Venesa Pillay (South Africa; PhD student Jan 2012 – March 2016)


My MSc focused on mitochondrial DNA mutations and type II diabetes in the South African population. Although my main focus with both my MSc as well as my PhD has been on self-development and knowledge-gain through the various fellowship programs, I have also contributed to other activities within the Unit and in the Division of Human Genetics, one of which was post-graduate student supervision where I formally co-supervised honours students. After completion of my MSc. I worked as a medical scientist at the Division of Human Genetics, just after handing in my MSc. This position was extremely demanding of my time, being a diagnostic laboratory where the turn-around time for genetic screening tests for foetal abnormalities and paternity testing was very short. While being employed as a medical scientist I was fortunate enough to become a mother. It was very soon after the birth of my son that he experienced a traumatic accident that changed my life plan completely. I had always wanted to pursue a PhD degree but chose to stay at home to care for my son. During my time at home I also completed a post-graduate diploma in marketing management (NQR level 7) and obtained it with distinction. An opportunity then came along for a fellowship under the National Institute of Health (NIH) umbrella, in non-communicable disease, which then allowed me the opportunity to pursue the PhD degree which I then started in 2012. The programme has provided me with an invaluable opportunity to complete my PhD . The program has given me insight into the importance of networking and what a leader is. There are many skills that I have achieved by being a part of this program, skills that I can take away with me and use them in my future endeavors

Presently, I’m a PhD student involved in an NIH-funded H3Africa project, Genomic and Environmental Risk Factors for Cardiometabolic Diseases (PIs Sankoh & Ramsay), where I am investigating genetic risk factors associated with obesity and other body composition traits in the Birth to Twenty Cohort. Having to juggle being a PhD student and a mother to two young boys has been challenging, but it is something that I look forward to and strive to be better at everyday. I have learnt to be diligent in time management, recording research data and in managing data files. I have learned that keeping abreast of new literature in and around my research topic is critical for success and I have also learnt to be very resourceful in obtaining information from electronic media.

My goal is to be recognised by my peers as having produced a research output that is worthy of publication, which shows a continuous engagement with the field. In September last year, I won the "Best student oral presentation in the Diseases of Lifestyle" discipline, at the Wits Faculty of Health Sciences Research Day. This achievement was very motivating and demonstrated recognition of my research by fellow academic peers. Being able to be funded by the NRF extension bursary will, allow me to complete and achieve my outstanding objectives and my goals within this, which include completing my PhD and being able to publish scientific manuscripts.

Special achievments and awards i have be awarded while a part of this programme include:

•15th  South African Society for Human Genetics Congress, Maslow, Johannesburg  (October 2013);Awarded the Whitehead Scientific Travel Bursary to attend conference.
• Won a bursary to attend Wellcome Trust Genomics Epidemiology Course, (Entebbe, Uganda, September 2013)
• Faculty of Health Sciences Research Day, University of the Witwatersrand (September 2014); Prize for best oral presentation – Diseases of Lifestyle track
• 6th Meeting of H3Africa Consortium meeting, Zambia, (May 2015); Awarded travel scholarship to attend the meeting at the Royal Livingston, Zambia; Awarded prize for poster presentation.
• Visit to the NIH (Center for Research on Genomics and Global HealtH, June 2015)- National Human Genome Research Institute), USA (as part of NCD PhD Fellowship)

• 16th  South African Society for Human Genetics Congress, KleinKaap Boutique Hotel, Centurion, Pretoria, (16-19th August, 2015); Won Best Oral Presentation; Awarded the SASHG travel Bursary