Marcelle was born in South Africa and grew up in Johannesburg. She has a Bachelor of Science Honours in Ecology, Enviroment and Conservation from the University of Witwatersrand. The focus of her major was in plant stress physiology, specifically in cold tolerance of two indigenous species in South Africa. Besides being my friend and classmate, she also happens to be my neighbor, so we met up a days ago close to Rackarberget.
Hernán Capador: Marcelle, why did you decide to study Plant Biology at SLU?
Marcelle Jhonsson: I first heard of Sweden as a place to study when I was finishing my Honours. My home university has a mailing network for postgraduate studies, and the Swedish embassy had sent a call saying that there were scholarships for South African students. And I thought, OK, this is a nice goal for me to try next year. So I spent the whole year working about it and looking it up. It became my goal: finish my Honours, get high grades and come to Sweden. I also looked for the top programs in Plant Sciences in Europe. I saw Ghent, Wageningen and SLU. So I chose SLU mainly because it has this really interesting master, and also scholarship opportunities. Also the collaboration they have between Uppsala University, Stockholm University and SLU seemed really good to me, because each of them has different strong points within plant biology. After being admitted to the program I was very fortunate enough to get both a tuition fees scholarship from SLU and the scholarship from the Swedish Institute to cover my other expenses.
H.C.: Tell me more about the Swedish Institute scholarship, because I know you have been involved in some activities because of it…
M.J.: I applied to the Scholarship, with an application focused on sustainability and innovation. Hence, I looked at the program I applied for and thought about some kind of socio-economic issue that society faces and how could I relate what I am studying to solve that. So I thought about plant biology and all the biotechnological applications it had, which could extent to food security, agricultural production, and plant based products. In the application I also mentioned how I had taken part in societies in my home university, which showed my leadership skills, but also that I was actually engaged within the environment I was living in, and this is really important in an application. Besides being academically excellent, of course.
The Scholarship is great, because I became part of what is known as the Swedish Institute Network for Future Global Leaders. This is meant to be a network of people who have demonstrated leadership skills through the application, and the main aim of it is to connect people to one another, then there will be leaders constantly communicating and hopefully in that communication they should be able to solve some of the issues that we face in the world today. I am part of the Uppsala local network and I have met many great people. This has given me a different perspective and opened my mind a lot more, because now I know about many regional topics that we as society are facing.
H.C.:Talking about regional topics, tell me how it is to be a female scientist in South Africa?
M.J.: I definitely think that there needs to be more women in science. I was fortunate enough that during my university career I had a lot of female scientists who were teaching me and who I have taken as role models, especially both my supervisors from my Honours thesis. They really encouraged me to pursue master studies and probably a PhD and also to be confident in my skills. I think nowadays there is definitely an environment in which women are encouraging each other, but I do think that we face a problem because the society we live in is divided along socio-economic lines, and this might make it difficult for people to relate to one another and their circumstances. That is why, in my opinon it is a big step to be even a female professional in South Africa.
I know Marcelle will be a high profile scientist and a role model for other South African women. She likes taking a lot of pictures and is the best hashtagger I know so far, so find her on Instagram and Twitter as @marsally498