Dr Ruth Lorivi Moirana, successfully defended her PhD thesis at the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) in Tanzania on 7th August 2023. Ruth, a Tanzanian national, becomes the first Rsif scholar in Cohort 2 to finish her PhD study. NM-AIST is one of the Rsif African Host Universities (AHUs). Ruth’s research topic was on “remediation of soils contaminated with fluoride using seaweed-derived materials,”
Ruth, who is also a mother, shares her journey as Rsif female scholar managing both academic pursuits and motherhood, particularly during the unique circumstances posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q. Being the first female scholar and the pioneer from NM-AIST in Cohort 2 to defend your thesis is a significant achievement. How does it feel to make history in this way?
A. I am filled with unimaginable joy. I was not aware that I was the first female scholar until I heard from my fellow students. Although what makes me happier is that I have become a motivation and inspiration to all female scholars within and outside PASET-Rsif.
Q. What motivated you to choose the topic of your thesis and the research you conducted?
A. My research intends to reduce fluoride exposure to human beings through food. I chose this topic because I was born in Arusha, one of the regions in Tanzania reported to have high fluoride levels in water and soil. About 99 % of people living in Arusha live with the symptoms of fluorosis (evidenced by our red teeth). Therefore, this research topic is personal as I am a victim myself; and it is our responsibility as African researchers to solve Africa’s problems.
Q. The journey of successfully defending a thesis involves dedication and hard work. Could you tell us about some of the challenges you faced during your research and how you overcame them?
A. It is true that this journey requires dedication and hard work, but it requires twice of it if you are a woman. At times, various responsibilities demand immediate attention. For instance, I once submitted a manuscript for publication, and soon after, a reviewer requested additional data. This led me to return to the laboratory within less than five days after giving birth. These situations teach you to take one step at a time. An important lesson I also gained is the value of approaching research with an open mindset, as not everything goes as planned, emphasizing the need for adaptability and flexibility.
Q. NM-AIST is known for its commitment to scientific advancement. How has the institution contributed to your academic journey and the successful completion of your thesis?
A. NM-AIST has contributed massively towards my academic journey: –
- The motto ‘Academia for Society and Industry’ inspired my viewpoint that I must make Sure what I do brings real impact to the society.
- Through supervision, the university is for post graduate studies only (master’s and Ph.D.) which gives academic staff enough time to pay closer attention to their student’s research as well as offer guidance and support.
- The university also have accommodations dedicated for mothers with young children which helped me stay closer to the baby as I conduct research.
- The university has a laboratory with several analytical equipment that I used to obtain most of the data obtained during my studies. and
- The environment is very quiet and peaceful which is perfect for philosophical thinking.
Q. Looking ahead, what are your plans or aspirations in your academic and professional journey after this significant achievement?
A. After this significant achievement, I anticipate on perfecting my solution (the material I have been investigating) and deliver it to the target communities (either through further research or post-doctorate). As an academic staff, I plan on transferring the research knowledge and mindset to new researchers pursuing their postgraduates. As a woman, specifically a Maasai woman, I plan to encourage women, particularly those in STEM, that you can be a mother and still reach greater milestones.
Q. Rsif promotes international collaboration. Have you made any global connections and how have they impacted your perspective on research and academia?
A. During my studies, I underwent my sandwich training at the Natural Resource institute (NRI) of the University of Greenwich, UK for about 6 months as part of the Rsif-program. During this period, I made several friends in academia from different continents, all working in diverse and interesting research areas. I conducted part of my research at NRI, which is one of Rsif’s International Partner Institutions (IPIs) and got access to some of the analytical equipment that were not available at NM-AIST. Through these global connections I learned quite a lot, such as developing a research mindset, supervision techniques, how to conduct research, research knowledge management and more.
Q. Balancing academia and motherhood can be demanding. Could you share some insights into how you managed your academic responsibilities while taking care of your baby?
A. Starting my PhD journey with a one-year-old son posed significant challenges in securing help, causing me to question my ability to persevere. I remember crying and asking myself ‘what am I doing?’; and at that point, it sounded a lot easier to give up. However, my husband assured me the reason I was on this path was to set an example for others to follow. As much as this did not change the difficulty I was facing, it changed my perspective and I knew giving up was not an option. Instead, I learned to manage and utilize the resources I had, which was time and people.
Q. Becoming a mother is a life-changing experience. How did this new role impact your approach to your studies and research?
A. Being a mother is a life-changing experience because it shifts your priorities. You leave a new-born to work on your research, and you feel convicted that you are a bad mother. You leave your research to take care of the baby and you feel like you will not finish on school time. This almost got to me until my friend John said something that stuck with me. ‘If a woman can give birth and hold a new-born’s leg as she is running in war looking for refuge and the baby still survives, then yours will be alright.’
Q. Juggling personal life with academic pursuits can be challenging. Were there specific strategies or support systems that helped you maintain a successful balance?
A. Yes, it is challenging juggling personal life with academic pursuit, but it is important to keep them in balance for our mental and spiritual wellbeing. Without proper support one can, be really shaken or loose control of their life. When there is flood, you need to hold onto something stable and strong to avoid being swept away. To me the strength I held onto was God because only God can give someone assurance of their safety. I also got a lot of support from my husband, family, supervisors, and the Rsif team as well.
Q. The COVID-19 pandemic posed unique challenges for students worldwide. How did you adapt to remote learning and research during this period? Were there any unexpected benefits or hurdles you encountered?
A. The COVID-19 pandemic was the hardest experience the world went through, as so many families lost their loved ones. However, the pandemic led to the emergence of a new technological era which was advantageous to my situation because I could attend scientific discussions virtually whilst taking care of my new-born son.
Q. The pursuit of higher education often involves collaborative projects and discussions. How did you engage in group work and academic discussions while dealing with the constraints of the pandemic and motherhood?
A. Thanks to technology, I was able to attend different symposiums, trainings, and discussions virtually during, and even after the pandemic. As for the motherhood, I made sure I utilized all the help I could get from the family and relatives.
Q. As a role model for other female scholars and students, what message would you like to share with other women who are aspiring to pursue their academic goals while managing their family responsibilities?
A. I would tell them that it is difficult but not impossible. It is important to manage your time and ensure that the first time you complete a task, you give it your best shot, because otherwise you will take too much time repeating it.
Q. How would you summarize your overall experience as an Rsif scholar at NM-AIST, and what advice would you offer to future scholars embarking on a similar path?
A. I would summarize my experience as an Rsif-scholar at NM-AIST as quite good as all the staff are amiable and ready to assist. NM-AIST has collaborations with other universities where students can benefit, making the whole experience seamless and enjoyable.
Q. What message would you like to share with PASET/Rsif-RCU (Regional Coordination Unit)?
A. To PASET/Rsif-RCU I would like to say thank you. Thank you for this vision. Many young Africans have ideas that can transform Africa but there are few visionaries to assist them. Therefore, this vision is one of the best; and I would love to see it last for generations.