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. by 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. by 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 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

Benefits to RSIF Contributing Governments

RSIF is unique in being an African government-led science fund for Africa. The program, which was initiated in 2015 has supported over 180 PhD students and provided 14 research and innovation grants through African ‘Host’ Universities. As contributors to RSIF, African governments benefit in more ways than through the cost-effective training of its doctoral students.

Countries also benefit from efficient centralized administration of the scholarship and other grants, support for the RSIF scholars to ensure that they complete on time, as well as regular monitoring reports on the progress of their students. The pooling of funds, the highly competitive selection of host universities, international partners and students, and the efficient administration of the fund enhances the value and increases the benefits.

African countries’ participation in RSIF benefits their entire higher education, science and innovation ecosystem. All RSIF scholars will undergo high quality doctoral training in competitively selected SSA universities partnered with international universities, with study abroad for part of the time, at a fraction of the cost of sending students abroad for a full time PhD.  On successful completion of the PhD, the students will be eligible for research and innovation grants.

Highly Skilled Human Capital as a Driver for the African Union Agenda 2063 and National Development Plans

The rationale for RSIF is that Africa requires world class scientists in priority thematic disciplines that are relevant to national economic growth across sub-Saharan Africa. Some of these areas include orphaned research areas such as mining, minerals and materials science, energy and information and communication technology among others. This African led program aims to support the training of African innovators and leaders, with focus on women and faculty, to be able to strengthen the capacity of universities to train at the doctoral level and undertake innovative and impactful research for the future needs of the continent and the participating countries.

Read more in RSIF Country Reports 2021 through the RSIF Repository

RSIF is owned and led by African governments through PASET and icipe is the RSIF Regional Coordination Unit.

RSIF is designed for sustainability and has two components: (i) the General Fund and (ii) the Permanent or Endowment Fund, with proceeds to capitalize the general fund.  Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda and Senegal have made or are at the final stages of making contributions to PASET RSIF, in addition to the Government of Korea, the ACP Innovation Fund of the European Union and the World Bank, bringing funds to US$ 51.7 million.

Country contributions have been earmarked to doctoral scholarships, and in some cases to support research and innovation projects, aligned with national needs. The potential of African countries’ innovative expansion due to investment in RSIF is multiplied when leveraged by the funds through matching support from various donors, including the Government of Korea, international partner institutions and others.

More importantly, RSIF aims to create a sustainable vehicle for supporting science, technology and innovation capacity building through a permanent fund that is being established by the governments. Many African governments are interested to be part of this.

Find out more

RSIF Cohort lll Orientation week was a good start for my PhD Journey

By Hellen Ngunya Mutua

The eagerly awaited session since the reception of my congratulatory note from Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF) was finally at hand. Our orientation as Cohort lll recipients of the RSIF coveted PhD scholarships. My name is Hellen Ngunya Mutua, a Kenyan whose RSIF host University is University of Nairobi, Kenya.

The RSIF Cohort III scholar’s orientation took place from 28th June to 2nd July 2021. I thank God and the RSIF team for granting me an opportunity to be among the 98 scholars who attended the online weeklong orientation program via zoom. Scholars from Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Senegal, Cote d’lvore and Ghana Host Universities converged online for the orientation training and different facilitators took up active roles in running their assigned tasks in training the scholars.

It was my pleasure to virtually meet Dr Moses Osiru, the Manager, Regional Coordination Unit (RCU) of the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF), who welcomed the scholars and gave information about icipe’s. The background, location, and operations. I discovered the great efforts that RSIF puts in its scholars when Fatoumata Thiam, a Senegalese cohort I beneficiary, narrated her academic journey. Her story encouraged me to always aim high and confirmed to me that everything is possible in academics, if you are determined, humble, work hard, and completely trust in God.

