Going back to Uni: 5 Tips for the mature student

If someone had told me that in 2020, I’d be halfway into completing a FULLY FUNDED MSc. programme, I would’ve slapped them in the face and said ‘get behind me Satan’. Granted a lot of that statement would have been rooted in the negative lense that I saw my life through at that time, and a crippling inability to see the ways that Jesus was working things out in my life. Thankfully, things are slightly different now. When I first started working in research, I had been unemployed for about two months, when I went for my interview I had no idea what my bosses were going to ask me to do. I’d been away from academia for about 3 years and the practical aspects of my Honours degree that I thoroughly loved, were more than a little fuzzy. On that day, my mum told me to go in and just give it all I had. It was a huge boost to my self esteem then, and now as I think of how cute I looked on that day. I thought I was going in for an interview but praise God, they had actually decided that they wanted me onboard but needed to see me face to face. My plans after my Honours degree was to specialise as a haematologist. Now I’m building my professional life in HIV research, with an emphasis on early infant diagnosis, and I couldn’t be happier. So what are the traits you need to get to where I am? I’m glad you asked!

1. Believe in your sauce. When I decided that academia was for me, to say that I was nervous was an understatement. For the first few months at work, concepts that used to be familiar now felt foreign to my very much matured brain (I was 28 at the time). I am grateful that I had my lovely husband rooting for me all the way. He would listen to me telling him about concepts that were new to me too, and engage in conversation with me. He would also remind me that had I not been capable, they would have FOR SURE not hired me. This is something that I have had to remind myself of especially when I’m hit with a heavy dose of imposters syndrome. Believing in your own sauce doesn’t mean that you’re oblivious to the things you don’t know, or that you blag your way through things (in my industry blagging ain’t gonna get you anywhere). Believing in your own sauce means being aware of where your strengths lie and not being afraid to utilize them when needed.

2. Speak up. My bosses are ridiculously good researchers in the field of HIV. THe more publications I read and found out just how good they are, the more I started to feel like I didn’t have anything to offer. When I commenced my MSc. programme, the awe & admiration I have for my bosses, became crippling. I found myself saying yes or keeping quiet, even when I didn’t agree with a certain course of action. As I grew in confidence (and also had my husband speak to me on this), I realised that my voice was important too. It may not have carried as much wisdom and knowledge (yet) as my supervisors but the last thing they wanted was a parrot who regurgitated their ideas and was a yes (wo)man.

3. Don’t stop learning. This is one that I had no other choice but to do. I had no idea of how testing was conducted for HIV diagnosis. My understanding of it was elementary, and definitely not on the level of someone who wished to work in that field. I can’t tell you how many journals I’ve downloaded in recent months. How many terms I’ve gotten acquainted with, and how many more terms I still haven’t gotten acquainted with. Being aware of how much you still have to learn is important BUT unless you take action, you’re going to stay in the same place.

4. Be flexible and laugh… A LOT! In this journey of being a student, ESPECIALLY a more mature one at that, things will go wrong. Balancing being a great partner, daughter, employee, student, sister and aunt is tough work. I’ve dropped the ball countless times, and guess what you’re not immune to ball dropping. This isn’t a negative prophesy I swear! The reality of life as a student, especially in research is that you’ll drop the ball somewhere. Your supervisors will drop the ball somewhere. The Gantt chart mapping the expected timeline of various tasks will become something that mocks you, reminding you of how far behind you actually are. Sometimes I feel as though mine laughs at me every time I look at it. 🤔 Experiments will fail, your controls will invalidate specimen results and leave you in tears, you’ll save over recent versions of your thesis but you know what in the end it’ll all work out.

5. Don’t sell yourself short. When my supervisors told me that they’d be paying for my studies, I felt very much like what the prophet Isaiah writes in Isaiah 41:14, I am but a worm, how do I even deserve this. It sounds extreme right? But isn’t that the trajectory our mind follows when we believe very little of ourselves? This point is very tightly tied to point 1, believe in your own sauce. Believe that you have something to offer, believe that you’re there for a reason. This can sometimes be a tough one to remember as your progression begins to grant you access to rooms more advanced and intelligent. HOWEVER, if at the core of you, you’ve built your self-esteem and value to be unattached to anyone or anything else, it may be difficult to remember but it won’t be impossible. You think Beyoncé cares about the people who don’t believe in her talent? You shouldn’t either. Show up, set the place on fire (with your talent, not literal fire), and then let your work speak for itself. Accept that you aren’t like anyone else, and that is your greatest gift. Stay in your lane and excel in your lane!

BONUS TIP: Get comfortable with your work being critiqued. This is the hardest one for me, and the one that the Lord continues to humble me through. The first iteration of my research protocol was horrible. The more that precious document bounced between my supervisors and I, the better it got. When I submitted it, I couldn’t believe how far it had come from that very sad first version. To get to the masterpiece that my protocol is, was a labor of love. I remember the first email where my supervisor had removed information that I had become personally attached to. I had to swallow my ego, cry at home…sometimes at work, to come to terms that the prerequisite for life in research is being comfortable with sometimes having your work critiqued. Sometimes your ideas will shine bright like a diamond, and other times those more experienced than you will offer a different angle that you perhaps hadn’t thought of. There is a time to defend your ideas, and there is a time to realise that maybe your idea isn’t as great as you thought it was.

