Women in Mechanobiology – Juliet Nagawa

In the field of Mechanobiology, where the intricate interplay between mechanical forces and biological systems unfolds, Juliet is one of the pioneering forces. She is at the forefront of unraveling the mysteries of cardiac mechanics using patient-specific finite element modeling and machine learning. This involves combining her understanding of both the complexities of biology and the nuances of mechanical engineering;

Hello Juliet, it is wonderful to finally have this opportunity to host you on Words That Count
Thank you! I am happy to share my journey on your platform.

Briefly introduce yourself to our audience
My name is Juliet Nagawa from Uganda. I identify as a female in the science field, and I am currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Cape Town. My research involves understanding the stresses and strains in the heart muscle to contribute to the understanding of pregnancy-related heart failure which is essential for improving and developing new therapies tailored for a specific kind of heart failure.

Walk us through your journey of joining this field of Mechanobiology
I have always been interested in science since childhood. I did my undergraduate studies in Mathematics and Statistics, honors in Computational Finance, master’s in Mathematical Sciences, and PhD in Mechanobiology. For my PhD, I used cardiac MRI images to reconstruct 3D geometries of the heart and used these geometries to develop finite element models of cardiac mechanics in Abaqus. I also used machine learning for risk assessment.

Academically, I struggled in high school, and honestly, I am not sure why. But at the university, I was an A student, a Summa Cum Laude kind of student until my PhD. My PhD took longer than the cumulative sum of years I had taken for my three degrees at the university. It was a difficult season for me. Sometimes, I was scared, confused, doubted that I could do it, and had low self-esteem. However, I am grateful that I can now say that I overcame this and graduated with a PhD in Mechanobiology.

Congratulations on overcoming all the challenges and finally graduating like you had set out to

What can you say has been the biggest challenging moment for you while navigating Mechanobiology?
Transitioning to the field of cardiac mechanics and finite element modeling was challenging particularly because there was not much information about developing cardiac finite element models in Abaqus. It required learning physics and engineering concepts that I was not familiar with and also the use of new software platforms. This included challenges that arise when doing research. To the code/method works and then tomorrow it does not run or produce the desired outcome. Not to mention the unexpected personal issues that came up.

I must say the PhD journey was one of the most challenging seasons of my life. But, I am grateful for the gift of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who gave me purpose, comfort, peace, wisdom, family, friends, mentors … etc, and hope for eternal life. I believe Jesus is for everyone, just invite Him in. There is so much to life than a career and academics.

what motivates you to overcome when faced with challenges?
Faith in God and that He will complete the good work of doing a PhD that I had started. “Quit and then what?” I had no other alternative but to finish considering my humble background.


Any awards or prestigious moments we can celebrate with you?

Yes, I have been honoured and I will mention a few;

  • 9th World Council of Biomechanics Student Bursary Award (10-14th July 2022)

  • THREE WAY PhD Global Partnership Programme at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

  • Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD-AIMS) at UCT.

  • Masters Scholarship at AIMS South Africa with Stellenbosch University.

  • Dean’s Merit Awards in the Faculty of Science at the University of Western Cape (UWC).

  • Best student award in the Mathematics Department at UWC.

Who are you outside of work?
I enjoy hanging out with people, engaging in church activities, “food”, watching movies, and more recently, hiking with friends.

What is your favorite quote?
Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character” ~ Albert Einstein.

What is your advice for a young African girl who would like to pursue Mechanobiology?
If you are struggling and you are still breathing, there is hope that you will overcome. You might feel that your situation/s is/are the worst ever and not redeemable. Tell you what? People are struggling with much worse but are hopeful. Get to know other people’s stories. Seek help from people who are where you want to be and are willing to help you. Also, invest some of your “limited” time into helping others; it can be as small as a smile, a listening ear, or a meal. Do charity, and you will be blessed.

Thank you, Juliet, for teaching us about Mechanobiology. It is my first time to learn about this field. I am sure I am not alone! We wish you the best in your Postdoc.

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