Listening to Ms. Ruth Charo the Education Specialist from the World bank made me realize that a high-quality doctorate degree was expected from me after 4 years of its pursuit. I thought of the numerous challenges affecting the African community that awaited solutions from many scholars, including myself. The orientation session marked the beginning of a marvelous journey towards success, as stated by Prof. Goolam Mohamdbhai and Prof. Aminata Sall Diallo of PASET Executive Board. Their words of encouragement assured me that I would soon achieve a PhD in Physics and inspired me to soon become a professor in Physics.

I also met people that I have always admired like Mr. Boniface Nyagah, who was always time conscious and ensured all activities went on as scheduled. He patiently went through the chats after every presentation while addressing all the issues raised by the scholars. I would like to congratulate Mr. Nyagah for managing the session well, despite scholars asking questions in no particular order. I would also like to thank Ms. Elizabeth Murimi, for being available to address the scholars’ concerns in a timely fashion, as our issues and questions about the scholarship were clarified and answered.

It was eye opening listening to Dr. Rob Skilton, Dr Daisy Salif, Dr. Henri Tonnang and Ms. Mary Ngure, as they all guided us on how to carry out our PhD research work. Because of their thorough presentations, I now have all the dos and don’ts at my fingertips. Some of the issues discussed at length were research integrity and ethics, research methods and statistics, research data management, workflow and information literacy, all key in the success of our research work. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the RSIF team was not only concerned about our academic achievement but also our safety. This was demonstrated by the eye-opening discussion we had with Ms. Pamela Tuiyott on sexual violence and the need to always be safe because everyone is vulnerable.

Listening to different African Host Universities’ (AHU) coordinators gave scholars a good guide on what awaits them in their respective universities. The fear and anxiety we previously had, begun to fade away and was replaced with excitement. The possibility of earning a successful PhD was clearly tabled by Prof. Baldwyn Torto together with Ms. Sylvia Maina and Emmanuel Effah’s shared experiences. I learnt that the journey we were about to begin as scholars would have its ups and downs, and therefore called for perseverance to reach desired destinations. I also learnt the importance of communicating my research findings and how to efficiently execute it through Ms. Maureen Agena and Ms. Sakina Kahindi’s presentations. I appreciate Ms. Safaa El- Kogali for sharing her story on her desire to thrive amidst many challenges as a woman.

With support from different stakeholders sponsoring my PhD program, I have concrete reasons to shine in my academics as I promise to work hard and achieve a high-quality PhD.

 

Hellen Ngunya Mutua, a Kenyan by nationality is one of the 102 recipients of a RSIF PhD scholarship in Cohort lll.  She will study Physics at the University of Nairobi in Kenya.

Email: hellenngunya@gmail.com

 

 

My dream is to mentor young scientists

Richard Kipyegon Koech is a Kenyan RSIF Scholarship recipient pursing a PhD in Material science and engineering at the African University of Science and Technology (AUST), Abuja-Nigeria and currently at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) on a sandwich programme.

Throughout his academic journey, the dream of being one of the best scientists with the ability to address societal challenges and to mentor young scientists has always lingered in his mind. Getting the RSIF PhD scholarship opportunity was a step towards fulfilling this dream, because the scholarship has already opened doors for him to connect with renowned researchers in his field of research. The RSIF scholarship has also helped him to build a network of people from diverse disciplines who have shaped him in ways unimaginable.

When Koech joined African University of Science and Technology (AUST), one of the PASET African Host Universities (AHU) in Abuja, Nigeria in 2018, he did complete the required core courses while working on the literature review and writing his research proposal. While at the AHU, Koech also got opportunities to participate in workshops and conferences which provided avenues for him to interact with experts in different areas of material science. In one of the workshop that was organized by the Joint Undertaking for an African Materials Institute (JUAMI) in Kampala-Uganda, Koech interacted with many researchers from various regions across Africa and US from whom he got exposure on various hands-on activities on materials characterization.

