RSIF Scholar Mabwi Humphrey desires to use his PhD to find solutions linked to food, nutrition and health

Maureen Agena
24 Jun 2021 0

Mabwi Humphrey’s journey to his PhD studies began with his desire to join academia as a teaching and research -scientist. Upon completing his MSc degree in Molecular Biology & Biochemistry from the Northeast Normal University in China in 2015, Mabwi took up a teaching/research assistant role at his alma mater, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology in Kenya. This is the same university where he had completed a bachelor of science degree in Biology/Chemistry. However, one of the key requirements for being a teaching/research assistant was to pursue a PhD. Fortunately, this was in line with his long-term goal of becoming a full time academic and researcher. However, despite this zeal, he lacked the funding to purse a PhD. His dream became closer to reality, when he came across the PASET RSIF PhD Scholarship in 2018! Since 2018, a total of 184 PhD Scholarships distributed across 20 countries in Africa, have been awarded. The first cohort in 2018 had 15 students and one of them is Mabwi Humphrey a Kenyan.

Mabwi busy in the Laboratory

Mabwi, who was part of the first cohort of 15 PASET RSIF students, is currently at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), Gangneung Institute of Natural products undertaking his research as part of his PhD in Biotechnology at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania.

Managed by icipe, The Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF), one of PASET’s flagship programs is the first Pan-African science fund that provides doctoral scholarships for African scientists aimed at catalyzing the training of 10,000 PhDs in Applied Sciences Engineering and Technology (ASET) fields. Priority is given to contributing member countries, the faculty of universities who lack Ph.D. Because funding for PhD training in Africa is very rare, RSIF has provided an excellent opportunity for them  to pursue their PhD training and advance research careers.

Joining the PhD Program

Mabwi started his PhD journey in 2018 when he received the RSIF Scholarship and he expects to graduate in 2022 and became RSIF’s first cohort of Alumni. Sokoine University (SUA), his host University in Africa, academically enjoys a good reputation in Tanzania, especially because its curriculum features comprehensive professional training in agriculture courses in diverse fields, ranging from veterinary medicine, food processing, food bioengineering, to food quality analysis courses. However, the PhD curriculum lays special emphasis on research and there is less emphasis on coursework, as part of the PhD training. The Southern African Centre of – Infectious Disease Surveillance (SACIDS-ACE) at SUA, which hosts the RSIF program at Sokoine university has exposed Mabwi to various practical laboratory and transferrable skills training opportunities.

Mabwi’s PhD thesis is on Functional Foods against Gut Microbiome Dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is associated with a number of diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, colon cancer and diabetes mellitus – modern-day Lifestyle diseases. The purpose of his research is to discover novel functional foods against dysbiosis. Because of the exposure at SACIDS-ACE, Mabwi initially developed his study on Bovine microbiomes with a purpose of tracking pathogens in beef industry. However, upon joining the sandwich program at Korea Institute of Science and Technology, he felt the need to amend his proposal from bovine microbiomes to study human microbiomes in order to align it with requirements of both his supervisor at Sokoine University and at Korea Institute of Science and Technology. To-date, he has published a paper in computational and structural Biotechnology journal and submitted his second paper for publication.

Catching the Dream

Upon completion of his PhD study, Mabwi would like to pursue a postdoctoral research to build his nascent career in academia and research and prepare him for leadership and management roles. He is glad for the funding from RSIF as well as the opportunity to study at both Sokoine University of Agriculture and the Korea Institute of Science and Technology. He also appreciates the RSIF seminars, webinars, courses and soft skills coordinated by icipe which equipped him with various important skills not only academia but also for careers in biomedical research, food biotechnological, pharmaceutical/nutraceuticals industries and management positions with the aim of improving food and health systems in Africa.

He admits that Covid 19 has greatly impacted on his academic and social life. It has changed how he works and spend his extra time, which inevitably has impacted his studies. Delivery of some of his laboratory reagents have been delayed. He has also been required to work from home or in the laboratory in shifts. More recently he was forced to quarantine for almost two weeks after a lab mate tested positive for Covid 19. Further, opportunities for conferences and seminars to present his research findings are now limited.  The limited time with his supervisor, having fitness rooms closed and sports activities cancelled has had a toll on him and many other students. These have delayed his experiments and changed his day-to-day routine hence impacting on my PhD progress.

Based on his experience, he would advise the more recent RSIF scholars to ensure that they commence their matching discussions with IPIs as soon as possible, i.e. when the student joins the RSIF funded PhD program to eliminate major proposal amendments upon transitioning to the IPI.

Contact Mr. Humphrey Andalo Mabwi