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Dunja Mrdjen


Helping to put female scientists on the map.

‘Follow your dreams, work hard, don't be afraid to take a chance on life and enjoy the ride!’ Dunja Mrdjen certainly lives up to her own words of encouragement. After completing her PhD in Immunology at the University of Zurich, Dunja moved to the USA where she is a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Stanford. It is not often that we hear of women aiming to change the face of science, but Dunja is doing just that – and it is at Curro Durbanville where her dream began to take shape.

Before coming to Curro Durbanville, Dunja attended an all-girls school, but immediately felt at home at Curro. ‘I could really flourish in the new environment and develop my interests and passions. I fell in love with the fields of science and biology because of teachers like Mrs Schmidt (Mathematics) and Mrs Burger (Science). They gave me opportunities I would never have had in my previous school; from additional exercises to letting me set the Grade 9 Science exam!’

Dunja initially wanted to study microbiology after school and even did a job-shadowing project at Stellenbosch University. However, during her studies towards her BSc, she was introduced to the field of immunology and that really sparked her interest. Dunja then did her MSc in Clinical Science and Immunology at UCT where she also worked in an immunology research lab. ‘Through that I learned that the immune system also plays a role in the brain. At that time this idea was still very new and the field of neuro-immunology was just beginning, but it completely fascinated me and opened up a whole new world of possibilities that needed to be investigated ... by me.’

Dunja is really setting a great example for young women everywhere who might consider a career in science. Modern media often creates the impression that female scientists are not as respected as their male counterparts and to this Dunja replies, ‘As women in science we must not accept being disrespected or dismissed; speak up and work with each other to support each other – together we can ensure we are treated fairly.’

This fighting spirit that helped her reach her goals can certainly be attributed to her time at Curro Durbanville. ‘Feeling cared for is the most important part of being able to do your best and grow as a person and I think Curro really did that for me.’

We cannot wait to see how Dunja will change the face of science in the future and we look forward to seeing many young women follow in her footsteps.