I am Mahlatse Maropeng Kgatla, born and bred in Eisleben. Eisleben is a small village on the outskirts of a better-known larger village called Botlokwa (Matoks), which is found 50km north of Polokwane along the N1 road. I have two older brothers (twins) and a younger brother. Yes, I am a middle child and suffer from a middle child syndrome (Google it). I am an introvert, meaning I am shy, quiet and like to keep to myself. However, I like to challenge this by forcing myself to be around people and let my opinions be heard from time to time.

I went to Northern Academy High School in Polokwane, where I matriculated. I then applied to multiple universities and got accepted into two, Stellenbosch University and University of Pretoria. At the time Stellenbosch was too far for me to consider going, I was too scared, so I settled for University of Pretoria. Things got difficult right from the start because I didn’t qualify for the course I wanted to do, which is veterinary science. So, I went into a bridging programme called UPFY (University of Pretoria Foundation Year). At the end of that programme, I had changed my mind from veterinary science to environmental science. The main reason for changing my mind was that veterinary science was difficult and took seven years to complete. I had already started with a bridging course and thought it would have taken me forever to complete so I went to look for something I thought would be easy. As it turns out, there is no such thing. It took me five years to complete the three-year environmental science degree. I then went on to do my honors in environmental management with UNISA.

I did odd jobs now and then between struggling to finish my degree from University of Pretoria and Honors at UNISA. I did vacation work for ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute) for a month, where we captured residential points. I got a GIS (geographic information system) internship at AISA (African Institute of South Africa) where I left after six month, so I could focus on completing my degree. I later became a general laborer in a construction company that was building bridges. My journey ultimately led me to the Groen Sebenza internship with SANBI (South African National Biodiversity Institute). Within SANBI I held several positions, which are: ISP (Invasive Species Programme) Project Officer, FBIP (Foundation Biodiversity Information Programme) Data Management Specialist and lastly NSCF (Natural Science Collection Facility) Data Quality Specialist, a position I am currently occupying.

My position works specifically with museums. The aim is to assist museums to standardise their data processes which includes the development of workflows and standardising Specify (database) forms. A typical day would involve meetings with museums to discuss their workflows with the aim of documenting that workflow, then move on to Specify database to look at the data forms with the aim to change them to what is considered to be a standard form.

I had never planned to be in the data and database world. I gradually found myself in it, where the interest slowly developed. What keeps me motivated is the need to solve the issues that people keep having within this data and database sector. Making changes on a live database has been the most difficult thing so far. You have a short amount of time to make the changes and must quickly solve whatever is not working and be careful not to break the system since people are constantly using it. Having a supportive supervisor who is an expert in the field makes things easier because you have someone to cry to when you’re stuck.

The best advice I have ever been given is: “Mahlatse are you interested in this”, and I said yes, every time, which led me to this point. My heroes and people I admire and those who supported me are too many to mention, from high school to this point of my life. There are a few things I would do different given the chance, however I am content with the way things turned out. I used to like taking crazy risks, like sky diving and mountain climbing, things I would never consider doing now.

You too can share your #TheScienceStruggleIsReal story

Email Fulu at f.gelebe@sanbi.org.za or WhatsApp at 0728822332.