Thirty-five-year-old biochemist, lecturer and senior academic Dr Aurelia Alvina Williams has always loved learning, so much so that when she was a child, the idea of missing a day of school – for whatever reason – would bring her to tears. One of the pivotal moments that led to her forging a career in the science, technology, engineering and maths stream happened in the classroom.
“I remember my biology teacher reflecting with a sense of longing during one of our lessons that he wished he could have studied biochemistry … and I was curious about what it was because I had never come across that word before … so I went home and did some research.” And the rest is biochemistry history.
Born and raised in the town of Nigel, in the East Rand, Williams spent her undergraduate years up to masters level at the University of Johannesburg. After completing her PhD at the university of Pretoria, she went to the University of California, San Francisco to do her postdoctoral studies; it was an experience that energised her to bring back all her learning and help South Africa grow.
“The exposure I received in the United States made me realise that South Africa is on par with the world when it comes to our research; what we could be doing better is to coordinate and archive that research so that it can be more accessible and synchronised.”
Williams’ core research interest is in a field called metabolomics, which explores how different stimuli work to change the metabolism of the host through exploring data and statistics. Because South Africa has such a high HIV/Aids,her research is pivotal to how the disease will be managed for years to come.
Today, she is a senior biochemistry lecturer at North West University and is also involved in the training and mentorship of postgraduate students at the university. She is also the deputy secretary of Metabolomics South Africa.
Williams is also incredibly passionate about developing young girls to their fullest potential, and her involvement with the DreamGirls Academy, a sisterhood organisation of empowered women driven to empower teen girls and young women allows her to do exactly this and more.
“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 are in their way they can make it too. It’s important that they see themselves in me because I see myself in them.” – Nomonde Ndwalaza
LinkedIn: Aurelia Williams (Ph.D. Biochemistry)