DRAFT COMMUNIQUE: PAN-AFRICAN HYBRID RSIF- UM6P CONFERENCE June 29 2022

PAN-AFRICAN HYBRID REGIONAL SCHOLARSHIP AND INNOVATION FUND (RSIF)- UNIVERSITY MOHAMMED VI POLYTECHNIC (UM6P) CONFERENCE

DRAFT COMMUNIQUE

Theme: African-led science, technology, and innovation for contributing to the SDGs and stimulating global development

  1. The 2022 Pan African hybrid Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF)- University Mohammed VI Polytechnic (UM6P) Conference held from 28-29 June, 2022 in-person at UM6P campus in Ben Guerir, Morocco, and virtually for the larger audience was organised jointly by RSIF’s Regional Coordination Unit, the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) (icipe.org), and UM6P, (www.um6p.ma), which is an RSIF International Partner Institution in Africa.

Download the  complete Draft Hybrid Conference Comminique June 29

University of Rwanda scientists investigate how digital tools could help families monitor indoor air pollution

Air pollution is a growing challenge for Africa, with the rapid population growth, industrial growth and consumption growth which have greatly contributed to increased levels of pollution.  While a lot of attention has been given to managing outdoor air pollution, indoor air pollution is proving to be the silent killer to many African homes where majority of the families still burn wood and use other biomass to cook and heat their homes. Children and pregnant women are significantly affected. While deaths from indoor air pollution in Africa have declined by about 15% since 1990, the overall number of deaths is still high at over 400,000 as at 2017 according to a report published by UNICEF in 2019. It is therefore imperative to create awareness of the dangers associated with the indoor air pollution exposure to African families.

The University of Rwanda’s Centre of Excellence on Internet of Things (IoT), Embedded Computing Systems with funding from the PASET Regional Scholarship’s competitive grants scheme, in close collaboration with a team from Makerere University is implementing a project to assess the levels of indoor air pollution in rural and urban communities in Rwanda. The project aims to develop an IoT monitoring device that will help families assess the levels of indoor air pollution in their homes and propose mechanisms to help families implement measures to reduce the high levels of indoor air pollution detected to the acceptable levels as guided by the World Health Organization. The tool will also provide general information to create awareness to the families on the causes, dangers, and mitigation measures for indoor air pollution.

This far, the project team has completed the design of the IoT indoor air pollution prototype and produced three of the 60 IoT devices to be developed through this initiative, the tool has been deployed to pilot sites and is able to collect necessary data in the homes and feed to a centralized monitoring system for data processing.

The project is also mentoring five PhD students from the university who have received hands on training on developing the IoT prototype in addition to participating in various short courses on the embedded systems which have exposed them to different technologies used in IoT prototyping. The students are also using new tools for data collection and data visualization. Besides mentoring PhD students, other partners involved in the project have also gained more skills such as backend development for centralized data storage systems. The project will also train the local community on the use of the Indoor IoT monitoring tool for increased uptake.

Students soldering the IoT prototyping device

The whole project concept was made clear through the prototype presentation. I got to learn more about the Arduino platform, Sensors (humidity sensor in particular), and programming behind the GSM module. by Barbara Asingwire, RSIF Scholar, University of Rwanda

I have learned the basics of embedded systems and knowing the keywords that are used. I have seen that there are plenty of opportunities in that field and I expect to chase them as well. I have learned how I can connect humidity sensor and temperature sensor to Arduino, and we programmed them. by Eric Nizeyimana, RSIF Scholar, University of Rwanda

 

RSIF students learning how to design their first IoT Prototype device(s)

The “Real Time Assessment of indoor air pollution in Rwanda rural and urban households” is one of 16 projects currently being funded through the RSIF Research Grants window. The grants are competitively awarded to faculty of RSIF African Host Universities (AHUs), to undertake research that has practical solutions in five priority thematic areas identified by the Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET). The project is significantly contributing to Rwanda’s National Strategy Framework on Climate Change and Low Carbon Development. Through this strategy, the country has taken a big step towards achieving socio-economic development that is resilient to economic, social and environmental shocks related to population growth, and climate change as well as global visions to attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

