From research to market: Universities have a key role to play in the transformation of societies

Universities provide the rich scientific knowledge base, which is the foundation for innovation and economic development. The African Institute of Science and Technology (AUST) in Nigeria is one of the six African universities that have received financial and technical support from the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF) to create an enabling environment for innovation and entrepreneurship in the university. With initial funding support from the African Development Bank and in collaboration with innovation hubs in the region, the university inaugurated an institutional based technology business incubator called AUSTInspire, to bridge the gap in innovation and research commercialization especially in healthcare, energy, shelter, water, oil and gas sectors in the region. RSIF financial support has picked up to further help the hub implement several activities as well as attract additional funding for its operationalization

RSIF financial and technical support has enabled AUST through its Pan African Materials Institute, African Centre of Excellence in Materials, to strengthen and expand the capacity of AUSTinspire and support and promote a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation among its faculty and students.

Through this support, a strategic policy document on innovation and entrepreneurship including intellectual property (IP) and commercialization of research outcome was developed with support from the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP), Nigeria.  Further a capacity building workshop on innovation and entrepreneurship was facilitated to 105 students and 65 faculty in collaboration with various industry and government trainers.  A follow-on ten-day innovation and entrepreneurship bootcamp was organized which attracted participation of 150 students and 25 faculty. The bootcamp was culminated by a pitching competition where 13 groups presented their ideas to a panel of judges from the business innovation space. Five start up projects with support from RSIF grants were selected to receive business incubation support from the AUSTInspire.

As an offshoot of bootcamp, which was partly sponsored with matching funds provided by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the university received additional support from the AfDB to operationalize the AUSTInspire hub. Part of the AfDB funding was used to carry out a feasibility study of some innovation and incubation hubs in the country to draw lessons and best practices for the operationalization of the AUSTInspire hub.

AUST Centre for Lifelong Learning (AC4LL) was launched as an off shoot of the RSIF support. the funding is what supported the establishment of the Centre for life long learnning and rolll out of the courses. The centre offers opportunities for many working-class persons to engage in various continuing professional education programs especially in entrepreneurship, project management and other relevant subjects. Four short courses have already been launched under this program, one on Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation, one in Advanced Project Management and two on Monitoring and Evaluation. A total of 55 persons have successfully completed these certificate courses in AC4LL.

AUSTInspire has enabled the university community to engage and collaborate more with innovation hubs within Abuja thus improving our ability to solve real life problems through innovation. Prof. A. P. Onwualu, Ag Vice Chancellor, AUST

The university also organized an industry open day that attracted 28 industries from various sectors of the Nigerian economy to exhibit their products and services and interact with the students and faculty. It was also an opportunity for the university researchers to showcase their research outputs from different departments for possible collaboration with industry partners.

To foster University-Industry collaboration, the AUST Industry Advisory Board (AIAB) was launched in April 2022, with a membership of 11 industrial partners, the board will work closely with the university to strengthen its linkage with relevant industries to enhance it capacity in innovation development.

Higher education institutions are gradually embracing the importance of innovation, commercialization, and entrepreneurship, and creating value for their communities. African governments together with their development partners have committed to support the strengthening of research and innovation capacity of African universities through the RSIF program of the Partnership for Skills in Applied Science, Engineering and Technology (PASET). Read here for more information on RSIF funded projects.

RSIF Alumnus Dr. Noel Gahamanyi shares his experiences from the RSIF-UM6P Hybrid Pan-African Conference

The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), in its capacity as the Regional Coordination Unit of the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF), the flagship program from the Partnership for skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET), held a Pan-African Hybrid RSIF-UM6P conference that saw several experts, ministers, and scholars, researchers, policy-makers and the media gather for two days in Ben Guerir’s Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P), Morocco from June 28 to 29 to discuss the fund’s role in African development and collaboration. The 2022 conference builds up on the RSIF 2021 virtual Pre-Conference that was held virtually from 15-17 November 2021.  A total of 102 participants attended in person and 1,082 virtually. A summary of the conference outcomes are available in this communique

