I got to know Victoria through LinkedIn. I was greatly impressed by her work in investigating the effect of climate change and exploitation pressure on the biological aspects of fish. Here is our interview about her STEM journey:
Hi Victoria, you are welcome to this episode of Words That Count. Thank you for accepting to be with us today
Hi Winnie, I am glad to accept your invitation. If my story can inspire someone, I am happy to share it with you. Thanks for considering me.
Kindly introduce yourself, please
My name is Victoria Ndinelago Erasmus from Namibia. I currently serve as Operations Manager at Fisheries Observer Agency. I also do marine research.
Please tell us a little bit about your childhood; how did you end up in fisheries?
I was born on the 20th of February 1986 in Oshigambo village, in the northern part of Namibia. Growing up I was a very loud child, I sang and told stories. At school, I led groups, projects, and other events. We had very few textbooks, sat on logs, and were taught under trees and makeshift structures. We did exceptionally well, despite these conditions. After school, I looked after cattle, which was a bit hard for me, but given other house chores, I settled for that. I would climb up the tree and watch the cattle from the top. My passion then was about animals and how they lived. I would fetch bird eggs from their nests and bring them home, but the eggs never hatched, haha.
After grade 7, I moved to another school where I worked hard. By then my older sister was in a hostel in a secondary school. She spoke highly of hostel life which motivated me further. The thought of sleeping in an upper bed (bunk beds) served as a motivation to study hard. I am grateful for that source of motivation.
I completed grade 12 at Gabriel Taapopi Secondary School. The only people in my family who were working by then were teachers. So, my family thought it was only natural for me to go to college and study education. But I knew that I was different, I wanted to be more. I wanted to challenge this tradition. So, I didn’t pay the last semester of my grade 12, instead, I used that money to secretly pay for the application fee to the University of Namibia. I scored very good points but I performed poorly in English. I was admitted to study law at the University of Namibia with a bursary from NAMDEB. Because of my poor grade (E) in English, the Law department could not register me. I then registered for what we called “pure science”.
After completing my studies at the University of Namibia with a Bachelor of Science degree, I couldn’t get a job in the science field. Although I was not a trained teacher, I took up employment as a school teacher in a village deep in a remote area. Because I enjoyed teaching, that same year I enrolled for a Post Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) on a part-time basis. I taught for 2 and a half years and graduated with a PGDE in 2011. My salary was decent, and I enjoyed teaching but still, I was curious about what else I was capable of achieving.
Although education is and will always remain close to my heart, I decided to quit my job as a teacher. I joined the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources as a Research Technician, where my monthly salary was lower than what I was earning as a teacher.
So I had a teaching qualification and could earn a decent salary more than what I was getting in my new job! I was laughed at; my siblings and friends laughed at my “stupid” decision. They did not understand my passion. In 2013 I enrolled for a master’s degree in Marine Biology which I completed in two years. At work, I applied myself fully, which led me to win the best research presenter for three consecutive years (2013, 2014, and 2015). I look at the trophies in my office which are physical representations of my passion.
In 2015, I got promoted to a Fisheries Biologist position and in 2016 I enrolled as a Ph.D. student at Rhodes University, South Africa. As a Ph.D. student, I had many awesome opportunities, I presented at various conferences, and I traveled to several countries including Kenya, Senegal, Mozambique, Sweden, and Norway. I submitted my Ph.D. thesis for examination early this year. Also, early this year, I got a wonderful position as an Operations Manager at the Fisheries Observer Agency.
What have you found most challenging along this journey called life?
Growing up, I had many challenges including limited resources. But I am grateful for my past, and the experiences I had. My tough past was very instrumental in what I have achieved, what I have become, and what I am yet to achieve. I have always set the bar real high for myself.
During my time as a fisheries research technician, we were required to go to the sea on research cruises. There was an infamous fishing vessel (FV Blue Sea I). The days spent on FV Blue Sea were like a “testing period”. After a trip on Blue Sea, you would know whether you will stay in or leave research. These were tough days. I was young and scared. I prayed for strength and perseverance. Once I made it to the end of the trip, I knew nothing could break me. Some colleagues decided to leave research while on this vessel. Fishermen say that the sea is not for everyone. But I differ, the sea is for those determined, period!
