Thirty-five-year-old Dr Aurelia Williams has always loved learning. As a kid, school meant everything to her and she made a point of not missing a day. Her dedication to learning has seen her become a biochemist, lecturer and senior academic, and also secured her a spot on the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200, in the category of Science and Technology.
Born and raised in the town of Nigel, in the East Rand, she remembers the day that would change her life and send her on a path of scientific discovery. She was sitting in biology class when her teacher paused for a moment, with longing in his eyes, and confessed that he wished he could have studied biochemistry. Being a curious child, she wanted to know why that word, biochemistry, brought such sadness to her teacher. What she discovered had nothing to do with sadness and everything to do with what she would someday become.
After matriculating, she registered at the University of Johannesburg, where she completed her Biochemistry 3 year, honours and masters degrees. She then registered at the University of Pretoria where she completed her Biochemistry PhD in 2011, at the age of 27. During this time, she also worked as a consultant for the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.
After completing her PhD, she was afforded an opportunity to work and do her postdoctoral studies at the University of California in San Francisco. The most important lesson she learnt on this part of her journey was that South Africans were as brilliant as those in the rest of the world. This made her feel even more confident and more ready to contribute to the South African scientific community.
After 3 years in the US, Aurelia returned to South Africa in 2016, started working as a lecturer at North West University and is today a senior biochemistry lecturer. She specialises in a field called metabolomics, which is basically the study of small, microscopic molecules within the human body, and how each molecule affects everything else. Part of her work requires of her to understand highly advanced and complex mathematics. She has also published academic papers in several journals which include Molecular, Metabolomics, Current Pharmaceutical Design, Translational Oncology and Scientific Reports. She is also a founding member and deputy secretary of Metabolomics South Africa which was launched this year and is intended to coordinate all metabolomics research in the country.
In addition to her passion for academics, Aurelia also has a passion for empowering young girls. She is involved in the DreamGirls Academy, an organisation that asks powerful women to encourage teen girls and young women to also empower themselves. Says Aurelia , “It’s important that I tell the young women and girls about my journey so that they can know that, if they set their minds at working hard and overcoming whatever challenges that are in their way, they can make it too. It’s important that they see themselves in me because I see myself in them.”
And this is how the story to scientific success begins: As a young girl, Aurelia Williams loved to learn and loved school. She discovered the amazing world of science, set in motion her plan to become a biochemist and became what she had set her mind to. Given that she is only 35, this is not the end of her story. She is not done being an amazing example of what can be achieved if you just believe in yourself.
Source(s): Edited from a story on the Mail and Guardian website, other.
Note: Each year, the Mail and Guardians asks the public to nominate the most remarkable young people between the ages of 18 and 35. This year, they received 6000 nominations and out of these, only 200 were chosen. These young people are considered the best of the best and many have gone on to make significant strides in their respective fields.