About Sebabatso Maifadi

Sebabatso Maifadi is a PhD candidate at the University of South Africa Nanotechnology and Water Sustainability Research Unit, and her research is focussed on wastewater treatment. She graduated with her bachelor’s and honour’s degrees from the University of Cape Town and her master’s from the University of the Witwatersrand. The fearless Sebabatso was a runner-up at the 2018 FameLab South Africa.

Sebabatso Mafaidi

What led you to this profession?

Since high school when I was given an opportunity to decide on which school subjects I wanted to do, I chose science (biology, physics, and chemistry) and mathematics. I enjoyed the challenging way of thinking and the exciting outcomes of the experiments we did in class. Back then I had limited ideas about the career paths that I was going to take. So, going to university I enrolled in studying a Bachelor of Science degree, and particularly enjoyed mathematics, chemistry and physics. What was most appealing for me was learning how to solve different problems every day and finding out how and why things around us exist in a specific way. As I continued with my postgraduate studies, I concluded that something was still missing despite all the knowledge and skills I had gained throughout my academic journey. The question to myself was that now that I have satisfied my intellectual curiosity, how am I going to benefit society? It is this question that led me to studying a PhD at the Nanotechnology and Water Sustainability (NanoWS) research Unit at Unisa. The unit addresses issues related to water quality and water scarcity. The growing crisis of water is not only prevalent in South Africa, but worldwide. Studying this PhD is not only fulfilling to me but will help me make an impact on society.

Did you always intend to be a scientist, if not, what was your dream career?

Yes, I always intended to become a scientist. I may not have known it initially but the academic journey I took dictated my career.

At present, what are you working on?

I am working on developing point-of-use (POU) water treatment systems for recycling and/or re-use of wastewater from beauty hair salons in South Africa. Due to the issues related to municipal wastewater and sewage treatment infrastructure in SA, and the limited resources available, these alternative systems that are robust, simple to use, energy efficient and cheap are needed. Particularly the POU systems will comprise of integrated treatment processes such as advanced membrane separation coupled with an advanced oxidation process. The membranes that will be used are polymeric membranes incorporated with nanomaterials to form polymeric nanocomposite membranes. The systems will be installed at outlets of beauty hair salons allowing for the wastewater to be treated then reused or released into the environment with less contaminant and enhancing the performance of our sewage treatment plants.

What is your opinion on female representation in the nanotechnology industry?

Despite nanotechnology being an emerging or growing proportion of science and technology, I think women are still underrepresented in the nanotechnology industry. I think there is a slow but considerable growth in numbers of exciting nanotechnology work led by women scientists.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far in your journey as a scientist and how did you overcome it?

It has to be being a woman, mother, wife and scientist all at the same time. Balancing my personal life and academic career has never been a major problem. But it does not help occasionally getting the feeling that your ability to progress and develop into your full potential as a woman scientist is silently questioned. This is more apparent when I observe different reactions to the same behaviour by men and women. I have overcome this challenge by maintaining my self-confidence and self-esteem through and through.

Which undergraduate degree should someone enrol in, in order to become a specialist in your field?

In order to become a specialist in the Nanotechnology and Water Sustainability research unit, you need to enrol in bachelor’s degrees in natural sciences such as chemistry, physics, biochemistry, etc. Bachelor’s degrees in environmental sciences, environmental engineering, chemical engineering and civil engineering in water treatment. The minimum requirements to study in the unit for MSc candidates are honours degrees in these degrees, and an MSc for PhD candidates.

Share a turning point or defining moment in your work as a scientist

One of the defining moments in my journey as a scientist, was the day I decided to study towards getting a PhD. Not only was the PhD in a completely different field of science than my previous degrees but it was also in a different environment filled with experts of emerging science proportions. I did not let fear of a challenge cripple me, but I told myself that I needed to make the most of the opportunity that had been presented to me. Since then the knowledge I have gained and the experiences in science communication competitions and conferences have been amazing and fulfilling.

What is your advice to young, aspiring female scientists and students?

South Africa and the world need bright young people to become scientists. Science can allow you to make an impact on the world and help address major issues of today such as the growing water crisis, poverty, global warming and health. Whether male or female and you have an inquisitive mind and love science, consider making a career of it. Men and women are equally gifted, in particular women need to break glass ceilings that have stopped us from leading and take our places within the scientific community. These are exciting times to be female and alive, this is because of the many opportunities available to us in science and technology. There is plenty funding and initiatives from departments in science so make the most of these opportunities and make your stand in the science community.

What is your next move, career wise and what are you most looking forward to?

My next move is to become a lecturer and work with postgraduate students in the field of nanotechnology. I look forward to working with other scientists, thinking of problems and ideas to testing and solving them. I want to continue to deal with the challenges and thrills that I am already experiencing in my PhD when I get data and have to analyse and interpret it.