 

RSIF PhD Scholarship Recipients for Cohort 4 announced

RSIF is pleased to announce the award of 72 scholarships for the 4thRSIF Scholarship call. In response to a call for applications published on 16 August 2022, 1,948 applications were received online by icipe, and upon completion of the selection process, the PASET Executive Board (EB) approved 74 of eligible and qualified applicants; and recommended a further 20 reserve candidates for the award of RSIF PhD Scholarships on 25 February 2022. Of the approved 74 scholarships, 72 candidates have accepted the scholarship award and will join a community of 173 RSIF scholarship recipients undertaking their studies in selected African Host Universities; and will continue to translate scientific knowledge into impactful innovations for Africa.

RSIF offers a unique opportunity for African countries to train doctoral students in high quality PhD programmes in applied sciences, engineering and technology, in selected African universities partnered with international universities.

The scholarship recipients have been notified with exception of those funded by Nigerian Government. Scholarship funding from Nigeria is not yet confirmed and therefore scholarship recipients from Nigeria and/or funded by Nigerian funds should wait confirmation.

View complete list of RSIF Phd Cohort 4 scholarship recipients

Meet RSIF’s first PhD Graduate

Dr. Jean Nepomuscene Hakizimana, a Rwandese national who was among the 15 Cohort 1 RSIF PhD Scholarship recipients in 2018, successfully defended his PhD thesis on 30th September 2021 at Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), one of the RSIF African Host Universities (AHUs) in Tanzania. Dr Hakizimana is RSIF’s very first PhD Graduate. His research, under the thematic area of Food Security and Agribusiness, was on the “Determination of the genetic variation and epidemiology of African swine fever virus in selected countries of eastern and southern Africa”. Dr. Hakizimana has been offered a postdoctoral fellow position at Sokoine University of Agriculture which he is considering as an opportunity to start his research career. In the interview below, Hakizimana shares his PhD journey.

 

Q. What was your PhD study about?

A. The title of my Ph.D. thesis is “Determination of the genetic variation and epidemiology of African swine fever virus in selected countries of eastern and southern Africa”. A multidisplinary approach combining viral genomics, bioinformatics and social sciences was used to elucidate the socio-economic impact, transmission dynamics, genetic and antigenic diversity of African swine fever virus (ASFV) in eastern and southern Africa. Next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies allowed me to report the first complete genome sequences of ASFV in Malawi and Burundi, advancing our understanding of viral transmission, evolution, diversity and pathogenicity in eastern and southern Africa. A high ASFV genotypic diversity was observed and after phylogeographic analysis, several transboundary transmission events of the virus were observed. These findings call for a concerted regional and international effort to control the spread of ASFV to improve nutritional and food security, and livelihoods. Four manuscripts from my Ph.D. research have been published in high impact international peer-reviewed journals, including Viruses (Impact factor of 5.048, https://doi.org/10.3390/v13020306), Frontiers in Veterinary Sciences (impact factor of 2.245, https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2020.578474), BMC Veterinary Research (impact factor of 2.179, https://doi.org/10.1186/s12917-020-02536-8) and Tropical Animal Health and Production (Impact factor of 1.681, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11250-021-02877-y).

Q. You defended your PhD thesis on 30th September 2021, what did that moment feel like?

A. During my defence, I fully concentrated on my research work and sharing my accumulated knowledge on the topic with members of the Viva Voce examination panel. After the successful defence, it was a moment of immense happiness for the achieved milestones and for all the effort over the years. It reminded me of all people who supported me during my study to whom I am extremely grateful. In that moment, I realized that it was actually finished. I am most grateful to PASET and my government for supporting my PhD studies.

Q. After your successful defense, you were offered a postdoctoral fellow position to continue doing your research. What does that mean to you?

