While the disruptions caused by the Fees Must Fall student protests may have killed the cells she was working with in the lab, they were not able to kill Lauren Swartz’ dreams of getting her PhD and contributing to the field of study around breast cancer.
Lauren – now Dr Lauren Swartz – has always been fascinated with forensic sciences and watching series like CSI. She can now wear her lab coat with pride after graduated from UWC with a PhD in biotechnology.
The 31-year-old Woodlands resident focused her research on developing a device that would be able to detect breast cancer in a similar way that home pregnancy tests work.
The 2016 Fees Must Fall protests, however, interrupted her studies in 2016 and she was forced to delay the submission of her thesis when she was unable to access the labs during the protest action. As a result, the cells she needed to grow for her project, died in the lab. Lauren found an alternative plan in 2017 to finish the same project.
She eventually finished her PhD programme in six years rather than the three she had planned.
“It was very challenging for me as everyone around me or who had started with me started graduating. I became despondent and almost lost hope in my ability to complete the degree.
“After dealing through the pressure of anxiety and depression in 2018, I realised that I needed time to adjust and reflect on how I can finish writing up the thesis and finish the degree with the right attitude,” she said.
In November 2018, she started wrapping up the writing of her thesis and in January 2019 she submitted it for examination.
She graduated on Monday August 26 at UWC along with her younger sister, Michaela Swartz, 25, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Statistical Science.
Lauren loves research and development and would like to get involved in skills transfer in the future. Reflecting on her journey to becoming Dr Swartz, Lauren told Plainsman she had attended Northwood Primary and Princeton Senior Secondary School.
And even though it was a technical high school, she said, she remained interested in science.
Her family supported her throughout her academic journey. “Community is important, you need people to succeed. Everybody has helped me get to where I am today and I can’t say thank you enough,” she said.
Her mother, Fern Swartz, 58, who attained her BA (Bachelor of Arts) in Theology at Amazing Grace Ministries in Parow in 2018, said Lauren had always been a hard worker. “I am very proud of Lauren, I am very proud of all my children,” said Ms Swartz.
Her father, Michael Swartz, 61, said he encouraged all his children to always be positive. “Seeing my daughters graduating in Women’s Month, together, was the best thing of 2019 for me. I am a proud father.
“If you’re positive in life you will achieve things. What you sow today you will reap tomorrow. You will be an example to others around you. Don’t let living in Mitchell’s Plain limit you,” Mr Swartz said.
To others with big dreams, Lauren has this advice: “Be informed on what it is you want to do as a career. Ask questions and do research. Being from Mitchell’s Plain should not be an excuse anymore. Getting into university is not difficult anymore. Believe in yourself. Whatever career choice you choose doesn’t have to be one dimensional, be versatile in your skill-sets.”