9th October 2018: Celebrating our Fellows: Maha Kordofani FLS

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This week for Black History Month we are celebrating one of our Fellows of colour, Professor Maha Ahmed Kordofani. Earlier in the month we had a chat with Maha about all things Natural History, why she loves the subject, how she got into it and her advice to younger natural historians.

Maha Kordafani

So Maha, what is your current job title and what do you do in this role?

I am a Professor of Botany (2012 – present), Staff Member and Curator of the Botany Herbarium. I work in the Department of Botany, Faculty of Science, University of Khartoum in Sudan. My research focuses on the Flora of Sudan, within that role I collect and identify plants. My role as a Professor involves teaching plant taxonomy and supervising postgraduate students.

What do you love most about your job?

I love identifying and classifying plants, especially medicinal plants. I cherish the knowledge that I have gained whilst studying such plants. The diversity of species in a country as big as Sudan provides an incredible medium for advancing my work. There are also common folk medical practices incorporating plants that remain ever so robust and popular despite the modernisation and westernisation of medicine. I have found that many of the plants I study are widely applicable to today’s medical and therapeutic work. They relate to many medical and pharmacological practices with an emphasis on the fields of alternative and holistic medicine. Africa has a mighty wealth of plants that have the ability to prevent and cure many medical conditions which I find extremely fascinating and hence never tire from my work.

Can you tell us a bit about your career journey?

I started from humble beginnings in the City of Wad-Medani. It was the agricultural capital of Sudan. It was a struggle for me as I was one of the few women in my field. I am grateful to be where I am today. Not only have I become a Professor of Botany, I am now in a leading position which allows me to help and support students throughout Africa, the UK and the rest of the world.

I completed my Bachelors degree at the University of Khartoum within the Faculty of Science. I then went on to complete a Masters in Experimental Taxonomy at the University of Khartoum, and from there a PhD in Plant Taxonomy at Birkbeck College, London.

I am proud of my journey and it gives me the utmost satisfaction to pass the knowledge on. Women of African origin are still low in numbers in our profession, their wages remain relatively low and I continuously strive to empower them.

Maha's books

What made you want to get into your profession?

I have always had a love for plants. This interest in plants seemed to relentlessly grow throughout my childhood, with every year that passed, making my interest deeper and more pronounced. My father was an Agricultural Researcher (Agronomist). He loved his work. I watched him as I was growing up and was inspired by his resilience and love for Botany. As a woman at the time, I was not expected to do much in terms of academic development. However I found plants fascinating and wanted to learn more about them. My father encouraged me to pursue this career and provided the necessary environment for me to flourish and succeed. He understood the challenges a young African woman would face and prepared me very well for my career in Botany. With determination, resilience and strength I managed to fulfil my dream of becoming a Botanist.

Who is your favourite natural historian?

I would have to say Carl Linnaeus. Linnaeus is famous for his work in Taxonomy, the science of identifying, naming and classifying organisms (plants, animals, bacteria, fungi, etc.). His history inspires me greatly as I am one of 7 siblings and my father worked with plants as an Agriculturist. Carl Linnaeus was a hard working man with a very interesting life.

Linnaeus

What does it mean to you to be a fellow of the Linnean Society?

Being a fellow of the Linnean Society of London is truly special. It is an absolute honour to be a member of such a wonderful scientific community. It is a place where great minds meet and great ideas are born. It is very empowering for me as a woman of African origin to be a member of the Linnean Society. It makes me feel that my efforts have not gone to waste and that I belong to a beautiful group of people who are interested in the same things I am interested in. People who work with plants to deliver the same message I do. Naturally, as Carl Linnaeus is a favourite of mine, it adds a superior note to the order of my pride in being a member of the Linnean Society of London. I am immensely grateful.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone just starting their career in natural history?

Patience is a virtue. Anything worth achieving is going to be hard and without pain we do not grow. Be determined but not overzealous. Be strong but not rigid. Be focused but not tunnel visioned. Be self critical but do not be self doubting. Be analytical but do not be prejudiced. Be free in your pursuit of knowledge and give knowledge freely. Your path is not as much about titles and achievements as it is about the betterment of yourself and of humanity, therefore, be kind to yourself and to others.

Interviewed by Leanne Melbourne, Events and Communications Manager