A. It is very exciting because it is an opportunity to further my research on viral diseases within a convivial scientific research environment. I will continue benefiting from the expertise of the Community of Practice for Viral Diseases of Food Security and Livelihood Importance at the Southern African Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance (SACIDS Foundation for One Health) of the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA). The Community of Practice approach allows working with senior, peer and junior researchers from within Africa and Europe. The advantage of this platform, is that it allows collaborative research in a multi-displinary team of world-class scientists, allowing the scholar to be scientifically well equipped and ready to embark on his journey as an independent researcher and scientist. However, I wish to explore how my research and experience can more directly benefit my country.

Q. As a Rwandese, does acquiring this PhD mean anything to your Country?

A. The acquired expertise in genomics of transboundary animal diseases will be very useful to my country Rwanda and to the whole of Africa. The importance of genomic surveillance of viral epidemics has been particularly evidenced during the current COVID-19 pandemic. I am now an expert in pathogen metagenomics and bioinformatics. These skills are necessary for early detection and identification of pathogens, and a prerequisite to containing viral epidemics before they become unmanageable.

Q. What message do you have for the hundreds of RSIF scholars who are still pursuing their PhD studies?

A. Do not get discouraged by challenges on the Ph.D. journey, it is part of the training. By working hard, perseverance and the grace of God, you will overcome these challenges and emerge successful.

Q. Having successfully completed your PhD studies, share with us the general impression of your experience as a RSIF scholar.

A. After successfully defending my Ph.D., I consider RSIF as the best Ph.D. training program in Africa because it is an Africa-led program where Africans search for solutions to the most pressing challenges facing our continent. The sandwich component of the program allowing scholars to get access to more advanced infrastructures and expertise at an International Partner Institution (IPI) allows African researchers to build international scientific networks and obtain specialized training. This was evident during my Ph.D. where I worked with top researchers in Tanzania, Rwanda and from Belgium. In addition, the staff of RSIF Regional Coordination Unit at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) were very supportive during my studies.

Q. How does your current knowledge gained compare to what you imagined it would be like going into your studies?

A. The knowledge gained during my Ph.D. studies met my expectations. I have acquired specialized skills in pathogen metagenomics and bioinformatics along with the required international scientific network necessary for my professional and personal development. After a successful defence of my Ph.D., I am scientifically fully equipped to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution era and ready to contribute to containing viral epidemics in Africa.

Other stories about Dr. Jean Nepomuscene Hakizimana

  1. I will contribute to the fight against infectious diseases in Africa https://www.rsif-paset.org/i-will-contribute-to-the-fight-against-infectious-diseases-in-africa/
  2. One step to 10,000 http://www.icipe.org/news/one-step-10000
  3. Dr Hakizimana’s published manuscripts can be accessed by visiting RSIF Scholars’ Publications through the RSIF repository

 

My dream is to mentor young scientists

Richard Kipyegon Koech is a Kenyan RSIF Scholarship recipient pursing a PhD in Material science and engineering at the African University of Science and Technology (AUST), Abuja-Nigeria and currently at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) on a sandwich programme.

Throughout his academic journey, the dream of being one of the best scientists with the ability to address societal challenges and to mentor young scientists has always lingered in his mind. Getting the RSIF PhD scholarship opportunity was a step towards fulfilling this dream, because the scholarship has already opened doors for him to connect with renowned researchers in his field of research. The RSIF scholarship has also helped him to build a network of people from diverse disciplines who have shaped him in ways unimaginable.

When Koech joined African University of Science and Technology (AUST), one of the PASET African Host Universities (AHU) in Abuja, Nigeria in 2018, he did complete the required core courses while working on the literature review and writing his research proposal. While at the AHU, Koech also got opportunities to participate in workshops and conferences which provided avenues for him to interact with experts in different areas of material science. In one of the workshop that was organized by the Joint Undertaking for an African Materials Institute (JUAMI) in Kampala-Uganda, Koech interacted with many researchers from various regions across Africa and US from whom he got exposure on various hands-on activities on materials characterization.

He is currently progressing well with experimental work on the fabrication and characterization of perovskite solar cells at WPI which is one of the PASET international partner institution (IPI). Being in WPI portends well for him as a student and an upcoming researcher. He joined the energy research group; led by Professor Wole who is a renowned researcher in material science; through which he has been able to deepen his understanding on various aspects related to solar cells, light emitting diodes and energy storage devices. Together with the research team, he has co-authored seven publications in peer reviewed journals.  With this teamwork, and the support he receives from his supervisors, he has a lot of hopes that he will accomplish his research goals in WPI and broaden his research collaboration network.

As a student, nothing is as good as seeing the hope of achieving what your heart has always yearned for. Koech has always hoped to be among the best researchers who will inspire many young scientists and with the progress he is making he sees this dream slowly turning into a reality. With the skills he has acquired, he hopes to be seriously involved in research and training other upcoming researchers in his field of specialization.

He admits that Covid-19 is a disaster that has affected everybody in different magnitudes. As a researcher and a family man, Koech says that the effects of Covid-19 have not spared him. Throughout the lockdown period that was meant to curb the spread of Covid-19, he could neither go to the lab to do the experiments nor visit his family back in Kenya. He had to convert his room into a study area and had to spend most of the time doing the write ups; as his research work was mostly experimental and needed physical presence in the Laboratory. Many challenges came along with this, spanning from boredom, psychological disturbance to those related to long period of physical inactivity. Covid-19 therefore affected his research plan which he is now trying to catch up with to be able to finish on time.

He is very grateful for the RSIF scholarship and calls upon more African Governments to come together and invest in the fund so that more bright and talented African youths can have their dreams turned into realities. Investing in the youth is the best way to transform the African continent given the nature of its demographic distribution.

Continue reading “My dream is to mentor young scientists”

I am on a mission to improve cowpea breeding in Africa

The Republic of Benin in West Africa is his home country and Frejus SODEDJI, is a young male scientist and proud beneficiary of the RSIF Cohort one scholarships that were awarded in 2018 to 15 students from across Africa.  He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. degree in Genetics and plant breeding under the PASET-RSIF funded Scholarship hosted by the Africa Center of Excellence in Climate Change, Biodiversity, and Sustainable Agriculture of the University Félix Houphouët-Boigny, in Ivory Coast.

RSIF Sholar Sodedji Frejus Ariel Kpedetin during a poster presenation at the PASET Forum in Kigali in 2019
What it meant to recieve a PhD Scholarship

Receiving the PhD scholarship was an absolute privileged which he says is helping him to achieve his career goals and to contribute effectively to the transformation of Africa. The scheme of the scholarship has given him the unique opportunity to work closely with renowned scientists on specific questions in the field of his expertise. Besides exposure, the scholarship has enabled Frejus to grow his network and visibility in ways unimaginable through his participation to several forums and debates around research and development in Africa, both at continental and international levels.

With this unique opportunity, he has set as a core mission to improve cowpea, a legume grain crop that plays a significant role in food and nutrition security in Africa. His research has established the genetic diversity of cowpea germplasm from different origins and the variation of micronutrient content in their sprouts as well as strategies to increase them, which adds value to the crop and will be instrumental in strengthening the food system in Africa. Some of the outputs from this work have been accepted for publication in high-impact factor Journal while others are under review.

The Sandwich programme

As the world is faced with the pandemic, COVID-19, Frejus has been fortunate enough to be in South Korea, thanks to the PASET-RSIF sandwich programme, where the regulations in terms of protective measures against the spread of the virus are being well implemented. However, he, like many other scholars has experienced lockdowns, quarantine periods, and some shifts in the working calendar, which restrained access to laboratory facilities, delayed communication and timely achievements of goals, and not to mention the perpetual anxiety of a new outbreak of infected cases in the institution which automatically collapse all activities and communications.

Frejus is thankful to all the stakeholders of the PASET-RSIF programme for their engagement in higher education in Africa and their pledge that there will be constant support from all stakeholders to this life-changing initiative.  He calls upon the various stakeholders to monitor the indicators of success over time while addressing the shortcomings so that the scholars build to contribute to ‘ a prosperous Africa that we all want and are committed to.

Contact Frejus SODEDJI via frejusariel@gmail.com

 

 

Nicknamed “Professseur” by my peers, I was inspired to pursue a PhD

Jean Baptiste HABINSHUTI from Rwanda is a PASET-RSIF Scholar in Material Science and Engineering at African University of Science and Technology (AUST) in Nigeria. Being a recipient of RSIF PhD scholarship opportunity meant a lot to him. First, it was an avenue to upgrade his academic qualification, but it also gave him a chance to realize his high school dream to earn the title of professor after having been nicknamed “Professseur” by students from his community for organizing science tutoring sessions during high school holidays. Little did they know that it was a catalyst for him to build himself and achieve his personal goals and development.

Picture of Baptiste taken in the lab during sample preparation for analysis

He was awarded PASET-RSIF scholarship to pursue a PhD degree in Material Science and Engineering in the thematic area of Mining, Mineral and Materials Engineering at AUST (Nigeria).  At AUST, the PhD program comprises two components: course work and research. To-date, Jean has completed his course work and is now on a sandwich program at Worcester Polytechnique Institute (USA) for part of his research. His research has four projects, of which he has completed two of them, while one is ongoing. He has one manuscript for publication under-review and he is working on the second one.

Why study material Science and engineering?

Jean believes that his study will add significant value to African mineral resources. The research focuses on processing and extraction of tantalite ores using simple, affordable, and environmentally friendly techniques. He is exploring how these techniques can be applied in mining and processing of African tantalite ores and add value to the mineral resources from Africa instead of exporting them in their raw form. By working closely with academic institutions, relevant investors and governments, and other stakeholders within sub-Saharan Africa; this specialized knowledge will be integrated in the region and transferred to the future generation.

When the Covid-19 pandemic spread to Africa, Jean, like many other scholars away from home had worries about his family and they were also worried about him. Getting updates about the Covid-19 status in his country was part of his daily activities. Regular calls to his family and relatives to raise their awareness and help them understand the importance of implementing and following the government preventive policies, was a need. USA was one of the most affected countries in both confirmed cases and mortality, something that caused more worries to Jean, his colleagues and his family. Consequently, staying indoors was the only way to avoid being exposed to the virus. Psychological instability resulting from repetitive activities and being away from the family members begun to affect him and other colleagues.

COVID-19 and the future

All his social life was affected by COVID 19 and as far as his research work was concerned, he had done some of the preliminary experiments before the pandemic paralyzed the activities in the University. When the University was closed in March 2020, access to facilities such as the Laboratories and Libraries became impossible and some activities shifted to remote access. The regular meetings with supervisors for discussion and presentation of research progress also slowed down significantly.

Covid-19 affected Jean’s research work plan because there was no laboratory work during the pandemic. The University has since resumed laboratory access with some restrictions. He admits that he has quite a lot of work to do, as recommended by his advisors, and he is currently trying to maximize on literature review, such that when things normalise, most of his time will be focused on laboratory work. However, there is a clear delay in his work plan, but he is committed to squeeze himself and work hard as he can see the possibilities of meeting the planned timeline to achieve his goals and objectives on time. The only big challenge is about his sample stuck in France due to radioactive material detected in. He, with the help of his host University tried to work on the shipment of other samples from Africa, but the samples were missed completely. FedEX has requested that he file claim to the shipping agency.

Jean is very grateful to RSIF and all collaborators of the program for giving him such an opportunity to shape his future, that of his family and his Country. He urges the management of RSIF to be aware of the impact and delays caused by the pandemic and work collaboratively. The University must do their best to allow access to facilities and tools that enable students to achieve their academic targets on time. RSIF should communicate with student advisors and encourage them to respond as fast as possible when students write to them seeking guidance and or recommendations.

Contact Jean Baptiste Habinshuti via jhabinshuti@wpi.edu

My knowledge and dreams are transformed into meaningful skills because of RSIF

What it meant to get scholarship for this PhD?

