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

Pauline Achoka
04 Jun 2020 0

As soon as I completed my field work and portion of my laboratory work that I could do at Sokoine University of Agriculture’s Southern African Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance – African Centre of Excellence for Infectious Diseases of Humans and Animals (SACIDS-ACE) in Tanzania, I was very anxious to start my PhD research internship at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST). The opportunity was made possible through a scholarship from the Partnership for skills in Applied Science, Engineering and Technology (PASET) Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund. The prestigious scholarship covers the full cost of my PhD studies at Sokoine University and provides for my internship at KIST.

The entry requirements to KIST were rigorous and each of us had to take part in documents screening, sitting for Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), an oral interview, as well as engage with potential researchers at the institute before being accepted. Five other students supported by RSIF were also accepted besides me. Sylvia Maina Wairimu, Mabwi Humphrey Andalo, and Sodedji Frejus, who are with me at the Gangneung Natural Products Research Institute, while Waema Maxwell and Emmanuel Kifaro are at the KIST main campus (Seoul).

PASET, which is an initiative of African Governments, with support from the Government of Korea and the World Bank, aims at strengthening the science and technology capability of sub-Saharan African countries for economic development. RSIF is PASET’s flagship initiative and the first Pan-African science fund of its kind. RSIF will train applied researchers in sciences and engineering, build research capacity in sub-Saharan African universities and conduct research for Africa’s development. This initiative is timely as Africa responds to challenges such as COVID-19. RSIF competitively provides PhD scholarships for 3-4 years training for citizens of sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries at Host Universities in Africa, and ‘sandwich’ training at selected International Partner Organizations.

As soon as I arrived at KIST, I was provided with a workstation, where I could place my belongings and computer. I immediately began an online Biosafety course on Living Modified Organisms (LMO), which I was informed, was a requirement for accessing laboratory facilities at the institution. The course was very useful and introduced me to the general principles on handling samples and instruments in the laboratory and other aspects of working in the laboratory. The course also included information on how to handle emergencies, such as accidents and, for instance, the use of the fire extinguishers in case of fire.

After receiving primers, master mix, and getting the required reagents, I was able to begin running my samples. My research is on Transmission dynamics and antimicrobial resistance of thermophilic Campylobacter in humans, animals, and the environment in Kilosa District, Tanzania. I am making use of Sequencing technology, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), Gel electrophoresis, and an ultra-violet Trans-Illuminator to view bands of amplified DNAs. The research is still ongoing, but I have already been able to prepare and submit a manuscript to a high quality journal. The research is of importance to my country and the wider Africa region.

Life at KIST
Life at KIST has been quite interesting for me. But certainly not without challenges. Initially, I had trouble to express myself in the local language (Hangul). I have not started the Korean language (Hangul) classes yet, but with the help of my friends I am able to move around and buy what I need from supermarkets. I move around by local transport, usually by bus. This is not that different from Rwanda, where I come from.

After a busy day in the office or laboratory, I have access to KIST sports facilities including basketball court, table tennis and fitness room. The facilities are of high standard. I also meet up with other RSIF students every Friday evening for a one-hour prayer and socializing. Every Sunday, I attend a local church.

This has changed since COVID-19. For one, I now follow mass online and spend most of my time in the laboratory with little movement around campus and town. We are finding ways to cope with COVID-19. And most importantly, my research work continues.

I am pleased to have had the opportunity to come to Korea and look forward to finishing my research and going back to Sokoine University in Tanzania, my home university, and then back to Rwanda to start my career. I have been able to meet students from many other countries, both in Asia and Africa. However, I am building strong friendships and partnerships, and when I go back to Rwanda, I will certainly remain in touch to continue with this and other research partnerships. For all the students here, we thank PASET and the Korea Government for the funding that has enabled us to be here. We believe that this internship will enhance the quality of our publications[1], academic programs and research projects.

[1] Joint between the African Host University and the International Partner Institution