Youth Month 2022: Kelebogile Gasealahwe

Youth Month 2022: Kelebogile Gasealahwe

June is Youth Month, and this year the NRF is celebrating the youth of the NRF who are working towards achieving the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us and we hope that you are inspired by the young NRF-affiliated researchers who are helping to ensure a sustainable planet for all.

Kelebogile Gasealahwe is a PhD Candidate in Astrophysics at the University of Cape Town and the South African Astronomical Observatory (NRF-SAAO). She has received funding from the NRF for her Honours and Master’s degrees through the National Astrophysics Space Science Program and is currently funded for her PhD.

This is her story…

I am a young black woman, raised by a single mother in a little village consisting of my grandparents, aunts and uncles. I grew up in Kimberley and spent most of my life there until I pursued tertiary studies in Cape Town.

I grew up knowing what I wanted to study. The snippets of astronomy we learned in primary school ignited a curiosity and nights spent looking up to the starry sky drove my passion. My journey to becoming an astronomer has been more straightforward than most. I did a BSc in Physics and Astrophysics, and a BSc Hons and Master’s in Astrophysics. Currently, I am busy with my PhD. All my studies have been at the University of Cape Town.

The funding I received from the NRF has been very impactful – without it, I would not have had the means to fund my studies.

Did you have to overcome any obstacles to be where you are today, and what did you learn from it?

I have had obstacles that I have overcome, and I have learned to improve my skill set and equip myself with the knowledge to better my problem-solving skills.

What is your research focus/area of expertise?

I am in Stellar Astrophysics, specifically binary stars. My previous research constituted Planetary Nebulae, their central stars and their morphological nature. Currently, my field of study is X-ray Binaries. I am involved in one of MeerKAT’s large survey projects and the development of the relationship between outflows produced in these objects.

The United Nations identified 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ensure “…a better and more sustainable future for all…” by 2030. Which of these goals are you addressing through your research, or in your personal life?

Goal 4: Quality Education. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

I have aligned myself with a few outreach programs, led by UCT’s Astronomy Department and NRF-SAAO, which are aimed at educating the public as well as school pupils. We are providing hands-on learning and relatable astronomy experiences with the use of small portable telescopes to schools and learners in disadvantaged areas.

What are some of your proudest achievements?

Everything that I have achieved so far, I am very proud of and amazed by. I value all the opportunities that have come my way and experiences that have helped to mould me. My background is not of privilege, so every step towards my dream of being a successful researcher is significant – from my accomplished degrees to successful research presentations and contributions.

What are your career aspirations for the future?

I aspire to be a successful and well-rounded researcher. To me, this means being recognised both nationally and internationally for my work by being NRF-rated. It means contributing significantly to my field of research and improving our understanding of the physics governing astronomical bodies. Most importantly, I aspire to help nurture young minds and educate fellow citizens about science through my affiliated outreach communities and assist research development in South Africa via the Department of Science and Innovation and the NRF.

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