‘Define what success means to you and establish a system to achieve it. Find your passion, find something you love and believe you can use to make the world better and pursue that. True success lies in bettering the world whilst staying true to yourself.’
This is the advice of summa cum laude Bachelor of Science graduate Ms Nour Mostafa, who received a double distinction for her Genetics and Biochemistry majors.
Mostafa – whose family relocated from the Free State to Durban when her father, Professor Mohamed Mostafa joined UKZN’s Civil Engineering Department – chose to study at the Institution as it allowed her to still live at home whilst attending a top university and enrolling in one of the best Life Sciences programmes in the country.
She always had a passion for science with a particular interest in genetics, so knew what her degree choice and primary major would be. ‘I think genetics is the future of all science,’ she explained. ‘It is the key to understanding everything living and is an invaluable tool if used correctly. Genetics is the “guidebook” to life sciences, and anyone interested in life sciences should learn its code. This is what I wanted to do – not only understand life’s code but learn how to interpret it and work with it to find solutions to global problems.’
With her focus on genetics decided, a meeting with the Dean of Life Sciences persuaded her that biochemistry would be the best complementary major. ‘Professor Ade Olaniran’s advice was the best I ever received,’ said Mostafa. ‘The content covered in the two majors complemented each other and provided a much deeper and more thorough understanding of concepts.’
The modules she found the most interesting were bioinformatics, molecular diagnostics and immunology. ‘Bioinformatics introduced a whole new world of information unlike anything I’d imagined,’ she said. ‘I was fascinated by the extent of databases and tools openly available to scientists and this sparked my interest in computational genetics.’ In her last semester Mostafa was introduced to both computational and lab techniques to solve scientific problems. She enjoyed this because she felt she was using all the skills and knowledge she’d learned to solve problems actively. ‘I could see how I could apply it all to research one day,’ she said.
The two Immunology modules she did cemented her interest in the role of genetics in immune systems and possible immune diseases.
Mostafa said her degree had both highs and lows. The most challenging part was her final semester when after two-and-a-half years of adapting to online learning and assessment she had to go back to in-person tests and exams. ‘This involved a completely foreign way of assessment and a whole new range of study skills,’ she explained. ‘It was a demanding and taxing task to change the way I do things, the way I learn and prepare for assessments in very little time and with so much at stake, but because of the system I had in place and the support from lecturers, my friends and family, I managed it to do it.’
On the flip side, the biggest high was also during the last semester when she finally got to go to campus and meet the people she had been studying with. ‘It was wonderful to get to experience that finally,’ she said.
Her advice to fellow students is to strive for organisation and balance. ‘University is overwhelming and the semester rushes by so quickly that if you don’t prioritise organisation, it starts to feel like chaos. Find a balance between work and other aspects of your life as well. I tried my best to make time for myself, my friends and family and my hobbies, as well as to rest, so that I would come out of university both as a well-rounded person and a well-educated individual.’
Mostafa is currently enrolled for her Honours degree in Genetics under the supervision of Professor Matthew Adeleke and has master’s and PhD studies in her sights. She hopes for a career in academia, focusing on immunoinformatics and neurogenetic disorders.
She thanked her parents (her mother for sacrificing her world to move from Egypt to South Africa with the family; her father for nurturing her intelligence and debating subjects from science to politics to religion with her since she was a little girl; and her brother for always managing to cheer her up) and her best friend Nooran Mahomed Rafeer for her constant support.
And when she wants to relax? ‘Nothing beats the sun, the ocean and a good cup of coffee.’
Words: Sally Frost
Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal