Meet one of RSIF’s first PhD Graduates

Sakina Kahindi
14 Jan 2022 0

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