'I love my education and it is the most important thing to me,' says Romaana Muhammad

'I love my education and it is the most important thing to me,' says Romaana Muhammad

Ever felt lost and you weren't sure of what you wanted to do with your life? But when you least expected it, inspiration struck? That's what happened to Romaana Muhammad, 25, who found her passion for the brain whilst doing volunteer work.

romaana muhammed

She is an ordinary born free with a mind to do more and definitely be more. Romaana took four years to find out what she wanted to do, and since she started she never looked back. With a strong support system, she grew to higher heights and succeed in her career choice. 

Her story is real, which is what makes her so relatable to any other student. It is filled with a rollercoaster of emotions of what it's like to fall in love with your career and excel at every part of it. 

This is the story of Romaana Muhammad...

Tell me more about yourself, family, childhood, and what it was like growing up in your household?

I am a 25-year-old lover of nature, animals, health and all things educational. I was born, raised and attended primary and secondary school in Chatsworth. I am the daughter to two professional nurses, older sister to a law-school graduate and mum to three dogs and a cat. Apart from this small family of mine, my education is the most important thing to me. 

I attended Ihsaan Girls’ College - an all-girls Islamic high school from 2007-2012 where - I’m not ashamed to say it - I was not the top-performing student, but rather, always in the shadow of the top-performing student. My story is a reminder that you do not need to be the best student at your school in order for you to excel at tertiary education. My advice to students reading this is to follow your heart and your passions and you’ll surely succeed in everything that you do.

I remember being told by a tutor during my orientation week at UKZN that I shouldn’t expect to be getting As at university as I did at high school because university is a whole different ball game. I wish I knew who this tutor was to go back to him and tell him that he was wrong and that I achieved even greater results than I did back in high school, purely because I now love what I am studying. Enjoying what you study truly shows in your results. 

What made you branch off into the career that you’ve chosen? 

I had many interests after finishing high school, ranging from fashion design to human and animal medicine. It took me four years after high school to really figure out what I wanted to study. I spent those four years volunteering at NGOs such as CROW (Centre for Rehabilitation of Wildlife) and hospitals – trying to figure out where I belong. 

I spent some time working at City Hospital in 2016 where I was introduced to the psychiatric department and became fascinated with psychiatric health, this, along with the encouragement from my mum, is what led me to finally make the decision and apply for a psychology programme at UKZN. I was always curious about how the brain and mind functioned, so, after finding an interest in psychiatric health, choosing a major such as psychology seemed natural.

I am now in my final year of undergraduate studies, completing a dual major – Psychology and Linguistics – within the Bachelor of Social Science degree at UKZN.

Congratulations on your achievement – can you tell us more about it?

I was awarded the College Deputy Vice-Chancellors’ Scholarship for being one of the top three ranked undergraduate students within the college. This award recognises top performance over two or more years of undergraduate study.

What challenges have you faced thus far and how have you chosen to overcome them?

I wouldn't say that life as a student has been easy, everything worthwhile in life comes with its own challenges. Even though I am one of the top performers within my degree, it doesn't mean that I didn't experience my own share of anxiety - worrying about whether I'd pass a module or not. I was also faced with a few health issues whilst completing my degree, but with the grace of the Almighty and a strong support system of family and my close friends - Yatisa and Simone - I had managed to overcome these difficulties without a threat to completing my degree within the minimum time frame.

The biggest challenge I've faced with regards to my academic life thus far has been the constant student protesting and suspension of lectures, which resulted in many hours of contact lectures being lost. I managed to overcome the loss of lecture time by self-studying the sections that were meant to be taught during these periods. This, I believe, contributed towards my success and set me apart from many other students who considered this time as an extended holiday.

You’ve mentioned you want to take on research on communicative deficits within individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism – how will this change the field that you in and society?

Autism refers to a range of conditions characterised by difficulties with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication. Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that each person with autism has a unique set of challenges and strengths. The ways in which people with autism learn, think and solve problems can range from highly skilled to extremely challenged.

An estimated one in sixty-eight children are now being diagnosed with Autism, necessitating the need to educate ourselves more to understand them and accommodate their specific needs.

Research on autism is far behind that of other psychiatric disorders. There are a wide variety of studies that still need to be done. A lot of the studies that have been conducted thus far have been broad - the more specific the research gets; the better healthcare professionals will be at diagnosing and treating the disorder.

Social skills are difficult for people with autism; therefore, outsiders end up perceiving them as rude or crazy. If society had a better understanding of the way autistic minds work, they may be more forgiving and accepting towards these individuals. This would prevent a lot of loneliness and social isolation within the lives of autistic people, which is why research on autism is so valuable to or society.

What is your secret to success?

My secret to success is knowing how to prioritise tasks. I do not waste time on unnecessary things that are of no benefit to me - idle chatter and trivial matters - and I keep my social circles small. I give a lot of attention to my studies because I know that this is the foundation for my future career success.

The most important thing I rely on and constantly recommend that contributes to my success is – SLEEP – eight hours of sleep every night, especially on the night before exams. I realise how this may seem counterintuitive when one needs to revise for an exam.

I have many peers who over caffeinate to cross night and cram for exams, these individuals write exams on as little as one to three hours of sleep a night. I'd like to remind these students that sleep is necessary to ensure that you perform at your optimal.

During sleep, our brains get rid of all the unnecessary information that had been acquired throughout the day. It's like removing cache data and residual files from your cellphone and computer so that you have enough storage space for more important information.

I'd like to mention an analogy that a famous neuroscientist - Dr Frances Jensen used. She said that sleep is the glue that allows us to recollect our experiences and remember everything we’ve learned that day.

Given that memory and learning are consolidated during sleep, the more you learn - the more you need to sleep so that your brain is able to reinforce the material that you have studied that day. This is why good sleep is critical to achieving academic success.

If you don't get enough sleep, the unnecessary data that you have acquired stays backed up in your brain reducing your cognitive performance, learning potential and your ability to store studied information within your long-term memory - something that is important for your future career success. 

Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?

In the next ten years I see myself holding a tenure professorship at a distinguished academic institution such as my home – UKZN. 

Best advice you’ve received and would pass on to someone else?

Whatever you do – give it your all. Whether it be at school, work or in your personal life - do the best you can possibly do. Doing something in a mediocre way harms one’s psyche and prospects. It negatively impacts one’s credibility and diminishes self-esteem. Whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability!

Best of luck with your studies, Romaana!

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