Two SU doctoral students win prestigious prize
Two Stellenbosch University doctoral students, Marisa Klopper and Britt Drögemöller, are among 10 inspiring women scientists who have been named as winners of the 2012 L’Oréal-UNESCO Regional Fellowships For Women in Science (FWIS) in Sub-Saharan Africa. They have been awarded fellowships of US$20 000 to put towards their PhD research.
Other winners are Vivian Boamah (Ghana); Tsige Ketema (Ethiopia); Fatemah Thawer-Esmail (Tanzania); Oluwasola Fasan (Nigeria); Mopo Leshwedi-Radebe (SA); Mercy Ojoyi (Kenya); Gerda Fourie (SA); and Gcineka Mbambisa (SA).
The scientific research areas being covered by this year’s fellows are varied, and include studies in the fields of computer science, microbiology, environmental science, pharmaceutical microbiology, environmental health, dermatology, genetics, biomedical technology and molecular biology.
Klopper’s research describes the epidemiology of drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) in the Eastern Cape, and aims to investigate the molecular characteristics (genetics and proteins) of drug-resistant TB bacilli. The study has already shown that highly resistant strains are spreading and becoming more resistant. This group of strains will be further investigated using state-of-the-art molecular technologies to determine the biology underlying their pathogenic characteristics.
“I like to find out how things work and like finding solutions to problems in a creative way. I also have great compassion for people who are suffering, and want to make a real difference in their lives,” Klopper says.
Drögemöller’s research focuses on identifying variants that contribute to antipsychotic treatment response in South African schizophrenia patients. “The inefficient treatment of schizophrenia places an immense socio-economic burden on society, and it is suspected that this lack of efficacy is influenced by genetic variation. My research aims to identify the differences in variation that are present in antipsychotic non-responders and responders utilising a technique called exome sequence analysis. The variation suspected of influencing antipsychotic treatment response will then be genotyped in a larger group of well-characterised schizophrenia patients receiving antipsychotic treatment, to confirm the findings,” she says.
She adds that she is very proud to be a woman working in the science arena, and has drawn inspiration from the women mentors she has had over the years.
The L’Oréal-UNESCO Regional Fellowships For Women in Science (FWIS) in Sub-Saharan Africa is open to all women scientists up to age 40 across Sub-Saharan Africa who are working towards their PhD in all fields of science. It was first piloted in 2010, when five female scientists were awarded fellowships. Following the overwhelming success of the initial programme, the L’Oréal Foundation doubled the number of fellows to 10 last year – a number that has been maintained in this year’s programme.
Bertrand de Laleu, L’Oréal South Africa Managing Director, says the programme was born out of a need to help women scientists overcome one of the most common obstacles they face in pursuing their careers. “In the male-dominated scientific fraternity, women often come up against a number of hurdles. The idea behind these fellowships is that one of those stumbling blocks – access to finance – is removed, so these women may reach their full potential as scientists. The spinoff of this is that the African community and indeed the world at large stands to benefit from scientific research that might not have seen the light of day without financial assistance,” he says.
De Laleu adds that the response this year was phenomenal, with a significant increase in the number of entries received. “There’s no denying the growth of the programme; this year we received 227 applications from 27 countries, compared to the 175 entries received from 23 countries last year.”
According to Professor Joseph Massaquoi, Director of the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science in Africa, Africa can increase its human resource capacity in science very rapidly if more women are encouraged to pursue courses in science. ”By recognising the achievements of young women scientists, the L’Oreal-UNESCO regional fellowship will hopefully inspire more women to do science.”
The L’Oréal Corporate Foundation created the For Women in Science partnership with UNESCO in 1998. Since then, more than 1 000 women scientists across the globe have been distinguished by the L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards or supported in pursuing their careers through the various fellowship programmes.
Regional fellowships such as this one are a natural extension of the international programme, and aim to broaden the reach of the foundation and support even more women in achieving their goals in the world of science. The regional programme for Sub-Saharan Africa was officially launched in 2009 and is organised in conjunction with the African Network of Scientific and Technological Institutions (ANSTI). A similar programme exists in the Arab States.
The fellowship programme also aims to increase the representation of women in global scientific circles, creating role models for future female generations.
In fact, in 2009, two previous FWIS laureates were awarded Nobel Prizes in chemistry and medicine, bearing testimony to the impact of the foundation’s
influence on scientific research.
- For more information on the For Women in Science community, go to www.forwomeninscience.com.