STAFF MAGAZINE
RESEARCH / 12 SEPTEMBER 2018

You’ve done research on vineyards and wine fermentation. Can you tell us what this is all about and why it is so important?

My research for the past seven years has been focused on understanding how different practices with regard to vineyard management influence the microbial ecology of the grapes. This is important because the grapes harbour a complex community of microorganisms that influence wine fermentation and ultimately wine quality. My research has also been focused on understanding how we can manage the fermentation process in such a way that we promote the survival and persistence of desirable yeast and bacteria to ensure that the end product is of good quality. Winemakers typically inoculate with starter cultures (a microbiological culture that actually performs fermentation) to ensure consistency in the product from year to year. However, some winemakers often choose natural fermentation, which relies on the microorganisms that occur on the grapes. It is therefore important to understand the microbial composition in order to manage such fermentations better.

You recently won a prestigious national science award. What does this type of recognition mean to you?

Such a recognition simply serves as a beacon of hope for young black scientists (men and women). Most young people I speak to often ask me where the black scientists are because they don’t see them, especially at historically white institutions, and so they always wonder why this is. I hope this recognition shows them that we do exist, and that we are not just headcounts for transformation reports, but we are good scientists. To me it is a nod to my hard work and perseverance.

Who or what has been your greatest inspiration?

My mother. She was a teacher and I grew up watching her working, studying and being a mother and wife. She stopped studying I think a year or two before she retired. She was always registered for some course either with UNISA or VISTA. During my PhD, I also worked closely with Prof Bärbel Hahn-Hägerdal at Lund University (Sweden) as an exchange student and I learnt a lot from her especially on student supervision. She was not directly my supervisor but she provided a lot of guidance and advice. She was also the first female scientist I worked with.

What aspects of your work do you enjoy most?

Being in the lab and running experiments. If I could spend the whole day in the lab I would do that. I love helping students find solutions when experiments don’t work and just chatting to them about their research and about their life outside the lab.  

What makes you tick?

Talking to people. The few minutes I get to talk to the assistants and the students in my department and my friends at the gym fills my day with a diversity of stories. I learn so much and it keeps me grounded. I look forward to those conversations every day.

If you could look into your crystal ball, where do you see yourself in ten years from now?

I generally live in the moment and take everything in strides. Nonetheless, if I look into my crystal ball, I see myself being a full professor with a very busy laboratory, but also with a thriving leadership coaching business. I am lucky to have been able to qualify in two professions and would like to excel in both.

How do you spend your free time?

I spend my free time reading novels or watching survival programmes, such as Alone, Naked and Afraid, and building programmes like Treehouse Masters. My friends and I also get together for lunch at restaurants or at home, and have a meal with some wine. I also enjoy relaxing activities. I used to jog Sunday afternoons, but I can’t run anymore due to knee injuries. Going to the gym is part of my daily routine (Monday to Thursday) after work; it is my stop-over before going home.

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