National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

Mia aspires to work towards obtaining a master’s degree to fulfill her dream of becoming a pediatrician.

Mia Coetzee is studying medicine at the University of the Free State (UFS). She matriculated at Sentraal High School in Bloemfontein in the Free State.


“Be aware of your circumstances, but do not let them define you”.


Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you? What inspires you?

I am a daughter, a sister, a grandchild, a friend, and a Christian. I mention all these things before I say my name, as they are fundamental to the person I am today and the person I hope to be in the future. I am Mia Coetzee. I am grounded in values such as honesty, loyalty, compassion, responsibility and respect. I strive to hold on to such values every day and although I may falter one day, I will get up the next and try again. I am not one to give up easily and not one to stay silent when someone is being mistreated. I am a hard worker and try to do my best in everything I do. I was raised not to be defeated by challenges that life throws at me, but to face them head on. I follow this as a rule in my life. I am also aware of my faults, such as stubbornness and being hot headed at times. I acknowledge them and try to improve them. Those in my life inspire me every day. My mother’s love, my father’s hard work, my sister’s ability to stay true to herself, my grandma’ s youth even in old age, my friends’ acceptance and courage and my faith are all things that inspire me to do better. To be more loving, caring, courageous, hardworking and friendly. Matthews 20:26 reads, “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant.” This inspires me to put others before myself.

Why did you choose the course you are studying?

“What are you going to study?” This question was quite tormenting for most of grade 10 and 11. As the deadline for university applications neared, I felt stress creeping in even more. I was waiting for that moment you see on movie screens. That scene where a boy or a girl magically comes to a conclusion about their life and where it is headed, almost as if knowledge just rained down on them from nowhere, giving them clarification. I was hoping and praying for that moment. I was close to giving up, but then I was asked a question and luckily, I said yes. My Mother asked me if I wanted to go with her to work. It was during December holidays, and I thought,  well I had nothing better to do. She works as a medical officer in [Kangaroo Mother Care] KMC at Pelenomi Hospital. She did her morning rounds and examined a few babies. When one of the babies cried, she knew exactly what to do and it was almost like magic. I was mesmerised by the experience and found myself imagining having the same job. Right then and there my movie moment came. l could finally answer the question that caused so much uncertainty. I wanted to study medicine!

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

I would like to have an extravagant answer. I would like to say winning a Nobel Prize or being close to an amazing discovery. But my answer is much simpler, I aspire to work towards obtaining a master’s degree in order to fulfill my dream of becoming a pediatrician. Hopefully in 10 years’ time I would have made a couple of mistakes, as mistakes are how you learn. I hope I would have grown as a person. I believe I will still be grounded in the values I am today, but I hope my knowledge about the world and its inhabitants would have expanded. I hope I would have tackled some of my weaknesses and overcome some of my fears. If not so, I hope I would have accepted the things I can’ t change. I hope I would have done good and continued to do so. I hope I would have adopted a lifestyle which allows me to help someone every day. Hopefully by then I am married and starting to build a family of my own. I hope I am still happy and enjoying life despite its shortcomings. AII this I say, knowing it is a ’cliché’, but also knowing it is the truth.

Why do you enjoy science and maths?

During my high school days, language was not always my strong point. Words did not always come easy. Poems never seemed to make sense. The world of metaphors, similes and personification was one I had to work hard towards  understanding, but numbers always seemed to fall into place. Maths and science seemed to be second nature. They fit me like a glove. It came naturally. It is such a good feeling when you are faced with a problem that initially looks impossible, but after contemplating possible solutions, methods and equations, you get clarification. It feels like everything works in perfect harmony and I can’t help but smile.

Where did you complete your schooling? Tell us a bit about this school and your teachers.

I matriculated at Sentraal High School in Bloemfontein. This school offers a variety of culture and sport activities and teachers who do not disappoint. As a former student of Sentraal High School, my opinion might be biased, but rightfully so. I would not trade my years in this school for anything. You truly feel that the teachers are rooting for your success. They prepare you in all aspects for your matric exams and as the time for that final exam nears, you feel prepared and approach it with certainty. I never felt ashamed to ask for help if I needed it. My teachers were amazing. There is no better way to state it. They were fundamental to my development as a student. It always warmed my heart to see the effort put in by my teachers, especially in science and maths, and seeing their enthusiasm for their subjects. It is one skill to stand in front of a class and read through the work, but another one entirely to help students understand the work. All my teachers have mastered the latter. My school did not just offer a high quality of education, but also a school spirit that cannot be compared to any other.

