Early Exposure To Opportunities In Astronomy – Sinenhlanhla Precious Sikhosana


PhD Graduation

Sinenhlanhla and I are part of the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) Alumni family but I personally got to know her through LinkedIn after her graduation story was posted by the university. Here is our interview about her STEM journey:

Hello Sinenhlanhla, thank you for joining us today
Hello Winnie, I am happy to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

Kindly tell us your full name please
My name is Sinenhlanhla Precious Sikhosana

What do you do currently?
I’m currently South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO)’s postdoctoral research fellow based at the University of KwaZulu Natal.

SARAO is a national facility of the National Research Fund (NRF) and incorporates radio astronomy instruments and programs such as MeerKAT and KAT-7 telescopes in the Karoo, the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO) in Gauteng, the African Very Long Baseline Interferometry (AVN) program in nine African countries as well as the associated human capital development and commercialisation endeavours. The Square Kilometre Project in South Africa (SKA SA) is managed by SARAO and is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope [1].

Wow! What you do sounds so fancy and complicated at the same time, haha! This is not an ordinary career; how did you end up here?
I was born and raised in a village called eXambu in the Southcoast of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. I then moved to Durban to pursue my high school studies. It was only in my matric year that I was exposed to opportunities of studying Astronomy at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. When I began this journey (in 2011), the university did not have an Astronomy major, so I had to double major in applied mathematics and pure physics. I didn’t mind at all because these were my favourite subjects in high school. It was only in my postgrad (from Bsc Honours) that I embarked on research projects in astrophysics and cosmology. Due to financial instabilities, towards the end of my MSc, I decided to seek employment. However, after one year of working, I realised that academia, especially research, is my first love. Fortunately, I received a scholarship, and I was able to study for my PhD full-time. As the saying goes, ‘the rest was history’.

Wonder Woman in Science

What has been your biggest challenge alongthis journey?
I think the most challenging, especially in the academic sphere, has to be systematic barriers. The academic journey (especially postgrad) had been designed for people who have financial stability. I’ve seen many people with brilliant minds forced to choose other paths due to family financial needs. I’ve been very fortunate to have been funded throughout my academic journey, hence why I’ve been able to come this far. This is also a huge challenge because even though many have seen these barriers, we often don’t have the power to change anything and just suffocate within our spaces.

What is your constant source of inspiration?
What inspires me are the human encounters and how resilient the human spirit can be when it is truly resolved. I’ve seen this through people in academia and even my own family, my mother being at the forefront. My mother has continuously supported me throughout the difficulties, even when she could’ve hinted that I pursue a different direction.

Please tell us about your prestigious achievements
During my undergraduate studies(2011-2013): I received a scholarship for being amongst the top 10 African female achievers in my college for three consecutive years. I also received the SKA SA undergraduate scholarship.

2014: I received the hope scholarship, which afforded me a research visit to Princeton University for a month.

2017: UKZN’s Wonder Women in Science

2018: the Department of Science &Technology TATA African Women in Science Doctoral Scholarship

2019: the Lo’real-UNESCO For Women In Science research grant.

2019: I was amongst the top 20 young scientists selected to represent South Africa at the 69th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany.

At the 69th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany

What do you enjoy doing outside work?
Spending time with family and loved ones, reading (especially African literature), educational outreach activities, and participating in activities (committees/societies) that seek to transform the science sphere.

What is your favourite quote?
There is freedom waiting for you, On the breezes of the sky, And you ask, “What if I fall?” Oh, but my darling, What if you fly?” ~ Erin Hanson

What is your piece of advice for a young girl in STEM?
Even if there are a thousand voices in your head telling you it can’t be done; if you do it, it can be done.

Astrophysics research centre’s outreach event

Thank you very much, Sinenhlanhla! It is my first time to personally know an African woman in Astronomy. Thank you for making us believe that this too is possible for us.

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