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Meet RSIF’s first PhD Graduate

Maureen Agena
22 Oct 2021 0

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