National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

Nicola van den Berg

Nicola is from Gauteng and is currently studying BSc (Genetics) at the University of Pretoria.

“I’ve always had a maths brain. Since starting high school I have enjoyed doing mathematics on a more difficult level, doing more complicated equations and solving complex problems. I consider myself a problem solver. “ 

Tell us a bit about your school.

I went to Afrikaanse Hoër Meisieskool Pretoria. It is situated in an urban area, and approximately 1100 girls were enrolled in 2015. As the name says it’s an all-girls school with tradition, a culture of its own and outstanding education and teachers. I especially liked the school for its tradition and discipline and I am very proud to be an “old-Affie”. We weretaught to be proud of ourselves and our school, to respects others and always to be loyal and kind.

When/how did you realise you enjoyed science and mathematics more than your other school subjects?

I had excellent mathematics teachers from grade 8. Since I already had a love for equations and problems it didn’t take much to further excite myinterest in the subject and so I excelled from early on. My love for Science only started in grade 11. We had a very intelligent, passionate and energetic teacher who believed we could achieve anything. She sparked my love for the subject and from there on I started climbing the ladder of success.

Did you encounter any challenges at school that made it difficult for you to excel in maths and science?

Some of the obstacles I faced were themes within the syllabus. Being a perfectionist, I was determined to master each and every thing we did in these subjects; nothing less would do. Some of the themes were a piece of cake but others I struggled to understand and grip the concept in my mind. For example in science, after countless hours of doing extra equations, asking the teacher, going for extra classes in the mornings and afternoons I couldn’t quite understand “work” and another one was projectiles. But luckily with great determination and patience from my teacher, she managed to explain it in several different ways so I would finally grasp the idea. Determination, patience, and hard work will get you through.

What/who inspires you?

The people around me. I am amazed by people’s innovative ideas to overcome everyday problems and troubles they face. How one can stay positive and motivated in your studies, career and life. Through others and yourself you can learn a great deal and always keep your eyes and heart open for advice and inspiration.

What advice do you have for matriculants who have to apply for places at higher education institutions?

Firstly research your areas of interest fully. The more information you can gather and read about the better. If you are unsure about anything, ask somebody that you think will know. If the person cannot help you ask for advice or a referral. Otherwise use websites for gain access to email addresses, telephone numbers, help centres etc. Use this information to contact people who may be able to answer the questions you might have. Go and speak to people currently in the career path you want to pursue. Shadow them for a day if possible. Gain as much knowledge as possible before you apply for your course Work hard. The best feeling is knowing that you did your best and not regretting failing to put in all the effort you know you are capable of. If you know this is the course you truly want to pursue the effort will be worthwhile.

Why did you choose BSc (Genetics)?

In different times in my life I was introduced to genetics. This is a subject I find very interesting and a great deal of research can still be done. This field has a great number of applications in diseases such as cancer, HIV, and countless others. I am currently changing my course to double major in Biochemistry and Chemistry.

Where do you see yourself five years from now, in terms of your studies/career?

I aim to still be studying in 5 years’ time. My current plan is to complete a PhD.

Any other tips/ideas you would like to share that would be helpful to learners in Grades 11 and 12?

Keep your life as balanced as possible. Too much work will burn your energy out and too much additional activities will place stress on you and keep you from performing to your full potential.

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