He is currently progressing well with experimental work on the fabrication and characterization of perovskite solar cells at WPI which is one of the PASET international partner institution (IPI). Being in WPI portends well for him as a student and an upcoming researcher. He joined the energy research group; led by Professor Wole who is a renowned researcher in material science; through which he has been able to deepen his understanding on various aspects related to solar cells, light emitting diodes and energy storage devices. Together with the research team, he has co-authored seven publications in peer reviewed journals.  With this teamwork, and the support he receives from his supervisors, he has a lot of hopes that he will accomplish his research goals in WPI and broaden his research collaboration network.

As a student, nothing is as good as seeing the hope of achieving what your heart has always yearned for. Koech has always hoped to be among the best researchers who will inspire many young scientists and with the progress he is making he sees this dream slowly turning into a reality. With the skills he has acquired, he hopes to be seriously involved in research and training other upcoming researchers in his field of specialization.

He admits that Covid-19 is a disaster that has affected everybody in different magnitudes. As a researcher and a family man, Koech says that the effects of Covid-19 have not spared him. Throughout the lockdown period that was meant to curb the spread of Covid-19, he could neither go to the lab to do the experiments nor visit his family back in Kenya. He had to convert his room into a study area and had to spend most of the time doing the write ups; as his research work was mostly experimental and needed physical presence in the Laboratory. Many challenges came along with this, spanning from boredom, psychological disturbance to those related to long period of physical inactivity. Covid-19 therefore affected his research plan which he is now trying to catch up with to be able to finish on time.

He is very grateful for the RSIF scholarship and calls upon more African Governments to come together and invest in the fund so that more bright and talented African youths can have their dreams turned into realities. Investing in the youth is the best way to transform the African continent given the nature of its demographic distribution.

Continue reading “My dream is to mentor young scientists”

My Communication internship experience with RSIF

 

By Yvonne Ndegwa, Former communications research intern  February-April 2021) at RSIF

“…. This is the defining global health crisis of our time…” Words uttered by WHO Director-General Dr Tedros more than a year ago, but which still ring true today. The pandemic has been a defining moment in the human experience and has drastically changed how we do things. Its fatal effects have been felt the world over and will surely live an indelible mark on our history books. The pandemic also left so many people jobless with the far-reaching economic strain of the pandemic felt by organizations, with their workforce bearing the brunt of it all through job cuts, unpaid leave, and uncertainties of whether the status quo will ever be restored. It also meant that job seekers like me would have to work even harder to secure employment, if any. It was therefore very humbling and almost felt undeserving that in such times, I got to work with the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF) as a Communications Research intern for a period of three months. Truly, this is an opportunity that I do not take for granted given the prevailing situation.

My internship has been the most fulfilling and motivational experience because I got to do what I love and offer myself to a project that makes Africa and the African people better-something that is close to my heart. Through the scholarships offered under the fund, researchers can advance their research and solve some of the problems that plague Africa. The fund also enables links with industry leaders and partners who are able to work with African universities that host RSIF students to transform what would have otherwise just been ideas, into innovative projects that offer solutions and opportunities for growth and development of the continent. I am very proud to have been engaged with a project whose heart and soul beats for the African people.

With such empathetic, compassionate, and supportive colleagues, this communication internship has helped me achieve my goal of gaining a world of exposure and experience in how communication can be tailored to drive change. Part of my role as a Communications Research intern was to support in social media engagement between RSIF and its audience- a responsibility that I performed diligently, and which drove our social media platforms spiralling towards the right direction. On Twitter for example, our engagement grew remarkably by almost 30% within 3 months and this is important because in the global village we live in now, almost all your audiences are online and traditional platforms of engagement are not as effective as they used to be. Because of the lessons I learned from the cooperation of my colleagues, I am confident that I will continue to grow and develop professionally and in my personal endeavours.

Within my internship, there were two distinct learning experiences that stand out to me as the most influential aspects of my development: social media is a tool for change and teamwork makes the dream work.

