Wits flies science flag high

THREE of Wits’s female scientists received top honours at the Women in Science Awards held by the Department of Science and Technology recently.
“[I am] overwhelmed, absolutely overwhelmed,” said associate professor in the physiotherapy department, Aimee Stewart, after being placed first in the category “Distinguished Women in Science: Social Sciences and Humanities”.
“I see it as an acknowledgment of the strides we’ve made in the department to develop research and postgraduate students.”
Professor Maureen Coetzee, who was first runner-up in the Distinguished Women in Science: Life, Natural and Engineering category, agreed. “None of us get to where we are all by ourselves.
“This award is an acknowledgement of a group effort,” she said, citing her collaborators and students in the department of virology and communicable diseases as part of that group.
Professor Lizette Koekemoer, whose research is in the biology and genetics of mosquito vectors of malaria in Africa, was the second runner-up in the Distinguished Young Women in Science: Life, Natural and Engineering Sciences category.
“I was really fortunate to work with a group of people who are really good,” she said.
The wife and mother of two, who said one of the biggest misconceptions about female scientists was that they could not have a family and be successful, emphasised the importance of balancing work and family roles.
“At the end of the day, raising your kids and being a wife to your husband are equally important.”
Mentorship was another factor the women attributed their success to.
“The mentorship I received as a fledgling scientist was incredibly important. I would have drifted off to something else, if I had not had [it],” said Coetzee.
Koekemoer likened research to “starting in one corner of building a 3-million piece puzzle” and said it was due to the vision and insight of her professors and supervisor that she had conducted a project that was “significant” for her PhD.
The awards were held at the Presidential Guest House in Pretoria on August 19.