Highlighting Faith February, a Scientist, PhD candidate (University of Cape Town, SA); Advancing Womxn Postgraduate Fellow, Project Kuongoza Mentor.
Meet Faith February
In 2002, Faith February obtained her Master’s degree in Physics from Stellenbosch University. She is currently studying towards a Ph.D. in Oceanography at the University of Cape Town with the thesis title: Influence of environmental parameters on aerosols in False Bay, South Africa. From 2002–2017 she worked as a Chief Scientist at the Institute for Maritime Technology in Simon’s Town, where she was a project leader on several projects and established the Infrared Thermography capability at the Institute. Faith is a registered scientist with the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP) in the field of Physical Science and also a member of the South African Institute of Physics. The shift from Physics to Oceanography was brought about by her involvement in the First European-South African Transmission Experiment where she was responsible for the data acquisition, analysis and maintenance of the aerosol equipment. With her current studies she is part of the inaugural cohort of Advancing Womxn Postgraduate Fellows in Oceanography and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Cape Town. Faith is a co-author on several research publications and presented at national and international scientific conferences. In March 2020 she was part of the organizing committee who successfully launched the first “Ocean meets Sky” Oceanography Symposium.
Tell us why you got into STEM? Did you encounter any challenge?
I loved Mathematics from an early age, but never thought that I would obtain an MSc in Physics. I started my undergraduate B.Sc degree with the idea to do teaching. The love for Physics came during the 2nd year whilst doing the practical work and fortunately I had a great professor who saw my potential and urged me on to continue with postgraduate studies.
What is the one thing you would like to change or address in STEM for young women and girls in Africa?
I would like them to know that they can pursue STEM fields and that they can be good at it.
How do you think more young women can get involved in leadership positions?
We must continue to motivate them and be the role models that they can aspire to.
Do you have role-models? If you do, can you tell us who and why you chose them?
Yes, my supervisor Dr. Katye Altieri and Prof. Mamokgethi Phakeng. Dr Altieri is still young, but she is very focused on her work and she makes sure to get things done. Prof. Phakeng is a go-getter and so full of energy. She turns every negative onslaughts for the good and she keeps on motivating wherever she goes.
How do you manage your role as a PhD Student alongside family and personal life? (Please feel free to share tips or how you navigate through managing work, life and academics)?
I started with my PhD while I was still employed as a Chief Scientist, but soon realized that it was not feasible for me, as I had 3 children under the age of 5 at that time. Fortunately, with a very supportive husband, I was in a position to quit my job, take a pay-cut and pursue my studies full-time. This move opened up possibilities for bursaries which I didn’t have as a full-time employee. Also, it brought with it some flexibility for me to be “mom’s taxi” and spending extra time with my kids. My studies became my “job”, and this helped me to focus whether at home or on campus.
Please tell us about the challenges you have faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them?
Despite the normal challenges of having to prove yourself as a Scientist everywhere and to everyone, the worst was not to be recognized in the minority groups of Women in STEM. I decided to focus on doing my work and research to the best of my abilities and not to depend on others for recognition and advancement. Hard work pays off, and if it is your own, it cannot be snatched from you.
What comes to your mind when you hear “Women Breaking Ceilings”?
There are different types of ceilings that require different skills and strategies to break, and we still need a lot of effort and hard work for women to go through the roof!
What is your advice to young girls or budding women in Science, Technology, Engineering or Innovation? And can you share practical advice/steps and tips that young women and girls can use as they accelerate in their career or academics?
Keep an open mind with your studies. Don’t try to specialize too early on. Always be on the lookout for possibilities / opportunities. Take charge of your own career. While you are young with less responsibilities, do as much as you can. Invest your time wisely. Go to seminars and presentations when it is within your reach and you can learn from it, even when it is not in your specific field.
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LinkedIn: Faith February