Throughout my internship experience, I was able to develop and foster a truly positive working environment, all through the support, cooperation, and guidance of my colleagues. Through the application of time management, organization, discipline and consistent practice, my presentation skills as well as my interpersonal skills improved remarkably. Additionally, my development both with managing the daily processes within the office and planning and delivering effective content on our social media platforms directly impacted the publicity gains of RSIF.

As I say goodbye, I am pleased by the gains we have made so far and extremely proud of the growth we continue to experience. I am encouraged by the overarching purpose of RSIF for Africa and I believe that through the fund, quality research will translate into transformational change which will tap into the potential of Africa and its people. I have grown remarkably as an individual and as a professional and will use all that I have learnt during my internship to advance and elevate my abilities.

Many thanks to the RSIF team for making my stay a smooth one filled with learning opportunities. To my supervisor, Dr. Moses Osiru, thank you for giving me the freedom to explore my creativity and inspiring growth through your strong leadership abilities. RSIF is indeed headed in the right direction under your leadership. I also wish to thank Kristin Seljeflot, whose dedication and commitment to her work was a great source of inspiration and for offering her guidance and support to ensure I made the absolute best of my time at RSIF. To the rest of the team, I am greatly indebted to the support and cooperation you have accorded me- I wish you all the best as you continue to discharge your duties. RSIF is a fund whose impact will be felt for generations to come and I am happy to have been part of such a programme. I look forward to reading about RSIF in the various news outlets and social media platforms.

I am confident in my own growth and development. I would not have the knowledge or skills I have today if it were not for my internship experience with RSIF, and I look forward to where my career in communication takes me in the future.

This perspective has been shared by Yvonne Ndegwa who was a communications research intern for three months (February-April 2021) with the Regional Coordination Unit of the Regional Scholarship Innovation Fund of PASET at icipe. She is a graduate of the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) in Kenya and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Corporate Communication, Media Studies and Management. Before joining icipe, she worked at the Central Bank of Kenya as a Communications Assistant. She also has experience working as a Personal Assistant to the Director in IONEC East Africa and a Corporate Communications Intern at Kenya Pipeline Company Limited.

icipe holds orientation workshop for 102 newly recruited PASET-RSIF PhD Scholars

The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), the Regional Coordination Unit for the PASET Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund held a five-day orientation and training workshop between 28 June and 2 July 2021 for the recently recruited third cohort RSIF PhD Scholars. The 102 scholars will join the doctoral scholars selected in the previous years: 69 scholars from the second Cohort and 15 from the first, bringing the total number of PASET-RSIF scholars to 184, from 20 African countries.  Fully funded by African governments, the government of Korea and the World Bank, the prestigious program provides full PhD scholarships to citizens of Sub-Saharan, research and innovation grants towards using science to solve African challenges. 40% of the 184 scholars are female,  a big step towards in achieving one of the program’s objectives, which is to address imbalances in the number of women and disadvantaged groups in ASET fields in Africa. Read more about the RSIF gender strategy here

The aim of the orientation was to introduce the new RSIF scholars to the RSIF program, the African Host Universities, and the RSIF team, and to make clear the guidelines for the program, and to each other, so that they are facilitated to begin their PhD program. It also aimed to clarify the expectations for their research and study. The training provided the scholars with an introduction to key skills that are necessary for undertaking doctoral study, including on science communication, PhD proposal writing, research methods, data analysis and use of social media to promote their research. Other topics included strategies for a successful PhD, PhD proposal writing, and the role of social media in higher learning. The training was delivered virtually.