Guided by the Conference theme “African-led science, technology and innovation for contributing to the SDGs and global development”, the meeting focused on how to actualise the African countries agenda to train doctoral students in high quality PhD programmes in applied sciences, engineering and Technology (ASET) in the key thematic areas of PASET. Watch highlights of the meeting here

RSIF alumnus Dr. Noel Gahamanyi who is currently a Lecturer of Microbiology at University of Rwanda, presented on Zoonoses and antimicrobial resistance (MR) during the conference. He also made a poster presentation alongside other RSIF scholars and alumni during proceedings. Dr Gahamanyi was one of the 15 scholars in the first Cohort that commenced their studies in 2018. In 2021, he obtained his PhD in Molecular Epidemiology of Campylobacter from Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania.  He shared with us his thoughts about the conference in this question-and-answer session.

Q: To start with a big-picture overview of the Conference, could you tell us how the overall experience was like, after two days full of presentations on the value of partnerships and the role of scientific research in Africa?

A. The conference was well organized as it was in a hybrid mode. It meant that even those who could not travel to Morocco managed to benefit a lot from the presentations. I was impressed by the dedication of PASET partners in upgrading the PASET program by linking academia and industry to have an impact on the society. I also liked the presentations highlighting the sandwich program model because it empowers scholars with valuable research insights and skills. Lastly, I was touched by the congratulatory messages to icipe management for the achievements in managing the PASET program since 2018.

Q: You attended the conference as an alumnus of PASET-RSIF and made a poster presentation about your research work. Share with us what the presentation focus was, and the highlight of your poster presentation.

A. The title of my poster was: ‘‘Molecular epidemiology and antimicrobial susceptibility profiles of thermophilic Campylobacter species from humans and animal feces in South Korea and Tanzania’’. I highlighted that chicken and cattle are the major reservoirs of Campylobacter strains that are resistant to commonly used antibiotics like ciprofloxacin and tetracycline. These strains can lead to severe infections in humans. I also showed that natural products like essential oils and their pure compounds were effective against even antibiotic-resistant strains. Lastly, I mentioned that molecular techniques are important pillars in diagnosis and surveillance of infectious diseases including campylobacteriosis.

Q: The Minister of Education of the Republic of Rwanda, Dr Uwamariya Valentine, who also serves as the Chair for PASET Governing Board attended the meeting, what is/was your message and request to her about RSIF and scientific research in Africa.

A. I had an opportunity to talk to her during the conference. In short, my message is to seek more funds that can support a large number of young Africans dreaming to pursue Ph.D. studies. I also requested her to advocate for early matching and start of the sandwich program for PASET-RSIF scholars as any delay can affect the completion of the program (four years).

Q: What was your biggest take home from the Pan-African Hybrid RSIF-UM6P Conference?

A: My take home message from the conference is to incorporate digital technologies into our professions towards achieving the sustainable development goals.

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 said 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 said 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-RCU pays a courtesy call on the Hon. Minister of Higher Education & Scientific Research of the Republic of Benin

RSIF delegation

A delegation from the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF) led by the Manager, Dr Moses Osiru, paid a courtesy call on the Honourable Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research of the Republic of Benin, Her Excellency, Professor Eléonore Yayi Ladekan, at the Ministry Headquarters in Cotonou, Benin on Tuesday, 15th March 2022. This took place on the sidelines of the Kick-off meeting and launch of the third-party projects of the European Union (EU) Funded Project titled, “Accelerating Inclusive Green growth through Agri-based Digital Innovation (AGriDI)”. The delegation updated the Minister on progress made in the implementation of the RSIF program and specifically RSIF activities in Benin and discussed further areas of mutual collaboration.