Jeanne Pauline Munganyinka is a PASET/RSIF Scholar studying for a Ph.D at the African University of Science and Technology in Abuja (AUST) and currently on a sandwich programme at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI)Worcester in Massachusetts, United States of America.  Having been among the RSIF first cohort in 2018, Jeanne Pauline admits that the scholarship has helped her transform her knowledge and dreams into meaningful skills in her field.

As a young girl, her desire was to attain a PhD. But she never thought that she would have enough money to afford one. Getting the RSIF scholarship was a dream come true because it gave her the opportunity and means to achieve her childhood dream. Traveling to the United states for her Sandwich programme was the biggest hightlight, because she says, it was an opportunity to unlearn so many things and appreciate the differences in education from her own home country Rwanda and the country of her host University Nigeria.

In the Laboratory
The progress

Supervised by Prof. Grace Ofori-Sarpong (AUST) and Prof. Brajendra Mishra (WPI), Jeanne completed all coursework required by the African University of Science and Technology in Abuja (AUST) her African host University during her first year. She has also successfully defended her research proposal. Her research will provide a green viable method for gold recovery to help countries reduce pollution and wastage during processing of Gold and thus reap greater benefits from this valuable resource, while sustaining the environment.

Jeanne believes that her ‘technology’ will contribute to modernizing the Gold industry in Africa, leading to improvements in the livelihoods of miners, their families, and affected communities and support sustainable development in sub-Saharan Africa. Her dream is to have an Africa that uses advanced technology, where Africans make smart use of their natural resources and transform the lives of people on the continent. This, she hoped  will answer her daily question “Why Africa has such a large source of raw materials and yet continues to import finished products at  very high costs”.

In addition to attending different conferences and trainings. She has submitted one paper that has been accepted. Her second manuscript is under review, while a third is under preparation. She continues to develop her PhD thesis.

How COVID affected Pauline

Jeanne’s research works are laboratory-based. The closing of laboratories, libraries, and offices as a result of Covid-19 interrupted her research work and slowed down the writing of academic papers due to the lack of data. Additionally, she had challenges with the movement of her samples including losing one batch of samples in transit.

WPI partially re-opened after six months, with changed laboratory working hours and arrangement to work in shifts, weekly testing for COVID, limited face-to-face the lab that affected the speed of experiments.  As a student and mother, mixing school with family responsibilities was not easy. Juggling the her family and research responsibilities has been a challenge.

She requests that for future scholars, the programme should provide students with advanced learning devices for easy access to software while analyzing data remotely. Also to mobilize funds to support Ph.D. students whose studies have been affected by COVID-19 and most important, to provide support for an immediate family member for RSIF scholars, to enable mental stability while away and focus on studies without worrying about Family.

Contact Jeanne Pauline Munganyinka via jmunganyinka@wpi.edu

 

 

 

The RSIF Scholarship salvaged my career dreams

Emmanuel Effah is Ghanaian by birth, male and a Ph.D. student in the Department of Computer Science at University Gaston Berger, Senegal. He has received a scholarship from PASET’s RSIF program, managed by icipe. Emmanuel’s Ph.D. research aims to build a robust and affordable Smart Agri-IoT (Agricultural-Internet-of-Things) technology from theoretical modelling to real-world implementation to address the challenges climate change and the skyrocketing global population have meted on food security in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Currently, he is advancing this research at the Wireless Innovation Laboratory (WiLab) at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), USA. Mr. Effah obtained his MSc. Information Technology in 2013 from the Open University of Malaysia and BSc. In Electrical and Electronic Engineering in 2009 from the University of Mines and Technology (UMaT), Ghana. He is faculty at UMaT, Ghana with over 20 publications in reputable peer-reviewed journals and conferences, of which five emerged from his current ongoing Ph.D. research.

