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Working to change the world

“So what do you actually DO during all the hours when you’re not lecturing? Surely you have a nice easy job? If I had a penny for each time that somebody asked me this question, I wouldn’t be worried about the need for a job,” says Dr Neill Goosen, lecturer and researcher at the Department of Process Engineering.  “So let me try to explain what it is that I do.

“These are the hours during which I work to change the world. I spend the time working alongside the brightest postgraduate students in the country to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing humanity, and I spend it slaving away alone at night, writing the grant proposals to find the money to fund the work. I meet with industry partners to help develop more efficient and environmentally friendly production processes, and I work with colleagues in other universities and faculties to develop holistic and interdisciplinary approaches to solve stubborn problems. I sometimes get up excitedly in the middle of the night to write down a great new idea, just to be brought down to earth the next day by a grumpy reviewer who rejected my most recent paper. I travel to conferences to meet the greatest minds in the world in a particular field, and I return to Stellenbosch University to bring my students new ideas. I grumble about experiments taking longer than I want them to and celebrate the breakthroughs that my group achieves.  As I learn more, I get reminded of how little I actually know about my field and how much there is still to discover.

“In short: during the hours that I don’t lecture, I DO RESEARCH.

“And what do you research?”, you may very well ask. The short answer would be that my work involves finding methods to extract value from biological raw materials by using clever tricks, and that most of my research time is spent on making these tricks even cleverer. Examples would be how to use enzymes to extract high-value proteins and oils from the inedible parts of fish that are left over after being processed in a fish factory, or how to extract compounds which are used in the animal feed, food or nutraceutical sectors from seaweeds. My work doesn’t stop with the recovery of the different materials, but goes further to evaluate these in different animal and plant model systems, and for this reason I regularly work with colleagues in disciplines like Aquaculture, Animal Science, Food Science and Microbiology.

“The more I do research, the more I realise that disciplines will increasingly have to work closer together, and that my role as a researcher is to act as a facilitator of knowledge generation across these disciplinary boundaries.”​