Among the various items discussed were the 21 PhD scholarship beneficiaries from Benin, eight of whom are female scholars. Dr Moses Osiru delivered remarks on behalf of the RSIF delegation, which included Dr. Julius Ecuru, Dr. Jonas Mugabe and Ms. Sakina Mapenzi. The icipe team was accompanied by Professor Achille Assogbadjo and Dr Jules Degila both from the UAC and actively involved in the implementation of AGriDI.  Dr Osiru informed the Minister that Benin, will start hosting RSIF doctoral students from across Africa at the University of Abomey-Calavi in 2022, following a competitive selection by PASET that was concluded in 2021. He also extended an invitation to the Honourable Minister to attend RSIF continental meetings including the planned RSIF Annual conference to be organised in partnership with Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P), in Morocco from 24-26 May 2022 whose focus will be on strengthening doctoral training and resource mobilisation for the program.

Dr Moses Osiru, RSIF-RCU Manager

Dr Jonas Mugabe was introduced to the Minister as the AGriDI Project Manager. Dr. Mugabe provided an overview of the AGriDi project whose project office is based at International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Campus in Cotonou. The project office also serves as the icipe focal point in West-Africa. He thanked the Minister for the support and looked forward to working closely with the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research of Benin.

As a member of PASET-RSIF, Dr Osiru noted that, Benin will be able to leverage other funds by jointly working with other African countries to engage partners and donors, including the private sector. In addition, Beninese institutions will benefit from research and innovation grants to support the strengthening of the research environment in Beninese universities and across the country. This support is leveraged from other donors including the EU financed African, Caribbean, Pacific (ACP) Innovation Fund, the Government of South Korea and the World Bank. The Government of Benin is already benefiting from support from the Government of Korea and the EU AGriDI Project to the PASET RSIF initiative.

The Hon Minister on her part, thanked the RSIF delegation for the courtesy call and for the work being done by RSIF. She promised support from the ministry including advocacy for more funding to RSIF.  The Hon Minister conveyed her greetings to the icipe Director General and CEO, Dr. Segenet Kelemu.

Honourable Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research of the Republic of Benin, Her Excellency, Professor Eléonore Yayi Ladekan

Accompanying the Hon Minister were several senior Beninese officials including, The Director of Cabinet and Director of Planning and Prospective of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Benin and Deputy Vice Chancellor of the Université d’Abomey-Calavi and his team including the Directors of the three centres of excellence.

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

AGriDi Project launches third-party projects to stimulate agri-based digital innovation in West-Africa

The kick-off meeting and capacity building workshop for third-party projects for the Accelerating inclusive green growth through agri-based digital innovation in West Africa (AGriDI) project will be physically held at the Université d’Abomey-Calavi in Cotonou, Benin from 14-18 March 2022. This follows an inception meeting that was held in a hybrid format, at icipe in June 2021.  The main objective of this meeting is to build a shared understanding and vision of the AGriDI project and a community of practice in agri-based digital innovations in West Africa.

Collaboration among various actors, including Governments, in the digital eco-system will remain key for the success of agri-food systems.  In this spirit, existing linkages between research and the technology sectors need to be strengthened further to support innovation, technology development. AGriDI projects will strengthen the livelihoods of smallholder farmers through its stakeholder engagement initiatives in supporting the acceleration of a digital revolution through training and community engagement activities.

The importance of digital innovation in agri-business cannot be emphasised enough, this workshop will therefore serve as the official launch of the third-party projects and set the pace for a successful implementation phase” Dr Jonas Muagbe, AGriDI Project Manager

AGriDI is a 4-year intervention that will be implemented in the ECOWAS states in Western Africa region and is expected to lead to; (i) increased uptake of agri-based digital technologies by farmers and SMEs especially women and youth in the region; (ii) strengthened linkages between research communities, industry and policy actors in digital innovations in the region and (iii) a strengthened policy environment for scaling agri-business digital innovations in the region.

AGriDI is jointly implemented by the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology, icipe as the Lead and its partners, the University of Abomey Calavi in Benin, Agropolis Foundation in France and Gearbox Pan African Network in Kenya and is one of the 8 granted projects financed under the ACP Innovation Fund of the European Union.