Mr. Emmanuel Effah presenting at the FICC2020 Conference in San Francisco, USA

What PASET-RSIF Scholarship meant to me

In line with Ghana’s declared national digitization agenda in 2016 which hinges on strengthening technical expertise in IoT-based or smart systems technology, UMaT opted to become a center of leadership in this area in the region. This called for a thorough IoT-based Ph.D. program that bridges the current technical gaps between the theoretical philosophies and practice of IoT-based smart technology in the context of SSA with relevant trained human power to support the running of the program. I was also looking to do a PhD in this area. Secondly, the PASET-RSIF scholarship came when all faculty members without Ph.Ds. had been given an ultimatum to obtain one or else lose their jobs. Consequently, this noble scholarship did not only salvage my career dreams but also contributes to Ghana’s vision of building world class IoT-based capacities to drive her smart/digitization agenda.

As a faculty member of UMaT, Ghana on study leave, my vision post-PhD is to return home and contribute my honest part in terms of teaching, research and services to my country, Africa and the global community in the area of building Smart Systems Technology for Africa’s digital transformation.

My Ph.D. experiences at UGB-Senegal and WPI-USA amidst COVID-19 Impacts

On 15th May 2018, I left Ghana (i.e., purely Anglophone country) to Senegal (i.e., purely Francophone country) to commence my doctoral studies without any knowledge of the French language. Upon arrival and the great reception at UGB, I was informed that my Ph.D. would be in English and purely by research under the supervision of Professor Ousmane Thiare, the newly appointed Vice Chancellor, who also did not speak English. By then, all the university students in Senegal had declared an indefinite nationwide strike for the entire semester, and so, considering my time limitations, I decided to teach myself both spoken and written French within the first six months since most of my colleagues could only understand written English.

Despite these initial challenges, my experienced Advisor, Prof. Thiare, helped me to develop a very concise plan with clear specific research objectives and timelines. Each of these objectives was expected to yield a publishable paper at the end, which helped me to work more independently. By implication, I am expected to publish seven papers in total from my doctoral studies which is very possible to achieve before the end of this year, since the remaining two papers are under review now. Also, I was assigned another experienced IPI advisor, Professor Alexander Wyglinski, at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in the USA. Thus, per my scholarship’s structure, I was scheduled to conduct my experiments at the Wireless Innovation Laboratory (WiLab), WPI in the USA from 17th November 2019 to 17th October 2021.

COVID-19 Impact on my Studies

Although I had a smooth take-off at WPI, my research plans and activities beyond 15th March 2020 were negatively impacted by the novel COVID-19 in the following ways: Firstly, WPI imposed a very strict lockdown and suspended my core research activities for over seven months! Besides, it was a time of fear, loneliness and anxiety because I had to stay indoors for several months without seeing my apartment mates.

However, since every misfortune can be a golden opportunity in disguise, I decided to use this time to conduct my simulation experiments remotely and write papers. Amazingly, two conference papers were produced, presented at IEEE-VTC2020 Fall, IEEE’s highest impact factor conference, in Canada and published in IEEE Access. Additionally, an in-depth tutorial paper on Agri-IoT was written and submitted to IEEE Communications Surveys & Tutorials which is still pending reviewers’ decisions.

Secondly, the Lab access protocols allowed me to use the Lab once in every month. From the turn of events afterwards, I decided to convert my bedroom and my dining into a Lab and cultivate an artificial/indoor cowpea farm to test my custom-built Agri-IoT testbed at home. I used my dining table as my Lab working bench.  Since my apartment mates have two active children who often tamper with the numerous micro-IoT components of my experimental setup illustrated in Figure 1 below, I have gone through myriad of challenging experiences to come this far.

Thrirdly, the imposed travel ban at WPI till now has affected vital research-related and personal travels. For instance, I attend the VTC2020 Fall conference virtually; my trip to Senegal for the field implementation and performance assessment of my custom-built robust and affordable Agri-IoT technology remains in limbo even though I am running out of internship time and funding. Consequently, I have decided to implement this testbed here during this summer and repeat same in Senegal when I am able to return in order to give an international significance to my Ph.D. research.

The disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed that indeed “necessity is the mother of inventions” and there are embedded opportunities to every chaotic problem which can be exploited using wisdom and determination.