During the opening session on 28 June, Dr Moses Osiru, the Manager, RSIF Regional Coordination Unit (RSIF-RCU) welcomed scholars and other participants on behalf of Dr. Segenet Kelemu, Director General and Chief Executive Officer of icipe. Opening remarks were delivered by Prof. Aminata Sall Diallo,  Executive Director of the PASET Executive Board. Prior to that, Mr. Michael Hughes, Advisor to the Minister of Education, Rwanda and Rwanda’s Representative to the PASET EB highlighted the importance of the RSIF program to developing science, technology and innovation on the Continent. The PASET EB thanked icipe for the role they play in implementing the RSIF initiative on behalf of African Governments. Fatoumata Thiam, a cohort one student beneficiary shared her academic journey to encourage the new scholars to stay focused and not to disappoint the African governments, who are investing in their education.

Trainers at the orientation included Dr. Daisy Salifu, Biostatistician, Data Management, Modeling and Geo-Information Unit, icipe; Prof. Baldwyn Torto, Principal Scientist and Head, Behavioural and Chemical Ecology Unit, icipe; Dr Rob Skilton, Head Capacity Building and Institutional Development, icipe; and Ms. Elizabeth Murimi, Mr. Bonface Nyagah, Ms Maureen Agena and Sakina Mapenzi from the RCU.

The 102 scholars selected for RSIF’s Cohort 3 will study in the 11 RSIF African Host Universities located across the continent: University of Rwanda, Rwanda, Bayero University, Nigeria, Kenyatta University, Kenya, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania, University of Ghana, Ghana, University of Nairobi, Kenya, Université Gaston Berger, Senegal, Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology, Tanzania ,University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Côte d’Ivoire.

Similar stories

  1. RSIF Holds Orientation Training Workshop for Cohort II scholars. See Link
  2. RSIF Cohort lll Orientation Material. See Link

I am on a mission to improve cowpea breeding in Africa

The Republic of Benin in West Africa is his home country and Frejus SODEDJI, is a young male scientist and proud beneficiary of the RSIF Cohort one scholarships that were awarded in 2018 to 15 students from across Africa.  He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. degree in Genetics and plant breeding under the PASET-RSIF funded Scholarship hosted by the Africa Center of Excellence in Climate Change, Biodiversity, and Sustainable Agriculture of the University Félix Houphouët-Boigny, in Ivory Coast.

RSIF Sholar Sodedji Frejus Ariel Kpedetin during a poster presenation at the PASET Forum in Kigali in 2019
What it meant to recieve a PhD Scholarship

Receiving the PhD scholarship was an absolute privileged which he says is helping him to achieve his career goals and to contribute effectively to the transformation of Africa. The scheme of the scholarship has given him the unique opportunity to work closely with renowned scientists on specific questions in the field of his expertise. Besides exposure, the scholarship has enabled Frejus to grow his network and visibility in ways unimaginable through his participation to several forums and debates around research and development in Africa, both at continental and international levels.

With this unique opportunity, he has set as a core mission to improve cowpea, a legume grain crop that plays a significant role in food and nutrition security in Africa. His research has established the genetic diversity of cowpea germplasm from different origins and the variation of micronutrient content in their sprouts as well as strategies to increase them, which adds value to the crop and will be instrumental in strengthening the food system in Africa. Some of the outputs from this work have been accepted for publication in high-impact factor Journal while others are under review.

The Sandwich programme

As the world is faced with the pandemic, COVID-19, Frejus has been fortunate enough to be in South Korea, thanks to the PASET-RSIF sandwich programme, where the regulations in terms of protective measures against the spread of the virus are being well implemented. However, he, like many other scholars has experienced lockdowns, quarantine periods, and some shifts in the working calendar, which restrained access to laboratory facilities, delayed communication and timely achievements of goals, and not to mention the perpetual anxiety of a new outbreak of infected cases in the institution which automatically collapse all activities and communications.

Frejus is thankful to all the stakeholders of the PASET-RSIF programme for their engagement in higher education in Africa and their pledge that there will be constant support from all stakeholders to this life-changing initiative.  He calls upon the various stakeholders to monitor the indicators of success over time while addressing the shortcomings so that the scholars build to contribute to ‘ a prosperous Africa that we all want and are committed to.