At the end of the meeting workshop, third-party projects will not only be officially launched, but  their members  will be expected to have a better understanding of the AGriDI project and other third-party projects.

For more information about the workshop, follow @AgridiAfr on twitter.

An Internship at the Regional Scholarship innovation Fund: A student perspective

By Allan Ocholla, Former RSIF Annual Conference Intern

Having an internship at the Regional Scholarship innovation Fund (RSIF), International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) came at a time I was looking for an opportunity that combines my experience in participating in various open science programs and expertise in events management especially in an African setting.

The journey started when I was near completion of my Master’s degree in microbiology at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya. I was also in my last few months of a fellowship program, and like any other student near completion of their studies, I was stuck in front of a relentless loop of career options and looking for where to put my skills to good use.  While checking LinkedIn groups, I found the opportunity of joining RSIF as a conference intern. I connected so closely with the RSIF mission of increasing and strengthening high quality PhD programs in applied sciences, engineering and technology in Africa. The whole application process, from the time of application, interview and selection took less than month. I remember the day when I received an email that I got the position. I was so excited and immediately checked through my folders and notebooks in preparation for the next four months of co-organizing RSIF virtual pre-conference.

Application process

Typically, vacancies are advertised on the RSIF Website. You can also follow the RSIF official accounts on social media platforms and consider joining their mailing list for updates. The entry requirements may differ from one advertisement to another. For the majority of positions, a Bachelor’s degree or Master’s degree is the minimum requirement.

When applying for an opportunity at RSIF, make sure that your application is well written. You need to highlight both your professional and personal experiences. Mention your academic background and its relation to the position, cite your leadership positions, achievements you feel proud of, or even awards if applicable. Finally, try to mention your extracellular activities or voluntary work as it will show that you are an active person aware of social issues and capable of tackling development challenges.

My role at RSIF

My workstation was the resource mobilization unit. A normal working day was a combination of diverse internal and external meetings with different partners and fulfilling a set of desk tasks such as preparing invitation letters, working with the communications team to support dissemination of relevant conference materials, as well as supporting in the review of information required and ensuring they are complete and accurate. Indeed, the resource mobilization unit was the right place to acquire a variety of vital skills such as critical thinking and collaboration required to solve real world problems.

Throughout my first weeks, my supervisor ensured I had access to the necessary tools that to help me to fit into my role and get to understand my position.  Being part of the resource mobilization unit also gave me a chance to learn various fundraising strategies and appreciate the critical role that the Governments, private sector, foundations and philanthropy institutions play in the education ecosystem in Africa. Fortunately, the conference preparation was just starting so I was lucky to be involved from the beginning.

Key Learnings

Acting as both a participant and a member of the organizing team, I gained a unique perspective on virtual conferences, their challenges and opportunities. I have attended conferences before, virtual and in-person, and being part of the team co-organizing the first RSIF virtual pre-conference exceeded my expectations. Many RSIF pre-conference speakers highlighted the importance of collaboration and adaptability amidst the COVID-19 pandemic while rooting for Science, Technology and Innovation to be an enabler in unlocking opportunities in Africa. For instance, Ms Safaa El Kogeli, Education Practice Manager, Eastern and Southern Region, World Bank, noted in her opening remarks the need to train a critical mass of highly skilled PhD workforce to find innovative solutions with an aim of accelerating socio-economic growth and continue on the path of development. She also underscored the need to have deliberate efforts of ensuring women participation in RSIF programs. Dr Valentine Uwamariya, Minister of Education in Rwanda and PASET governing council chair also emphasized the need to develop the necessary skills to solve African problems and affirmed the Government of Rwanda commitment in supporting RSIF to achieve and maximize its impacts.