Why do you think some people have problems doing well in maths and science?

I have heard a lot of my friends say that their brains just aren’ t wired that way and that they just do not understand science or math. This is true to some extent, but I do think some people struggle due to lack of effort. This is harsh to say, but our minds are an extraordinary thing and with the right method of teaching, the right mindset and determination a person can achieve a lot, even if their brain is not initially wired that way. I think people think that they will just understand maths and science overnight. This mindset could not be farther from the truth. It takes repetition and hard work. Not everyone understands maths and science quickly, in fact I think it is a small portion of students that do. Another mindset I think that could lead to bad marks is, “I have a bad teacher, so I don’ t do good.” Yes, a teacher plays a big role in helping a student understand the work, but there is also only so much they can do. Students must do their homework; ask for help if it is needed and they must sit at their workspace and put in the necessary work.

What advice do you have for school learners who struggle with these subjects?

Hard work leads to success. Do your homework and put in the necessary time. Do not be ashamed to ask your teachers or parents for help. In my experience, they are eager to help you, as they are rooting for your success as well. Set small goals first, do not expect to get 100% overnight. If you usually get 60%, for your next test set a goal of 70% and go on increasing your goal with every test until you have reached marks with which you are satisfied. If you see that your method of studying is not working, it is best to find a new one. Keep going, don’t be stagnant and do not be content with low results. Change your mind set by realising that you have the ability to do well even if you have to put in more work than other students. And once again, ask for help if you need it. Remember, natural talent is not always what wins you the race, but exercising can. Thus, repetition is key.

Any tips for learners in Grades 11 and 12?

Try and maintain a balanced after school programme. Participate in culture and sport activities but make time for homework and studying. Do not just focus on your academics, but also do not only focus on after school activities. Find a balance that works for you, preferably at the beginning of grade 11, and stick to it. I know as students you get told this a lot but trust me when the final exams come, you are going to be thankful. Do not just memorise (cram). If you study, make sure you study so that you can remember the work in six months’ time. Also learn how to prioritise. This skill will help you with future decisions.

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

Do research about the marks you need to get for certain subjects and make sure your grade 11 final marks and grade 12 marks fit those standards. Send in your applications sooner rather than later. Try and write your NBTs [National Benchmark Test] early. Get it done and dusted while you are not writing exams. Try and do good in them as well.

Understanding excellence – what makes an achiever?

One famous saying that always bothered me was, “A jack of all trades is a master of none.” This always made me uneasy, as at school, I always tried to do as much as I could. I tried to do sport and culture, while also achieving in academics. This quote however defined an achiever or “master” as a person who only focuses on one thing. I have recently learned that I did not know the full story. The full quote is, “A jack of all trades is a master of none, but often times better than a master of one.” I have since adapted my definition of an achiever. Yes, someone that excels in one subject is an achiever. Yes, someone who trains only in one sport and receives a gold metal is an achiever. But someone who is versatile is also an achiever. Being able to juggle many things on one’s plate, while still maintaining a balanced lifestyle, is an achievement. Thus, one who can do such things is an achiever. Someone who can withstand the trials and tribulations life throws at them, is an achiever. Someone who made lemonade when life gave them lemons, is an achiever.

A message to South African youth in general?

Stay strong in the midst of hardship. At times there is little that can be done for your situation, but you can control how you think and act despite your situation. “Be aware of your circumstances but do not let them define you”. Do not feel sorry for yourself. Pick yourself up off the ground and move forward. Be vigilant and stand firm in your morals. Treat others like you would want to be treated. This message may be short, but it carries truth and hopefully it finds a home in the thoughts of whomever reads it.

If you had ONE opportunity to speak directly to a very influential person, who would you choose and what would you say to them?

Dr Lucienne Ide [MD, PhD, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Rimidi, a company that develops technologies and practices to improve healthcare]. I want to ask her how she made that transition from seeing a problem to actually doing something about it. I would very much like to know her thought process. I have watched a few interviews where she describes her journey from physician to founder, but I think it would be an experience to remember to hear her tell it in person and being able to ask follow-up questions as they come to mind.

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