Colleen Downs

The first week of August marks important times in South Africa’s future and past. National Science Week (3 – 8 August) is a countrywide initiative that promotes careers in Science, Engineering and Technology to South African students. National Women’s Day (9 August) marks the 59th anniversary of the 1956 march of 20 000 women, who petitioned against the country’s pass laws.
Both events shed light on important issues: a skills shortage in Science, Engineering and Technology; and the limited female presence in these fields. UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science showcases its support for both causes in a series of articles that acknowledges its very own Wonder Women in Science. These are passionate, pioneering and persistent heroines (within the college) who are “kicking ass” in Science and stand as shining examples for all women.
The annual Top 30 Published Researcher list at UKZN, honours those researchers who have published the highest number of SAPSE Units in Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) accredited, peer-reviewed journals. Professor Colleen Downs was recognised as the top published female researcher at UKZN in 2013, placing 10th overall on the list.
She has been featured on the prestigious list several times throughout her tenure at UKZN and has helped the university produce the highest research output in the country. Great researchers make great teachers as they are more in touch with breaking developments in their field, which enriches the students’ experience.
A lecturer at the School of Life Sciences, Downs has produced publications on a variety of topics relating to: vertebrate dietary aspects, vertebrate thermal biology, vertebrate conservation and ecology, and science education.
As a researcher and lecturer, the Professor admits that she battles to the find time to balance duties for both roles. She cites her keen curiosity and enjoyment for her work, as factors that help her cope with a gruelling schedule.
She admires people who were way ahead of their time and made worthwhile contributions. It’s that kind of forward thinking that breeds pioneers and innovators.
To Colleen, inspiring greatness means to develop a person to their full potential to make worthwhile contributions. She echoes this sentiment in her teaching and research.
Downs lists While you see a chance by Steve Windwood as her theme song. The song is about grabbing opportunities with both hands, evidenced in the first line of the chorus – “when you see a chance, take it”. Her message to budding scientists is to “hang in there” and seize the day as it comes.
The College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science salutes Professors Down’s zeal for research and dedication to her students. Girl power meets brain power in the story of this Wonder Woman in Science.

Words and Graphics: Sashlin Girraj