My greatest takeaway from co-organizing the virtual conference was the increased inclusion that a virtual event can foster. Registration information revealed that the pre-conference reached a wider range of participants, in part, due to the multi-lingual options that were used to disseminate conference information and the translation features that were available during the virtual pre-conference. Taking an intersectional look, it is even more important for groups traditionally underrepresented due to language barriers in online spaces to have a strong presence so they can be part of these important discussions. Virtual conferencing offers many options for organizers to produce a successful event. They provide tools to implement measures that allow for both healthy and essential engagements through the use of digital solutions that facilitate peer-to-peer learning as well as networking. The RSIF virtual pre-conference provided a platform to have conversations that build relationships and generate ideas that underpin progress on the issues we all care deeply about. The shift to the online space, however, was not at all easy.  Several components required different type of planning and more in-depth consideration, and online convening is a new experience for many attendees and organizers. The challenges notwithstanding, it is without a doubt that online convening’s has now been established as an essential part of work and life since the COVID-19 pandemic begun, and its likely to remain with us for a while.

Conclusion

After four months at RSIF, I have enormous faith in the RSIF program. I hope that by embedding a decolonial critical approach within its technical practice, education stakeholders within Africa and beyond can develop foresight and tactics that can better align research and technology development with local needs.

At this pivotal moment of African history it is counterproductive and evil to even mice words. We need to be active shapers in African technological and innovation advances and not mere observers.

The experience gained from this internship has given me the privilege of developing an experiential and diverse learning experience and having the opportunity to interact with different groups of people and to learn from their insights and endeavours. I thankful for that. This experience will propel my short and long-term goals for the urgent positive change of the society and myself.

My Internship experience

By Juliet Mwaura, former RSIF Research and Innovation Grants Intern (July 2021-Dec 2021)

My experience while working with the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF) as a Research and Innovation Grants Intern was very positive. I had the most welcoming, helpful and supportive colleagues who were willing to guide me during the internship period. As I had not dealt with grants before, this internship taught me that adjusting to different situations in life is important and when you put in the work, a lot can be achieved. Gradually working with the team, I realized that they were very talented individuals, coming from diverse backgrounds and skillsets and were really passionate about the work they were doing. It didn’t take me long to get integrated into the team as everyone treated me as an equal contributor to the program even during chairing the team’s bi-weekly meetings. I hope that in future, I can find a team full of people just as encouraging and passionate about their work.

I got to learn a lot throughout the journey, through screening and eligibility checks of some of the projects such as Accelerating inclusive green growth through Agri-based digital innovation in West Africa (AGriDI), the PASET-RSIF MozSkills Subproject and Cohort 4 call for PhD Scholarship applications received, attending the Business Incubation Workshop for RSIF Innovation projects, Grants Independent Technical Committee (GITC) meetings held to select qualified projects to be funded, and virtually attending the 2nd Eastern Africa Bioeconomy Conference and RSIF Virtual Pre-Conference 2021. All these different aspects I was involved in helped me learn the different processes involved in ensuring that deliverables in the different components of providing Research and Innovation Grants are met.

After 6 months working together with the team, I have gained an enthusiasm for working on programs that promote and fund researchers to solve some of the complex problems that affect Africa especially in the areas of ICT including big data and artificial intelligence, food security and agri-business, minerals, mining and materials engineering, energy including renewables and climate change. I am particularly thankful to RSIF’s manager, for the confidence he had in me even as an intern to perform tasks, since interns are rarely involved in the day-to-day important activities in many organizations, unfortunately; and ensuring that we had a favourable working environment.

For future interns who will join the RSIF team, I would tell you; Always be curious and ask questions. Also, if you have a solution to something, say it. Show your creativity and don’t be afraid to take up new challenges. I’m so grateful for the opportunity and I look forward to what’s in store for me, perhaps in the future I will also apply for the RSIF PhD Scholarship and benefit from the great opportunity that has been created.

