Mark Shuttleworth going to space, it felt more real that this could happen, even for me. I am very passionate about astronomy, as soon as I learnt how to read, the library became my favourite “spot” to go hide in. With the limited access to the internet then, the only way to get information on astronomy was through the library and in newspapers, I made sure I kept myself up to date (astronomy wise). Growing up, when I was asked what I wanted to be when I was older, I would reply that I wanted to be an astronomer and I would be laughed and ridiculed as this was just too unrealistic. Right now, at this moment pursuing my PhD in the field of astronomy is more than a dream come true. It is proving to myself that the only voice that really matters is one from the inside.
TEDxUCT was my first time speaking in public about my own journey in academia and in the sciences. The preparation from my side was a bit intense (maybe I am a bit of a perfectionist). I was anxious and I also tried to be on the “right side of the law”, so I wanted to be careful of what I shared without compromising myself too much. After I wrote my first draft, I read it to my mother, who then said to me “Nana, that does not sound like you” and she was right because I could not even read it to other people during our first rehearsal. But I realized what my mom meant that I was not being authentic or real about my own experiences and life. TEDxUCT was my first platform to be vulnerable about my life in academia. It gave me an opportunity to speak about some struggles I have encountered in making sure that I get this far. I never stopped working hard in school and in my university career which includes undergrad to post-grad, I continue to work hard in everything I do.
Currently, I run astronomy outreach projects in Soweto and Cape Town, to share my passion and astronomy knowledge with my community and the learners in schools. Doing this is important not only for me but for the greater community, as it motivates the learners, and also ensures that parents become more supportive of the interests of their children. I try to live my name, so to dismantle the stereotypes of “dreams being unrealistic” and that of astronomy being “an elite science” because of our background, being from the dusty streets of Soweto. This is the reason I shared my story on TEDxUCT, to show people that we are capable of achieving our dreams even when they seem “unrealistic”, hence I keep on saying that “We are it, the dream is us”, meaning that whatever the dream you have, you are that dream and you need to make it real for you, live in it and be it.
Photos supplied by TEDxUCT 2019 team and Tshiamiso Makwela