What is your biggest source of inspiration?
My mom Maria Uushona has always been a firm parent who instilled discipline in me and all my siblings. You don’t go against her, even when I am hundreds of kilometers away from home, her voice is always with me. She always said, “ino ka sithandje nande ohoni” (don’t bring shame home). However, I have not reached where I want to be yet. I still have a lot that I want to accomplish. The road was and still is not smooth, there are many challenges.
Some of the challenges I faced were lack of funds, I struggled financially when I was at Unam, but I made ends meet with what I had. Also, I had no career guidance, there were times I felt lost, I was not certain of what to study but in the end, I followed my passion. I am grateful for my life experiences (both the bad and the good) and the many blessings in my life.
Please share with us some of your achievements
Securing a job as an Operations Manager is a huge achievement to me. I pride myself in the Ph.D., I don’t have the degree yet, but the fact that I have completed and submitted is a big achievement. The seven articles that I have published in peer-reviewed journals also make me very proud. I am proud to be able to join international conversations through my research.
Here are some of my peer-reviewed articles:
1. Iitembu, J. A., Erasmus, V. N., Uanivi, U., Nakwaya, D., Horaeb, R. R., Nangolo, E., Nashima, FP., Iita, T. K., Mwandemele, O. 2021. The hits and misses of Namibia’s attempt to implement the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (EAF) Management. Ecosystem Health and Sustainability. 7 (1). https://doi.org/10.1080/20964129.2021.1920340
2. Erasmus V.N., Kadhila T., Gabriel N.N., Thyberg K.L., Ilungu S., Machado T. 2020. Assessment and quantification of Namibian seafood waste production. Ocean and Coastal Management. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2020.105402
3. Gabriel N.N, Erasmus V.N., Namwoonde A. 2020. Effects of different fish sizes, temperatures, and concentration levels of sodium bicarbonate on anaesthesia in Mozambique tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus). Aquaculture. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aquaculture.2020.735716
4. Erasmus V.N. and Iitembu J.A. 2019. Characterising the trophic relationships between cuttlefishes, myctophids, and round herring in the Northern Benguela. Welwitschia International Journal of Agricultural Sciences. 1: 59–67.
5. Erasmus V.N., Iitembu J.A., Hamutenya S., and Gamatham J.C. 2019. Evidence of possible influences of methylmercury concentration on condition factor and maturation of Cape monkfish (Lophius vomerinus). Marine Pollution Bulletin. 146, 33-38. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2019.05.060
6. Erasmus V.N., Hamutenya S., Iitembu J.A and Gamatham J.C. 2018. Mercury concentrations in muscles and liver tissues of Cape monkfish (Lophius vomerinus) from the Northern Benguela. Namibia. Marine Pollution Bulletin 135, 1101–1106. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2018.08.037
7. Jansen T., Kainge P, Singh L, Wilhelm M,… and Erasmus, V.N. 2015. Spawning Patterns of Shallow-Water Hake (M. capensis) and Deep-Water hake (M. paradoxus) in the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem Shown by Gonadosomatic Index. Fisheries Research. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.fishres.2015.07.009
What do you enjoy doing outside work?
In my spare time, I educate the public on marine education (through the Centre for Marine Environmental Education & Sustainability), and I also write storybooks for children.
What is your favourite quote?
“Your only limitation is the one you set up in your own mind!” ~ Napoleon Hill
How would you encourage a young girl in STEM?
You are capable of more than you can imagine. You need to set the bar real high for yourself. Once you know what you want, there is no secret to reaching your goals, just start right away. To get to where you want to be, you need to work hard, stay determined, focus on your goals but above all, remain disciplined.
Thank you, Victoria, and congratulations upon reaching where you are at in your journey. We wish you more prosperity. I also acknowledge your flexibility with me – it’s not taken for granted. Thank you very much.