Meet one of RSIF’s first PhD Graduates

Dr. Noel Gahamanyi was one of the two first RSIF Scholars to graduate with a Doctorate of Philosophy degree on Friday, 26th November 2021 during the 38th Graduation Ceremony of Sokoine University of Agriculture, one of the RSIF African Host Universities (AHUs) in Tanzania. The Rwandese national, who was among the 15 Cohort 1 RSIF PhD Scholarship recipients in 2018, had their research under the thematic area of Food Security and Agribusiness, on “Assessing the molecular epidemiology and antimicrobial susceptibility profiles of thermophilic Campylobacter species from human and animal faeces in South Korea and Tanzania.” In the interview below, Dr Gahamanyi shares his PhD journey.

Q. When did you defend your thesis (Dates)?

A. I defended my thesis on 9th November 2021.

Q. What did it feel like at the moment you defended your thesis and after?

A. I was eager to share my findings with the panellists and was confident in the experience I acquired throughout my four years of study.

Immediately after being told that the panel recommended that I be awarded the PhD degree that I registered for, I felt relaxed and thanked God for being with me. I may compare the feeling I had to the one a mother feels when holding her baby after delivery.

Q. What was your study about?

A. The title of my thesis was ‘‘Assessing the molecular epidemiology and antimicrobial susceptibility profiles of thermophilic Campylobacter species from human and animal faeces in South Korea and Tanzania”. For animals, I collected faeces from cattle and layer chicken.

Q. What does your PhD mean to you, your Country (Rwanda) and Africa?

A. Being a PhD holder means a lot to me since I have been in Academia for over six years. However, you cannot become a full Professor without having a PhD degree. The knowledge and skills acquired through my PhD journey are important to my career as an expert in Molecular epidemiology and antimicrobial resistance. Also, with a PhD degree, I can work as independent researcher and apply for grants which is difficult for MSc Holders.

Since Rwanda is a land-locked country with limited resources and a shortage of PhD holders in higher learning institutions, completing my PhD program in the thematic area of Food Security and Agribusiness will benefit my country, which is a knowledge-based economy. I recently published a review paper on ‘Ethnobotany, Ethnopharmacology, and Phytochemistry of Medicinal Plants Used for Treating Human Diarrheal Cases in Rwanda’. This paper can serve as baseline for anti-diarrheal drug discovery or further research in this field.

Africa as a continent already benefited from my PhD work as I published a systematic review on ‘Prevalence, risk factors, and antimicrobial resistance profiles of thermophilic Campylobacter species in humans and animals in Sub-Saharan Africa’ which has already been cited 16 times. Also, Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global threat and using One Health Approach, I hope to collaborate with other researchers to fight against misuse of existing antimicrobials and contribute to the achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) especially the SDG 3 related to Good Health and Wellbeing.

Q. What message do you have for the RSIF students who are still pursuing their PhD?

A. With commitment, dedication, and honesty, you will achieve your goals. You should not be over-ambitious and remember that flexibility is required if you want to be successful. Dropping an objective or replacing it with another one should not be a hindrance to your progress. Also, you must make sure that the relationship with the main supervisor is near perfect. Finally, a balanced life is key to success as no one can be busy with PhD work all the time (24/7). If you like soccer or movies, you can schedule your activities and spare some two hours for your hobbies. There is a Latin saying, ‘Si isti et iste, cur non ego?’ which means ‘If others can do it, why can’t I?’ If I managed to do it, you can also do the same or do greater.

Q. What did it feel like to receive the Best Postgraduate Student Research Award and to Graduate?

A. Sincerely speaking, receiving the Best Postgraduate Student Research Award from Sokoine University of Agriculture was a surprise to me because I knew what I did in research, but was not aware of the publications made by other graduands. I was delighted to receive the award, which meant my contribution to the scientific knowledge was recognized.

Graduating as a PhD holder was satisfying because I finally got what I went for. Having my PhD degree is like holding a master key in my hands. I also considered it an honour and would like the sponsors (Partnership for skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET), the Government of Rwanda and the Government of Korea) to know that their investment was not wasted.