P.s. Try keeping yourself in as much of a positive circle as you can. If I had married anyone else, I may truly have ended up setting things on fire… literally! 😂

Let’s Stay Together: 5 Tips on Loving the One You’re With

A couple of years ago while living in the UK, I was in a relationship with a sweet BUT just not right for me, man. He would say yes to everything I wanted, and I wanted to wear the pants. After a while it got tiring being the one who called the shots, what I wanted was a partner who was my equal. DISCLAIMER: We were both young and terribly emotionally immature, I had a very warped expectation of what a relationship should look like. Eventually that relationship ended and I carried on with my life very happily, perhaps too happily as a single woman for my mom’s liking. So accustomed to singleness did I become that I had already planned how I’d have children on my own, very much like J.Lo in ‘The Back-Up Plan’.

Image result for the back up plan

I’d been single for 5 years when my paths crossed with the boy, (insert drool emoji here!) In their post engagement interview, Prince Harry said that he knew Meghan was the one due to the fact that he fell in love with her so quickly. While the cynics may roll their eyes at that, because it happened to me when I started speaking to the boy, I can honestly say that it’s true when people say you just know when you’ve met the person you intend to spend forever with. A lady that I follow on Twitter posted on how she viewed her marriage as a contract (in some aspects all marriages are I suppose.) She also stated that she did not marry her husband for love and that regardless of who her husband ended up being, she would have learnt to love him. I’m 50/50 with that comment, largely due to the fact that no matter how many times I told myself that I should try to make it work with my ex, I just couldn’t convince myself to love him truly, deeply and unconditionally.

Love, true unconditional love I should say, is a magic formula that shows such as ‘Married at First Sight’ (MAFS) have been unable to replicate. In fact, I think MAFS is the perfect example of what it looks like when a relationship is void of love and chemistry. Relationships like those while very exciting in the beginning soon hit a wall due to the lack of affinity that the people involved have for each other. I don’t believe that loving someone guarantees a relationship will work, you’ve gotta put in the grunt work and be as kind, compassionate, caring and loving as you want your partner to be. The 80/20 rule is absolute trash to live by on a daily basis as it means that one partner will always be picking up the slack. Yes, there are moments when we lean a little bit more on our partner BUT that should not be the norm. Not only can that be exhausting for the partner who constantly fills the 80% role, but it is also unhealthy and is not sustainable. In November it’ll be 2 years with the boy although it does feel like we’ve been together forever, and I can’t imagine being with anyone else. The secret to us still being together, (and in the future staying married) isn’t in occasionally wearing matching t-shirts, but in the tips listed below!

  • Be as honest as possible and don’t mince your words. The boy and I are never nasty to each other, in fact we’re still a touch awkward when it comes to calling out the other person on jerky/stressed/silly/etc. behaviour. Truth delivered to better and encourage your partner to grow is different to truth delivered to cut and belittle. To illustrate this, I have a little story, which I am hoping S will not mind that I have shared. The last six months have been incredibly stressful for me, personal issues coupled with not having a car, and the ridiculous amount of money being spent on transport, turned me into a bit of a grump. Add to that having not been able to train for a just under two months and you have the perfect recipe for one short-tempered, unhappy and borderline unpleasant girlfriend. One evening I was telling S how upset I was and imagine my surprise when he told me that lately all I’d been doing was talking about all the things that were going wrong in my life and not really focussing on any steps that I could take to change what is in my hand to influence. If the boy thought that would make me feel better, he was dead wrong! It upset me further and if I was the cussing kind, the boy would’ve gotten it. Once I had cooled down and looked at things with a clarity of mind, I realised that the boy was right. I was looking at all the things that were going wrong and dumping it all on him, which meant that our conversations where always tinged with the stress coloured brush that I felt was following me everywhere. The next day I told the boy of the things that I could control and what I’d be doing differently. Instantly the sun shone again on our relationship and I learnt the valuable art of listening to your partner even when those words of honesty seem too brutally honest.
  • Your partner is not your therapist. I veer on the side of caution with this point, and sometimes under-communicate because I never want to overwhelm the boy with the stress that could potentially come from whatever I am dealing with. I am grateful that I have a partner who is so good at reading when I am not okay. I struggle with admitting that I am not okay and I am working hard at reeling myself back in, and being at peace with myself. It is important to not get complacent and stop studying yourself. The more at peace you are with yourself, the more at peace you will be with other people. Don’t neglect the inner work that you should be doing to be whole/ok on your own.
  • Love yourself first. This is probably the most important one and one that I believe is often overlooked. Thankfully with things such as the body positivity movement, we’re all learning to be kinder to ourselves and not looking for completion or filling of whatever hole we’re dealing with, elsewhere. I’ve had countless conversations with the boy on health challenges I want to do, hairstyles I want to try, skincare products I want to try etc. Each time he is always incredibly supportive and tells me that I don’t need to change anything (aww). To which I’m sure I’ve replied more than once, ‘I know, but I want to.’ I think it’s important to be happy with who you are as a person, learn to cultivate happiness from within and as much as possible, refrain from treating your partner as a clown who is only there to make/keep you happy. Happiness is an inside job!
  • Listen, listen and listen again! This is the hardest especially when you’ve already decided (in your head), what your partner meant when he said whatever silly thing that men are very prone to saying. I try to remind myself that listening to understand and not listening to respond, pays much more dividends into our relationship piggy bank. I don’t have much else to add to this tip because I’m still learning haha!
  • Choose your partner on a daily basis. A couple of months (or maybe earlier in our relationship), S and I spoke about marriage, kids, a farm where I’d be able to keep pet pigs and neither of us flinched at the thought of forever with one person. I think there’s a real magic in having found the person that I am so sure of. There isn’t anything that could make me run…now I’m not talking about being silly and ignoring red flags because trust me if any toxic traits were exhibited in our relationship, I would RUN FOR THE HILLS. There aren’t any red flags, and while I look forward to calling him my husband and baby daddy in the future, I also know that until we cross that threshold, I am 110% committed to this man. Commitment is a word forgotten in today’s ‘try before you buy’, generation. I have zero interest in trying anyone else and feel rather pleased with myself for having been found by the person who I will be entertaining (for countless years) with very bad impressions of him and Southern American accents. It doesn’t get any better than that!

