Youth Month 2023: Rishan Singh

Youth Month 2023: Rishan Singh

June is Youth Month, and this year the NRF is celebrating the Youth of the NRF who are advancing knowledge, transforming lives, and inspiring a nation. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us.

Mr Rishan Singh is a biologist and research associate at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), as well as the senior administrator at a private college in the Durban area, and an adjunct faculty member of Amity University. In his final undergraduate year, he received an NRF grantholder-linked bursary and he was funded by the NRF for his Master’s of Technology degree. Additionally, he completed his NRF internship with the National Research Foundation. 

How did your journey start?

I grew up in Durban and I went to an ordinary public school in Chatsworth. I matriculated from Protea Secondary School where I studied science subjects. I was an average learner, but I was always dedicated to the sciences. At my school, I would perform surveys about public health issues, such as air pollution, and I was a role model for my fellow learners. In my free time, I would tutor Grade 12 learners in Biology and Afrikaans, as well as write learner notes for English literature.

Deciding what to study wasn’t hard because I knew from Grade 8 that I wanted to pursue something in biology, teaching or video technology. When I was in Grade 11, my school hosted a career expo where members from the CAO visited my high school. There was a guy at this career expo who told us about the entry requirements and the point-scoring system used by the different universities. Once we were familiar with the point system, my friend and I submitted our applications to study biology and teaching at the different institutions around the Durban area. We submitted our applications in Grade 11 because we knew the subjects we were strongest in – we both enjoyed Biology, English and Afrikaans.

Once the matriculation results were released, my friend eventually moved to Zululand to pursue his degree in Microbiology at the University of Zululand (UniZulu), while I got accepted to study Genetics at UKZN in PMB. However, I eventually transferred to the BSc Life Sciences stream at UKZN where I majored in Biological Sciences. I completed my undergraduate degree at UKZN, and thereafter, enrolled for my Master’s degree at the Durban University of Technology where I completed a specialisation in medicinal plant research with a focus on oncology.

As I’m currently in the developmental phase of my career, I wouldn’t exactly say that my current career path is the one I envisioned for myself growing up. I say this because there are currently so many graduates who aren’t given the correct opportunities to align themselves in positions where they can grow and occupy the career path they want. By this, I mean there’s limited scope for development among the youth in the employment sector, and therefore it’s difficult to attain what one wants.

How has your affiliation with the NRF impacted your studies/career?

Well, I would say that my affiliation with the NRF has allowed me to secure proper employment in the public and private higher education sector because being associated with the National Research Foundation is a mark of accomplishment itself. Furthermore, my NRF internship certificate and my conference presentation at Birchwood Hotel Conference Centre in Johannesburg enabled me to feel empowered, particularly since our abstracts were published in the conference proceedings and made available to many distinguished guests, one being Professor Batmanathan Dayanand Reddy.

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

I encountered many obstacles to be where I am today, but the one thing I learned from them is that one needs to be determined to succeed. We, as the youth, are fortunate to be given so many opportunities that the oppressed were not given. Therefore, I had to appreciate every qualification I attained and ensure that I make them work for me on a daily basis. Whether I’m involved with academic work at UKZN, Regnessy or elsewhere, or with community development and upliftment projects, I’m always determined to make a difference by associating with so many talented and like-minded individuals.

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

My research is about medicinal plant products and infectious diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis. I’m also passionate about anti-cancer drug development studies. As a result, my field of expertise is molecular biology, gene-mapping and mammalian cellular mediator biology.

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

My current work can advance knowledge by showing how the different cellular components interact with each other to elicit different responses when they are exposed to plant-derived products. The acquired knowledge can help communities to transform their lives by practicing proper health measures to reduce the spread of cancers, HIV and tuberculosis while taking medicines that are safe, cost-effective and reliable. These medicines would be plant-based and, as a result, would inspire the nation as they would be at the interface of not only complimentary and alternative treatment but also a pivotal source of remedies used by traditional healers.

What are some of your proudest achievements?

Some of my proudest achievements were achieving my Honours degree from UKZN; being appointed to the Executive Committee of the Golden Key International Honour Society; and being the first student to have had three papers published with my supervisor during my Master’s degree. Furthermore, cementing my standing as a scientist by being published by the Romanian Academy in Europe.

I would also like to add that over the last three years I’ve published two poetry books and I’ve appeared in many poetry books and journals. I’m an alumnus of the Brightest Young Minds organisation. I was a presenter at the 2021 Golden Key International Honour Society Virtual Summit where I presented in three track sessions, and was also a panellist concurrently. I also served on the International Leadership Council of the Golden Key International Honour Society a few years back.

What are your career aspirations for the future?

My career aspirations for the future are to be the best scientist I can possibly be and to innovate, create and develop new technologies and means of studying different scientific areas efficiently. I would also like to inspire others to perform well in their professions and I would like to be a role model for others, just like I had been at my high school. I would also like to eventually become a Fellow of the Society for Biology.

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