Q. How did RSIF help you achieve your PhD?

A. The Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF) contributed to the completion of my PhD program in different ways. First, RSIF organized various training sessions on Information literacy, Reference management and Leadership among others, which PhD scholars need in their writing. Second, a memorandum of understanding (MoU), through RSIF, was signed with the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) to provide a two-year internship at the Natural Product Informatics Research Center, KIST Gangneung Institute of Natural Products. Last, RSIF gave me an opportunity to become confident through various presentations like the one I made in Kigali during the 5th PASET forum.

Q. What are/ were your expected outcomes of the research?

A. The PhD thesis had four outcomes that serve as a baseline for future studies:

(i) the usefulness of molecular techniques in emerging Campylobacter detection

(ii) the molecular epidemiology and antimicrobial resistance of Campylobacter from layers

(iii) the importance of some natural products as alternative to conventional antimicrobials in the control of Campylobacter infections

(iv) Whole-genome sequencing data of Campylobacter from layer chicken for better understanding the Campylobacter epidemiology

Q. What are your hopes and vision for your career ahead/ what do you hope to work on?

A. I have been in Academia and like the profession of teaching, so there is a high probability that I will go back to Academia. In Rwanda, there is limited work on Campylobacter species and their antimicrobial resistance profiles despite being one of the major causative agents of diarrhoea. Therefore, I am planning to extend my research in Rwanda and know the extent of campylobacteriosis in both humans and animals. Sooner or later, I will go for a postdoctoral fellowship.

Q. You led the RSIF student association – any advice on how to kickstart the RSIF alumni association?

A. I enjoyed leading the RSIF student association. Pioneers always put in a lot of effort to lay the foundation for the next generations. Regarding the RSIF Alumni, we are the pioneers, and hope that once the majority of Cohort I scholars have graduated, we will have a sitting and adopt some terms and conditions that the RSIF alumni association will be based on. I would advise the PASET-RSIF team to strengthen the RSIF alumni association as it serves as an inspiration to continuing scholars; that the completion of the PhD program is possible despite the difficulties faced.

Q. What are your Scientific achievements?

A. I discovered new sequence types (STs) including ST-10645, ST-10647, ST-10648 that were isolated from layer chicken in South Korea. During the PhD journey, I managed to publish six papers in high impact factor journals. I suggested some medicinal plants and phytochemicals that can be used in the treatment/control of campylobacteriosis and/or diarrhoea in general. I also showed that layer chicken are neglected sources of Campylobacter species that are resistant to commonly used antimicrobials. The obtained strains are freely available in international databases and can be accessed by other researchers working in the same field. I attended various international conferences where I had an opportunity to disseminate the research findings by oral or poster presentations. I joined different scientific communities like the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) and the Young East African Health Research Scientists Forum (YEARS) which is part of networking. The details of my publications can be accessed via my ORCID.

Q. Anything you would like to say to PASET/RSIF-RCU (Regional Coordination Unit)

A. I want to congratulate PASET/RSIF-RCU for the great initiative of training a pool of scientists from Africa with a mission to find solutions to the problems our mother Africa is facing. It is almost impossible to undertake the PhD program without funding especially in most of the low and middle-income countries (LMICs). The journey, however, is long considering the 10,000 PhD scholars to be trained. Therefore, efforts are needed in recruiting more qualified African Host Universities (AHUs) and International Partner Institutions (IPIs). I would like also to take this opportunity to ask the PASET/RSIF-RCU to continue supporting the graduates through the Alumni or by providing postdoctoral fellowships all aimed at capacity building of researchers from Africa.

Other stories about Dr. Noel Gahamanyi

1. Life, study and research at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST): RSIF PhD Scholar Noel Gahamanyi’s story.

2. Then and now: How smart technologies are changing life in Africa

3. Understanding antimicrobial resistance and way forward

4. Dr Gahamanyi’s published manuscripts can be accessed by visiting RSIF Scholars’ Publications through the RSIF repository