 

 

I will contribute to the fight against infectious diseases in Africa

Jean Nepomuscene Hakizimana is a Rwandan pursuing his Ph.D. studies in Food security and Agribusiness at the Southern African Centre for Infectious Diseases Surveillance (SACIDS Foundation for One Health) hosted at the Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro, Tanzania under a scholarship awarded to him by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, icipe, through the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF).  The Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF), one of PASET’s flagship programs is the first Pan-African science fund that provides doctoral scholarships for African scientists aimed at catalyzing the training of 10,000 PhDs in Applied Sciences Engineering and Technology (ASET) fields.

Hakizimana in the Laboratory

To Hakizimana, getting the PASET-RSIF scholarship for his Ph.D. meant so much for his career and personal development. The Ph.D. whose scholarship confirmation letter he received on 21st March 2018 and accepted, is to-date, he believes, the best career decision he ever made. The excitement was palpable and the enthusiasm about the offered opportunity was commitment towards achieving his career goals and professional growth.

Hakizimana’s research in his Ph.D. project was built on his previous research experience with Transboundary Animal Diseases (TADs) but this time with special focus on genomics and molecular epidemiology of viral diseases of food security and livelihood importance. TADs hinder poverty and hunger alleviation, an important component of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations (SDGs) and the African Union Agenda 2063. Jean’s Ph.D. project exploits the advances in genomics and molecular epidemiology technologies and innovations to mitigate the effect of these diseases for an improved livelihood and well-being of livestock farmers.

Under the supervision and mentorship of senior scientists at Sokoine University of Agriculture one of the RSIF African Host University (AHU), Ghent University an RSIF International Partner Institution (IPI) and the Rwanda National Industrial Research and Development Agency, he has no doubt that the outcome of this study will positively impact on Livestock farmers and contribute to food security and livelihoods.

To-date, Hakizimana  has published in high impact factor peer-reviewed journals, for instance Viruses (impact factor of 3.816; Hakizimana et al 2021; see link), Frontiers in Veterinary Science (impact factor of 2.245; Hakizimana et al 2020; see link) and BMC Veterinary Research (5-year impact factor of 2.179; Hakizimana et al 2020;see link) as outputs emanating from his Ph.D. research.

In addition, the experience and expertise gained earned him a research grant (grant NO. I-1-B-6269-1) from the International foundation for Science (IFS) to advance his research on African swine fever in countries neighboring Tanzania and his abstract has been selected for a travel grant by the United States of America Biological Threat Reduction Program (BTRP) to share his research findings with the international scientific community during the Global African Swine Fever Research Alliance (GARA) scientific meeting.

With the high-quality skills and specialized knowledge gained during his Ph.D., Jean hopes to contribute to the training of the next generation of students, researchers and innovators in his area of expertise. He intends to contribute and get involved as a researcher and teacher in the fight against infectious diseases so that he can contribute to the alleviation of the burden of these diseases in Africa where their impacts are greatest.

Despite the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, Jean kept moving forward but at a slower speed compared to the momentum he had garnered prior to the pandemic. Specifically, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted his research activities involving collaboration with other institutions where physical presence was required. By working from home and going to the laboratory only when necessary as well as adhering to the travel restrictions, he managed to reduce the negative impact of COVID-19. All the Conferences he was supposed to attend were moved to online, thus during the lockdown, the online alternative was used for specific trainings and conferences in his research area. Positively, the University administration was very supportive with the adoption of the Regulations and Guidelines for Higher Degrees to support online training and management of postgraduate studies in April 2020.

According to Hakizimana, Africa needs home-grown expertise that can tackle new risks such as climate change and global pandemics. RSIF, as an Africa-led initiative with the objective of strengthening the science, technology, and engineering capability in sub-Saharan Africa for its socioeconomic transformation, is useful to advance knowledge, promote research and help the African society discover innovative solutions to overcome its most pressing problems. Clearly, the RSIF program is increasing the quality of scientific research in the region, and Jean is happy to be associated with this initiative and what it stands for.

Conact Mr. Jean Nepomuscene Hakizimana hakizimana.jean@sacids.org