Interning in Johannesburg
Pooja Jethani’s internship at Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience concentrated on bioinformatics research. She captured data from questionnaires collected in rural and urban areas onto an online database and checking online and paper versions for accuracy. Pooja also worked to study the effects of age, education and socioeconomic status on substance use of approximately 1000 men from the urban township of Soweto. To do this, she created regression models using a statistical programming tool called R. Through WITS, she had the opportunity to visit the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, an urban township in Johannesburg. There, she learned about one of Africa’s longest-running and largest longitudinal studies involving the study of child health and development called Birth to Twenty. Pooja explored Soweto briefly and visited various historical sites, such as Nelson Mandela’s house and the Freedom Charter Engraving. Her co-workers were exceptionally kind and welcoming. “I never felt like an ‘outsider’ at work,” she points out. “I could freely make jokes and ask for guidance.”
Pooja especially connected with her supervisor, Professor Michele Ramsay. “She made sure that I achieved what I had hoped for through my internship. Prof. Ramsay even connected me with Dr. Sue Williams at the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital so that I could shadow her for a day at her glaucoma clinic.”
GOING INTO THIS INTERNSHIP, I KNEW I WANTED TO EXPERIENCE SOMETHING NEW. I WANTED TO ADAPT TO AN UNFAMILIAR ENVIRONMENT, CULTURE AND LANGUAGE; STUDY SOMETHING NEW; AND LEARN MORE ABOUT MYSELF.
“The most important thing I learned was that in order to make things happen,” she shares, “I will often have to exit my comfort zone.” Pooja looks forward to staying in touch with Professor Ramsay and her lab and hopes to visit South Africa again in the near future.