In celebration of Women’s Month 2018, we are featuring female researchers who receive funding from the NRF. We thank the ladies for volunteering to share their stories with us.
Christina (Tina) Meiring is pursuing her Master’s studies at the Animal Tuberculosis Research Group, of the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical Tuberculosis Research, Stellenbosch University.
My twin sister and I were born in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. My dad is a citrus farmer in Kirkwood and my mom also works on the farm – she keeps everything running. It was absolutely fantastic to grow up on a farm, I loved it.
What made you decide to choose your field of study?
I’ve always had an interest in wildlife and conservation. Since I grew up on a farm, I was frequently exposed to wildlife species in different habitats. I’ve also always been fascinated with genetic research.
When I discovered that Stellenbosch offered a program where I could combine my interests, I knew that this would be a great journey and that made me decide to choose this field of study. It wasn’t exactly what I envisioned for myself – my interests constantly changed when I was growing up and I wasn’t always aware of all the possibilities. As I was studying and my field became more specialised, it got me where I am now.
What does your current research focus on?
My research focuses on investigating the genomic diversity in the endangered African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) to aid in the optimisation of the current conservation management of wild dogs in South Africa.
The genomic information generated from this research could then be used to work towards understanding their susceptibility or resistance to diseases and other threats, and developing tools to identify genetic factors conferring adaptive advantages. I started with this research in January of 2018 and endeavour to continue with this research throughout my MSc and PhD.
It is my responsibility to come to the laboratory every day of the week and work on my research from here. I frequently have to attend departmental meetings and seminars to stay up to date with what happens in the department and also in the broader ‘science world’. I also have to report on the progress of my project to my supervisors on a biweekly basis.
How do you think your work/research can benefit/impact South Africans and/or the world?
The information generated from my research will be used to optimise conservation strategies which will ultimately increase the chances of their long-term survival in the future. African wild dogs are important predators and the loss of this species could lead to decreased biodiversity in key protected areas, therefore it will impact the biodiversity in South Africa. My research will also increase the awareness of the status of the endangered African wild dogs.
What obstacles did you have to overcome to get to where you are today?
Throughout my life, I have been compared to my twin sister. It was expected that we should excel in the same things and that wasn’t always the case. It was hard to have the confidence to pursue anything independently, but it definitely made me a better-rounded researcher.
Who has been your greatest inspiration? Who saw your potential/encouraged you when the going got tough?
Definitely my parents. They always encouraged me to carry on with my studies and provided me with everything I needed to be able to do so. I don’t think I would’ve been able to come this far without such a great support system, I’m really lucky. It makes everything worthwhile when you do something that your parents are really proud of and excited about. It’s a great motivation.
What is your vision for the future – what do you hope to achieve in the next ten years?
I hope to obtain my MSc and PhD from Stellenbosch University. I hope to generate valuable information regarding the genetics of endangered species, such as the wild dog, to be implemented in conservation management decisions. In the future, I hope to be able to do this for multiple wildlife species. Additionally, I hope to be part of the conservation management group from the South African National Parks in the future.
What is your advice for young people who want to pursue a career in STEM?
Always pursue your passion. STEM fields are diverse, challenging, and offer a wide variety of opportunities. You will definitely end up with an exciting career and will have a high level of personal and job satisfaction. It’s not an easy path to pursue, but it will be well worth it. My advice is to never give up and to obtain an education in the STEM field when you’re still young and full of energy.
What other interests do you have outside of your chosen career?
I love being in nature, so I spend a lot of my time outside. I love going on hikes and visiting game reserves. It definitely led to the development of my passion for wildlife conservation matters.