Contact Frejus SODEDJI via frejusariel@gmail.com

 

 

Nicknamed “Professseur” by my peers, I was inspired to pursue a PhD

Jean Baptiste HABINSHUTI from Rwanda is a PASET-RSIF Scholar in Material Science and Engineering at African University of Science and Technology (AUST) in Nigeria. Being a recipient of RSIF PhD scholarship opportunity meant a lot to him. First, it was an avenue to upgrade his academic qualification, but it also gave him a chance to realize his high school dream to earn the title of professor after having been nicknamed “Professseur” by students from his community for organizing science tutoring sessions during high school holidays. Little did they know that it was a catalyst for him to build himself and achieve his personal goals and development.

Picture of Baptiste taken in the lab during sample preparation for analysis

He was awarded PASET-RSIF scholarship to pursue a PhD degree in Material Science and Engineering in the thematic area of Mining, Mineral and Materials Engineering at AUST (Nigeria).  At AUST, the PhD program comprises two components: course work and research. To-date, Jean has completed his course work and is now on a sandwich program at Worcester Polytechnique Institute (USA) for part of his research. His research has four projects, of which he has completed two of them, while one is ongoing. He has one manuscript for publication under-review and he is working on the second one.

Why study material Science and engineering?

Jean believes that his study will add significant value to African mineral resources. The research focuses on processing and extraction of tantalite ores using simple, affordable, and environmentally friendly techniques. He is exploring how these techniques can be applied in mining and processing of African tantalite ores and add value to the mineral resources from Africa instead of exporting them in their raw form. By working closely with academic institutions, relevant investors and governments, and other stakeholders within sub-Saharan Africa; this specialized knowledge will be integrated in the region and transferred to the future generation.

When the Covid-19 pandemic spread to Africa, Jean, like many other scholars away from home had worries about his family and they were also worried about him. Getting updates about the Covid-19 status in his country was part of his daily activities. Regular calls to his family and relatives to raise their awareness and help them understand the importance of implementing and following the government preventive policies, was a need. USA was one of the most affected countries in both confirmed cases and mortality, something that caused more worries to Jean, his colleagues and his family. Consequently, staying indoors was the only way to avoid being exposed to the virus. Psychological instability resulting from repetitive activities and being away from the family members begun to affect him and other colleagues.

COVID-19 and the future

All his social life was affected by COVID 19 and as far as his research work was concerned, he had done some of the preliminary experiments before the pandemic paralyzed the activities in the University. When the University was closed in March 2020, access to facilities such as the Laboratories and Libraries became impossible and some activities shifted to remote access. The regular meetings with supervisors for discussion and presentation of research progress also slowed down significantly.

Covid-19 affected Jean’s research work plan because there was no laboratory work during the pandemic. The University has since resumed laboratory access with some restrictions. He admits that he has quite a lot of work to do, as recommended by his advisors, and he is currently trying to maximize on literature review, such that when things normalise, most of his time will be focused on laboratory work. However, there is a clear delay in his work plan, but he is committed to squeeze himself and work hard as he can see the possibilities of meeting the planned timeline to achieve his goals and objectives on time. The only big challenge is about his sample stuck in France due to radioactive material detected in. He, with the help of his host University tried to work on the shipment of other samples from Africa, but the samples were missed completely. FedEX has requested that he file claim to the shipping agency.

Jean is very grateful to RSIF and all collaborators of the program for giving him such an opportunity to shape his future, that of his family and his Country. He urges the management of RSIF to be aware of the impact and delays caused by the pandemic and work collaboratively. The University must do their best to allow access to facilities and tools that enable students to achieve their academic targets on time. RSIF should communicate with student advisors and encourage them to respond as fast as possible when students write to them seeking guidance and or recommendations.

Contact Jean Baptiste Habinshuti via jhabinshuti@wpi.edu