Her love for science has persisted throughout school and with only two more years to go before she acquires her doctorate, 28- year -old Oratile Semong is elated.
“It has not been the easiest of times but I am determined to accomplish what I had set out for myself.”
Whilst many are happy to get their first degrees and hopefully secure employment, Semong is determined to join the club of high academia by the time she turns 30.
“I have always been a curious learner and when most give up due to pressure and challenging environments, that it is when I thrive. I love to solve mysteries and discovering how things work. Currently undertaking her PhD in Analytical Chemistry at the Palapye based: Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST), Semong’s focus is on her thesis which centers around the fabrication of a novel molecularly imprinted Nano – fiber Filter for the Ultra Removal of Aflatoxin M1 in Milk prior to human consumption.
“Many don’t know that food consist of toxins that can be harmful to humans especially children. As they are a source of life we need to ensure they are safe at all times.”
Semong has always been a straight A student all her life and explains that, though she enjoyed school and did her best, it was only at varsity that she realized she couldn’t get away with her at times laisser-faire attitude towards her studies.
“My first year as a Bachelor of Science student was not a walk in the park. I quickly realized the huge gap that existed in curriculum from senior school and university. I was in the deep end and had to make adjustments to avoid flunking”.
Luckily Semong was open to guidance from her lecturers and the nudging of her family.
The hard work paid off and much to her delight and those around her, she graduated with a Bachelor of Sciences (Chemistry Major, Physics minor) and Master of Sciences (Chemistry and Forensic Science).
Unlike some, Semong was clear on her next move.
“I wanted to do my masters and actually applied. Then an opportunity presented by BIUST seemed to offer the perfect set up; taking on the role of being teacher assistant whilst pursuing one’s post graduate studies.”
Despite her confidence in having done well during interviews, Semong awaited a while before hearing from BIUST.
“When they called I was ready to relocate to Palapye. There was no doubt I was excited but I was also secretly relishing the thought of finally leaving my parents nest .I had never been away from home and wanted to experience this, ” she says with a hearty laugh.
Although Semong’s BGCSE results were superb and definitely placed her favorably to study anywhere in the world, her mother and other concerned family members were against this.
“I was only 17 and they believed I was too young to navigate life away from home. At the time I was disappointed but have since understood their reasoning and actually also think it was the best decision to stay home.”
Speaking of her life at BIUST, Semong says the institution has since been a source of many milestones in addition to her studies.
“It is a world class institution that is envied by many and this makes one proud to be associated with it. Beaming shyly, Semong also shares meeting her partner and eventually getting married whilst at the institution. She laughs at the suggestion that it was his love for academics that attracted her to him.
“It’s great that we share interests but it really was more than that. Having travelled the journey she is now on, Semong admits it is helpful to have a partner that understands the pressures of studying for one’s PHD. Her doting partner Thabo holds a PhD in Computer Sciences.
“I do however ensure that away from work and school, I am present to our home needs and building a tight family unit. I am surrounded by highly intelligent and driven professionals who push me. It has also been eye opening that though opportunities are there, very few females pursue science related courses”.
She goes on to say; “I am sure this is not just restricted to the sciences. As women, there’s pressure to work twice as hard to prove oneself. In an environment surrounded by men, it can be daunting. Women have multiple roles to play and explaining why for instance you may be late due to family demands or tired from caring for a sick child the night before may be viewed as being weak. Men generally don’t have these concerns and it would seem as though they are more capable,” she sighs sadly.
Semong is cognizant of the fact that her accomplishment will not be celebrated by just those close to her but will also be means of inspiration to many more women. “I believe in the shared responsibility to inspire young women to chase their dreams.”