About Valentine Saasa

Valentine Saasa is a PhD candidate at the University of Pretoria, based at the CSIR Materials and Manufacturing unit (Nanocentre). She obtained her BSc honours in Biochemistry at the University of Limpopo then went on to graduate with a Master’s degree in Biochemistry (Cum Laude) from the University of Johannesburg. She is also the founder of the Capricorn Educational Resource Centre, a centre which aims to popularize STEMI (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and innovation), to provide science learner assisted programmes and to facilitate science and technology awareness programmes.

Valentine Saasa

What led you to this profession?

I first got interest in research when I was doing my final year of undergraduate degree at University of Limpopo. Our last module of biochemistry taught by Dr Lucas was about looking for a topic of interest, write a scientific journal then present it in class. That’s where a fell in love with research and got about 90%. When I first registered my undergraduate, I thought, after I am going straight to job hunting, instead I went straight to register for honours after my undergraduate spark.

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

When there was a cholera outbreak and begging of HIV epidemic, I think I was in grade 7, that’s when I realised I can be someone who come with treatment for Cholera and HIV. But coming from rural areas, we were never exposed to different career choices while at school. We knew the popular ones for science learners such as medicine, nurses, dentist and so forth. So my interest in coming up with treatment for cholera and HIV was mee trying to say I want to a scientist, lol.

At present, what are you working on?

I am working on development of nanostructured materials for application in non-invasive diagnosis of diabetes mellitus. In layman’s term; we are trying to find a sensor that can monitor blood glucose using human breath in people who have diabetes mellitus.

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

There is so much progress in the female representation, as there are a lot of investments on postgraduate female support from the NRF and Department of Science and Innovation. There are more women in Master’s level and PhD level; they need to be seen in management level. I don’t think the gender balance is yet balanced but I am happy with the progress and with more nanotechnology role modelling campaigns we normally do with SAASTA; there will definitely be more representative for females in nanotechnology.

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

My biggest challenge in my career was both in my masters and PhD when my supervisor changed the University. During my masters at University of Johannesburg, my supervisor moved to North West University and it was a biggest challenge of my career for the department to assign me a person I can report to but fortunately we managed with my supervisor to work together while he was away. The same situation happened now in my PhD at the University of Pretoria when my current supervisor moved to Stellenbosch University. The department just like any university has the rules and criteria one has to follow before submitting the PhD thesis, this includes having a progress meeting with the supervisors and departmental stuff member and such need to be documented and submitted to the faculty. With my supervisor not being around, such meeting had been delayed and thus delay my submission dates as it is a prerequisites to submission. I have also encountered lots of mental breakdown through the process of PhD, but I have good support system and also consulting to ease the pressure.

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

Bachelor of Science (Both in Natural Science and Life sciences) and further their postgraduates with nanotechnology based research topic.

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

When the general person recognises your work and still has hope in your work as a scientist, this gives you a motivation to wake up and try push harder to make their hopes a reality with ground-breaking research. Secondly, my work getting accepted and published in an internationally accredited journal confirmed the quality of my research.

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

You can be what you want to be as long are determined and look for opportunities. When you get the opportunity excuse them, because some opportunities come ones and excuses will always be there. Our country is in pursuit of gender balance especially in what was previously male dominated field such as science and engineering. So this is great opportunity and time to take advantage of the time and align yourself and everything will fall into place.

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

Currently I am trying to complete my PhD and the next move will be to do post-doctoral, with more science communication. I am looking forward to transferring my skills and mentoring/ supervising the next generation of scientist.