National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

Alienke Boot is studying BSc Microbiology

Alienke Boot is studying BSc Microbiology at the University of Pretoria. He attended high school at Hoërskool Zwartkop.

A lot of people think achievers are just naturally smart. While intelligence may have something to do with it, I think the main characteristic of students which excel is that they don’t give up. 

Tell us a bit about your school?


I matriculated from Hoërskool Zwartkop. The thing I miss most about high school is the sense of solidarity. We all shared each other’s achievements.

Why do you think some people have a problem with math and science? What would you do to solve the problem?


I think part of the problem is that they are seen as subjects for ‘smart’ kids, so if you struggle, that must mean you are not smart enough, you can’t do it and should rather take a different subject. This view should be the first to change. Having someone to re-explain concepts to you can make all the difference. It is also important to understand the relatively simple things learnt in the lower grades to avoid a trainsmash in grade 11 and 12. I think schools often give the higher grades to the ‘better’ teachers, thinking them more important, but the lower grades’ importance should not be underestimated.

Why did you enjoy science and maths?

Well, that I figured out I was able to do really well in them definitely contributed. Science is also something that explains how the world works and that is amazing. Nothing happens by accident and if some things worked differently, they wouldn’t work at all! Also, everything is related: chemistry, biology, physics, and I love it when things come full circle.

What inspires you?


People who make a difference. It isn’t always scientists, sometimes, ordinary people can have great impact simply because they were willing to go against the masses and solve a problem. I want to make a difference too – I don’t want to waste my life.

Why did you choose the course you are studying?


I am studying BSc Microbiology and I think after the Covid-19 pandemic, no-one will doubt that this is an important subject! I am especially interested in the healthcare aspect of microbes: ways to protect us against illness and also ways that they can be beneficial to our health. Although we have all kinds of antibiotics, more and more bacteria are becoming resistant and our current methods might soon become inefficient to combat infections. We also lack efficient ways to kill viruses inside their host. This is a field full of possibilities.

A message to South African youth?

Don’t let anything hold you back. We all have our own problems and yours may definitely be bigger than mine, but this is your future. Don’t allow anyone or anything to take that from you. Surround yourself with people who want the same things out of life that you do and work together. If that isn’t available, read stories about people you admire and who did the things you also want to do, this will keep you inspired during challenging times.

Any tips for learners in grades 11 and 12?


Set goals and work to reach them. I know everyone says this and you ‘don’t have time to worry about that now’ and ‘anyway, it’s too late’, but that is not true. There are few things as satisfying as reaching your goals and this will inspire you to keep going. Hard work always pays off. Also, keep a balance in your life. Take some time off when you can and make time for the people in your life. It is important that you don’t burn out. And sleep enough.

Understanding excellence – what makes an achiever?

A lot of people think achievers are just naturally smart. While intelligence may have something to do with it, I think the main characteristic of students which excel is that they don’t give up. Instead of being discouraged by a bad mark, this pushes them to study harder and practice more. And this eventually shows in their results.

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