Kabelo awarded Schlumberg Foundation Scholarship

The Schlumberger Foundation has, despite the global COVID-19 pandemic, continued its Faculty for the Future fellowship awards program for women from developing and emerging economies to pursue post-graduate studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines at leading research institutes around the world. For the academic year 2021–2022, fellowships have been awarded to 31 new recipients and 55 awards from previous years have been renewed, demonstrating the Foundation’s dedication to supporting talented women from countries underrepresented in STEM research

The Schlumberger Foundation is a nonprofit organisation that supports science and technology education. Recognising the link between science, technology, and socio-economic development, as well as the key role of education in realising individual potential, the Schlumberger Foundation flagship program is Faculty for the Future.

In the conversation below, Gofaone Motswagole from CPA chat with the awardee, being Tshephang Kabelo, who is currently at the Botswana Vaccine Institute (BVI), enhancing the laboratory experience as she waits to start her PhD journey. Ms Kabelo has been awarded the Schlumberger Faculty for the Future Fellowship.

Q. Tell me about yourself

A. My name is Tshephang Iris Kabelo, a 25-year-old Motswana woman from Molepolole. I come from a family of 5. I am a hardworking person with good teamwork and social skills. My mother is my greatest cheerleader. I joined BIUST in 2015 for my undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences and Biotechnology. Upon completion of my degree, I enrolled for a master’s degree still with BIUST. I recently submitted my thesis for the completion of my master’s degree. My stay in BIUST has helped me establish myself as a woman in STEM.

Q. What is your mission statement?

A. Ad Astra per Aspera (through hardships to the stars), it always reminds me that I will be able to beat the challenges of life, both personal and career-wise to achieve my dreams.

Q. In your view, what is the progress of women participation in driving change in STEM?

A. Women hold solid ground in driving change in STEM, the few women who participate in STEM contribute so much; from doctors to engineers, women are doing truly inspirational work. I believe as women we should inspire and encourage young girls to channel their energy towards their passions.

Q. Tell me about your proudest achievement?

A. My proudest achievement so far is being awarded the Schlumberger Faculty for the Future Fellowship. I know how extremely competitive this award is. Being able to compete at international levels and getting the award makes me proud as a researcher. The award is given to women in STEM who have the vision to become future leaders and experts in their STEM careers.

Q. Why did you choose your major research project?

A. I have always been interested in life science, and that’s where my passion was driven. As a science-oriented researcher, I aim to contribute to foot and mouth disease in Botswana. For this research project, I worked on identifying the best cell culture system for the virus isolation procedure for foot and mouth disease diagnosis. My research project was titled “Development of a serotyping multiplex RT-qPCR assay for the detection of SAT serotypes of foot and mouth disease virus”. The output of this research will allow for simultaneous detection and identification of foot and mouth disease virus type. So, the goal of this research is to shorten the diagnosis time for the disease, hence saving money. This work is appropriate for Botswana because as a country that participates in the beef trade, it is very important to avoid trade restrictions in international markets.

Q. Give examples of ideas you’ve had or implemented?

A. The ideas I have implemented have been centered on FMDV studies. These include assessing cell culture systems and developing a multiplex of RT-PCR assay for accurate FMD diagnosis. I volunteered as a STEM tutor and mentor for a club called BESA in BIUST. Our mandate was to tutor and mentor Lotsane Senior school students with the hope of changing their mindsets towards STEM subjects. I am also the Co-founder and the project manager for, ‘SHE HEADS INNOVATIVE FRAMEWORKS IN TECHNOLOGY’ (SHIFT). My motive is to push more women in joining STEM careers, and I am eager to network and meet other women who have the same passion as I do.

Q. What techniques and tools do you use to keep yourself organized?

A. I plan my week in advance. Journaling helps me prioritise the work that needs to be done. I list the tasks that need to be along the week in the priority they need to be done.

Q. What are your lifelong dreams?

A. I want to be a household name in the field of FMDV studies with as many as possible publications from world-class research projects. At some point in my career, I want to venture into

academia as a faculty member. After completing the Schlumberger Foundation Faculty for the Future Fellowship, I intend to return to Botswana and apply what I have learnt from the host University. I hope to continue with foot and mouth research but this time not only as a researcher but a leader who will share acquired skills through teaching and training. I openly want to be one of the leading female experts who are policymakers. I believe that joining an international research team will cultivate skills, which I can use in advancing research in my country.