Women's Month 2021: Eden Keyster

Women’s Month 2021: Eden Keyster

August is Women’s Month, and this year the NRF is celebrating the Women of the NRF who are Advancing Knowledge, Transforming Lives and Inspiring a Nation. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us and we hope that you are inspired by the amazing women who are affiliated with the NRF through their work or studies.

Ms Eden Keyster is an NRF-funded Master’s student in Biotechnology at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).

This is her story…

My passion for science was created by my inquisitive personality and thirst for understanding the complexity of life. I always wanted to be a medical doctor though, but little did I know that my dream would come true, just in a different field of study.

A spark was ignited as I was privileged to have visited the laboratories at UWC as a youngster and I got to see what Biotechnology was actually about. I was drawn into Plant Science while I job-shadowed at the Environmental Biotechnology Laboratories (EBL). I also had the opportunity to do a voluntary internship in my final year of undergrad studies. It was during this time that I gained more knowledge regarding the field and improved on basic laboratory skills.

I completed both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at UWC. I also spent my free time doing community service under a non-profit organisation called Surplus People Project (SPP). I was part of the youth group and I had the opportunity to engage and tell people about my knowledge in Plant Biotechnology as well as my experiences. I am currently using some of my time giving career advice and helping people apply to universities.

What role has the NRF played in your studies/career?

The NRF has been funding me since 2020 (for my Honours degree) and I am currently funded for my Master’s degree. I am truly blessed to have the privilege of being funded as it enabled me to pursue my postgraduate studies. Thanks to the NRF, I had the opportunity to join a data science course in which they taught python. The course was published on the NRF page and I was fortunate to be part of the thousands who joined. 

What is your research focus on/what is your area of expertise?

I am working in the Plant Biotechnology Research Group (PBRG) run by Prof Ndiko Ludidi. My research focuses on biotic/abiotic stress and the effect it has on crop plants. I focus on the effect of endophytic microorganisms on the plant and whether it has the ability to alleviate any stress.

How can your research/work advance knowledge, transform lives and inspire a nation?

My research aims to improve food insecurity and find different methods for providing sustainable agriculture. This is important because we are currently experiencing the effects of climate change. Not only does this cause severe damage to our soil but direct damage to crop plants and the way it is produced. My work includes sharing the endless possibilities of improving lives in general, as well as in my profession.

I believe it is part of my calling to help people through my pursuit of science. To be able to see life in different forms (microbes, plants etc.) really gives another perspective to life and I would really love to share it with everyone. This includes my peers, family and anyone I come across. I would like to inspire by showing people how they can grow and find their calling through learning.

Science is the type of field that people are intimidated by because everyone expects us to have all the answers. I really want everyone to see that scientists are artists, as they require the ability to have innovative thoughts and to fill gaps. Anyone can be a scientist, all that is required is patience and the willingness to devote time. I would like to share that with people through my work and my actions.

What is the most enjoyable part of your work/studies?

I get to work with people who have different personalities and backgrounds. I learn a lot from them and I have the opportunity of working alongside individuals who are driven. I admire the hard work and it is fun having to work with people who will become doctors or professors. I also get to grow my network and learn from other people’s experiences. I also get to work with plants, fungi or bacteria. It’s fun seeing how different life forms interact.

What is the funniest or most memorable thing that has happened to you during your studies/career?

One time, I had just finished running a 7,5% acrylamide gel, I was waiting very long and I was very exhausted. As I was preparing the gel to be lifted, it tore through the middle (containing the product). Thereafter, it tore more and I was just sitting there in disbelief. My PI and some of my colleagues tried their best to make me feel better. They continued to tell me that it had happened to them as well. That day, I learned that science is truly not for the fainthearted! But that is only one of the many memorable moments I have had.

How do you balance work and life responsibilities?

Time management is very important. I try to prioritise everything accordingly so that I don’t feel too stressed at the end of the day. Everything needs balance, so I really try to maintain it.

Having a need for more women role models in STEM is something that is often talked about, as it could help young girls foster an interest in science-related careers. In your opinion, what makes someone a good role model?

Personally, a role model should have all the qualities that consist of a person with good and true intentions. Someone who is willing to be the change they wish to see in the world. I look up to these types of people, they give up their time willingly to be active and inspire good change. I also think the type of role model differs from person to person because we all see different attributes in someone we look up to. I have been privileged to work with amazing women, especially in science. Their stories and experiences excite me. I love seeing women succeed in general – we all have a story to tell and goals to achieve. More women are also joining different fields of agriculture – this is truly amazing because everyone, despite their gender, should be able to do anything they wish to do.

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