Maseko: The biochemist

SHARE   |   Monday, 08 February 2016   |   By Keitebe Kgosikebatho
Dr Tebo Maseko Dr Tebo Maseko

Science is generally a male-dominated field. Women who venture into this field are considered daring and different. One outstanding young woman’s superb performance in education (science) saw her attaining a doctorate at a tender age of 32. This is her story.

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Briefly introduce yourself
My name is Tebo Maseko. I was born on February 5th 1983 to a payroll officer (mother) and a mine foreman (father) in a small mining town called Orapa. I’m 33 years this year and a mother of one. I proudly hold three (3) Science degrees; (i) Bachelor of Science, (ii) Master of Science and (iii) Doctorate/PhD degree in Agriculture & Food Systems. I am a Biochemist by training and by work experience. I’m currently working for the National Food Technology Research Centre as a Senior Research Scientist in the Department of Food Chemistry. I’ve previously worked for the Ministry of Health and for Botswana-Harvard Partnership (HIV/AIDS Research Institute).


Your educational background
I hold three Science degrees. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry & Microbiology from the University of Kwazulu Natal (Pietermaritzburg/Durban) in 2005. I joined the work force soon after in mid-2005 for four years (2005-2008) and then went for further studies in 2009. I enrolled for a two-year Master of Science degree (Food Science) programme at the University of Melbourne, Australia in 2009.  In 2011, through the BIUST (Botswana International University of Science and Technology) scholarship, I was afforded the exciting opportunity to study for a Doctorate/PhD degree (Agriculture and Food Systems) with University of Melbourne. The PhD programme was an academically rewarding and fruitful research experience that yielded a total of four publications for me as first author, with reputable journals. The research work focused on chemically characterising and biologically evaluating Selenium, a micro nutrient that has been found to influence anti-cancer mechanisms in mammalian systems. I satisfied all requirements of the PhD programme in November 2014. However, Dr. Tebo Maseko was ‘born’ on the 21st March 2015 after the conferment of the PhD degree by the University of Melbourne. 


Why did you choose to study science?
Truthfully speaking, I did not always know that I wanted or I was going to be a Scientist. As a young scholar, I’ve always been in the top five percent of academic top performers.  I was what one would regard a ‘well-rounded’ scholar because I excelled in all subjects. Some might view it as a good thing for a student to excel in all subjects. However, it created a bit of a problem for me as a young school going girl because for a long time, I actually did not know what career pathway to follow. Passing all subjects at school meant everything and anything was possible where my career was concerned. However, I narrowed down my focus to Science subjects at secondary school, mainly because of the influence of my science teachers. I loved and enjoyed attending science classes. I believe that shaped and influenced my choice. So I wish to emphasize the role and importance of teachers in shaping career choices of the student. There was also some form of academic prestige, recognition and respect that went with being a Science scholar or academic. The world generally doesn’t doubt one’s intelligence and ‘genius status’ when they study atoms and compounds for a living.


What challenges have you faced as a woman?
Quite frankly, in my personal educational journey, I haven’t encountered any particular challenges or setbacks that I would link my gender to. With the adequate resources at my disposal, I was able to handle the demands of my educational journey in the Science discipline just like my male counterparts who also completed their programmes. 

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Is enough done to assist the girl-child in their educational pursuits?
Education is one of the most critical areas of uplifting the girl-child, and subsequent empowerment of the woman who will in turn empower their families and communities. I have observed that progress on the girl child’s education has stalled in Botswana, especially at tertiary level. The girl child does not seem too keen to stay longer at tertiary school in order to progress beyond their first degree or diploma. From my personal observation with colleagues and associates, progression to Masters and PhD degrees usually shows a higher number of males than females. Most young females opt to marry, have children and start families soon after graduation from their first degrees, either totally sacrificing educational/academic progression or leaving it for much later in their lives. I think this trend has a lot to do with societal expectations of the girl child. I think women empowerment workshops held periodically at tertiary institutions can help support, motivate and encourage the girl child to try to strike a balance between family life and career/academic progression in order to advance her education further.


What is your next move?
Admittedly, I’m currently basking in my glory, having exhausted all levels of education possible. I won’t be staying there for too long though, attaining my hard-earned Doctorate degree at a relatively young age of 31 years has encouraged me to dream bigger. I’m an academic at heart and aspire to become a Professor in my field in this life time. I’m aware it’s no easy mission and requires a lot of work. It is now a little over a year since returning home from my post-graduate studies abroad. After being away from home for six years, I now wish to give back to my country and my enhanced scientific knowledge and research skills from the PhD training will enable me to do just that. I wish to motivate and encourage the girl aspiring scientist to be more self-driven, self-motivated and proactive in seeking opportunities that will help them grow. 



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