If you have any winning relationship tips, share in the comments!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: how to survive the holiday season

I have two more weeks of work left before I go on leave. To say I’m tired is an understatement. My poor boyfriend has heard me complain about being too tired to do EVERYTHANG: working, training, breathing, you name it! Life is just A LOT right now and this girl needs a holiday. The festive season is one where we can very quickly get caught up in activity and miss out on what should essentially be a good time to recharge the soul and body for the year ahead. How does one survive the holiday season? Is it possible to partake in the festivities and still come out standing on the other side? I think so! Here are my top tips  on surviving the festive season and holding on to as much of your sanity as possible.

  1. Take 5 minutes out of your day to write down what you’re grateful for. This one was suggested to me by the love of my life. After my sister passed away, it was hard to think of anything that I was grateful for and life was more painful than I could bear. I was dreading the first Christmas without her and that’s when the boy told me to think of one thing that I was grateful for.  It could be as grand or as small as I wanted it to be. The idea is that from that one thing, a type of snowball effect is created and you’re able to think of other things that you’re grateful for. It’s like Thanksgiving at Christmas. Eventually you’re so busy thinking about all the things that are right in your life that it lifts your mood up and opens you up to the fact that while life may not be perfect, it isn’t so bad. 


However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.’

Stephen Hawking

2. Get some exercise in. It’s easy to want to spend ALL of your free time sitting on the couch eating as much chocolate as humanly possible and while I won’t deny that I won’t be doing that, I will be trying to maintain as much of a healthy balance as possible. Exercise gets the blood flowing releasing endorphins also known as the happy hormone to leave you with better clarity of mind and if you’ve really pushed as hard as you could in your workout, you’ll need to fuel up by eating again right? 😉

3. Meditate. I started meditating last year as a means to manage my thoughts and stress. I felt on the edge ALL the time and if you find yourself laden with a lot of responsibility over the festive period, then I’m sure you know all about being on the edge. Meditating has taught me that it isn’t about changing the way I think but more so about accepting certain emotions as they come. It’s about acknowledging what you’re feeling, learning what you can from that emotion and then you move on. You learn to not dwell on circumstance and realise that your feelings while valid, are not important dictators of what mood you should be in. Over time you’ll find that you’re able to process feelings without them derailing you. The biggest thing I’ve learnt through mediating is to be kinder to myself and from this abundance, being able to lavish kindness unto others. So often we get the balance wrong and berate ourselves yet somehow find it within us to uplift others. It’s time to turn that that habit on its head; lavish all the love you can on yourself [self-care] and from learning how to love and support yourself unconditionally, do the same unto others.

4. Remember the reason for the season. I’m like the Grinch…sometimes. I hadn’t realised how much I didn’t like Christmas until my boyfriend pointed it out. I suppose it’s one of those things that unfortunately happens as you get older and go through trying circumstance in life. This past year falling in love with my boyfriend and that love being a conduit to rediscovering Christ again, I’m genuinely excited for Christmas this year… ok maybe excited is a bit extreme 😂 As a Christian, I know that there is much debate on the date that Christ was born, the date bears zero significance to me. The thing that is significant is this great act of love & kindness from an Almighty God to give everything up for a sinner like me. This is what will be at the forefront of my thoughts. I can’t promise that I won’t be that mom who will tell her kids that Santa doesn’t exist, sorry boyfriend 🙈

5. Have FUN! Yes, it’s bound to get stressful and crazy at some point but relish this moment that you’re alive here on earth. My late sister celebrated every single day that she was alive because she’d say ‘you never know what tomorrow will bring.’

BONUS TIP:If you want to avoid being unhappy, make sure you’re spending Christmas/this festive period, with the people you love and can tolerate without ripping their heads off 😉 what are your tips for surviving the festive season?