Marie Clementine Uwineza Nibamureke
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Johannesburg
Do not be scared of science and do not listen to anyone telling you that you cannot do it.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
I am an "Aquatic Health" scientist, this is a field of Biological involving both aquatic toxicology and water quality biomonitoring. We use organisms (plants, animals, algae, invertebrates,...) that live in water (wetlands, streams, rivers, lakes, oceans) to assess the health status of those water resources and the health risks to humans who use those water resources (for recreation or as a source of food). Most of the aquatic organisms live in water their whole life, therefore, when the water is polluted those organisms are the first ones to be exposed to the pollutants in water. Their reactions to the different types of pollutants (organic and inorganic) can be used as a warning to humans who use the water. My current project concerns the potential effects of human pharmaceuticals in aquatic environments on fish health (bioaccumulation, reproduction, breeding, growth, development, behaviour, histopathology, etc) and the health risks to humans who consume the fish from polluted aquatic ecosystems.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?
Since I was in primary school, I have always been curious about life; I was intrigued by all science subjects but particularly by Biology. My parents were educated, so seeing how curious I was and how I excelled science subjects, they motivated me to study sciences. In high school, I studied Biology and Chemistry and at university, I chose to specialise in Biology Education as I liked the idea of teaching and I wanted to teach Biology. In 2004, I was starting my 4th and last year of undergraduate, we were choosing projects to work on; one project caught my attention, it was on the "effects of climate change on plant biodiversity". As I was interested in the project, I approached the specific lecturer and we talked about climate change, anthropogenic effects on the environment and the role of science in fighting climate change and environmental pollution. I chose that project and that lecturer became my supervisor. My thinking had shifted, now I wanted to become a researcher, specifically, an environmental scientist. When I finished my undergraduate, I became a high school Biology teacher, I was married and had two children but I never forgot my dream to continue studying in order to become a researcher. In 2009, we moved our family to South Africa as both my husband and I wanted to study further. From 2009 to 2011, my husband was studying on a scholarship and I was home as we could not afford to pay for both the children and my studies. In 2012, I got a scholarship to continue my studies at the University of Johannesburg; there I met a lecturer, a lady, who became my supervisor for my masters and PhD. She was a mother and had two PhD degrees, one in "Aquatic Health". After discussing with her, I chose to do "Aquatic Health" because the problem of water pollution is the source of many diseases in Africa. I have finally found an area where I can help as a researcher. I also want to emphasize the help I got from my husband, he supported me 100% during my studies; many times he came to wait for me at the lab as I had experiments or lab work that run late in the evening or in the weekend. I think I was able to do it because he supported and wanted me to realise my dream.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"
My PhD project has received two very good Doctoral Fellowships and the results were presented at local and international conferences. Four peer-reviewed scientific publications (3 articles and 1 conference paper) were published from the project. The project also received a medal for "the best project" in our department in 2019. When I was in primary or high school I had never imagined that I could do that.
WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?
I love science because it gives us the opportunity to explore the meaning of life and study the relationship between all the organisms and the environment. Science allows us to ask questions, conduct research and find answers. With science, every day we learn something new. Every day I wake up looking forward to going to the lab continuing with my research work; reading what other researchers are working on or helping and teaching the students I am co-supervising. With science, there is always something new to explore. For example with covid-19 global pandemic, it is amazing the work that is being done in different research fields; everyone in their domains, are working hard to try to understand the disease and to find the cure. That is what I woke up looking forward to every day, to make a difference by helping to find solutions to problems.
BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?
Do not be scared of science and do not listen to anyone telling you that you cannot do it. I have seen girls excelling at any science subject they take on! Believe in yourselves and do not be discouraged if things do not go the way you had planned; in science, nothing goes exactly as planned. That is science! Every situation gives you the opportunity to think and explore different possibilities. Get inventive and find ways to get where you want to go.
INSPO / FUN FACT
"Above all do not fear difficult moments, the best comes from them". Rita Levi-Montalcini (1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine).