Josie strengthens her career plans following PIPS in Africa

Josie strengthens her career plans following PIPS in Africa

Josie Maidment undertook her PIPS at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub from January to April 2017, during the second year of her PhD. The BecA-ILRI Hub is a shared agricultural research and biosciences platform that exists to increase access to affordable, world-class research facilities. Located at and managed by ILRI in Nairobi, Kenya, the BecA-ILRI Hub provides a common biosciences research platform, research-related services and capacity building opportunities to eastern and central Africa and beyond.

A key focus for the first half of Josie’s placement was the AfriPlantSci course on Plant Metabolism for Improved Nutrition and Health. In the weeks leading up to the course, Josie collated information for the course booklet (including protocols for the practical sessions), developed resources to support course participants, and designed feedback forms. Josie also prepared a design brief for the developer of the AfriPlantSci website, and launched a twitter page for AfriPlantSci. “The course itself took place over two weeks at NM-AIST in Arusha, Tanzania, and with only a short period of time to organise and familiarise ourselves with the lab, we had to work efficiently to be ready for the participants”, says Josie. Josie was jointly responsible for leading the practical sessions and guiding the participants through analysis of their results. The course went well, with positive feedback. This was a challenging experience but Josie found that she really enjoyed dealing with challenges that arose and finding ways to make the experiments work with the materials and equipment available. Following the course, Josie processed the participants’ feedback and wrote a report on the course.

Josie also attended several events during her time at the BecA-ILRI Hub. The first of these was the launch of the Newton-Utafiti Fund in Kenya. The Newton Fund collaborates with overseas countries to build scientific partnerships which aim to promote social welfare and economic development of the partner country. Attending the launch allowed Josie to gain an understanding of how the Fund operates, the projects it funds, and some of the research challenges faced by Kenyan scientists. The second event was a BBSRC workshop on Sustainable Intensification of Agricultural Systems in sub-Saharan Africa. This workshop brought together scientists from the UK and across Africa, with the aim of gathering information on the priorities and main research challenges in this area. The workshop was a great opportunity to interact with leading UK and African scientists in the field, and to discuss how scientific research can be applied to improve agricultural outputs as well as some of the barriers to dissemination and deployment of new technologies. The final workshop focused on developing a clear vision statement and theory of change for the ACACIA (A Centre for Accelerating Crop Improvement in Africa) consortium to strengthen future funding applications. It provided an excellent opportunity to learn about the process of developing a theory of change and different ways of thinking about delivering impact.

The African Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) Fellowship program is one of the main mechanisms for capacity building at the BecA-ILRI Hub. It mainly targets scientists in the National Agricultural Research Stations within the east and central African countries and gives them an avenue to address agricultural research issues affecting their countries /region. Josie had the opportunity to interact with and support some of ABCF Research fellows. The fellows work on a variety of crop and livestock species, and come from a wide range of countries across sub-Saharan Africa. Josie worked with two fellows on phylogenetic analysis of Theileria parva, which causes the devastating East Coast Fever, and participated in weekly technical troubleshooting sessions, where the fellows and research associates meet to discuss technical challenges (mostly related to molecular biology) and offer solutions. During the placement, Josie came to realise that a training workshop on Microsoft Excel would be useful for many of the ABCF fellows. After carrying out a needs assessment, Josie used the results to design, prepare materials for and deliver the workshop. The morning session covered some of the core features of MS Excel, including functions, plots, trendlines, and conditional formatting, while the afternoon session focused on more advanced techniques such as PivotTables, the Analysis Toolpak add-on and macros. Sixteen fellows participated, and the feedback from them was mostly positive, with the main criticism being that it could have been longer.

Josie feels that she developed many skills during the course of her internship. Josie has increased in confidence, particularly in teaching others, as well as being less self-conscious when speaking in meetings or workshop groups. Josie also advanced her communication skills, through the written work that she did for the website/reports and through discussion and training sessions. Josie’s planning and organisational skills were also improved; “One of the great things about this placement was that there was a variety of different activities to be involved with, but this also required a lot of organisation and careful planning to ensure I met deadlines and completed all tasks”, says Josie.

The experience has influenced Josie’s career aspirations as it has strengthened her desire to return to sub-Saharan Africa and work in translational research and capacity building. Josie now has a greater understanding about the way this sector operates, how the sector/organisation finds or makes money and of the strategic issues it faces.

Josie received some excellent feedback from her placement and impressed many people. “The feedback all the way through Josie’s placement has been exceptional. Her role during the Summer School in Tanzania was commented on by many attendees (including JIC faculty). The presence of our PIPs students has also been noticed (and supported) by senior BBSRC visitors to BecA in the last three months”, say Chris Darby, Director of International Strategy and Liaison at the JIC.

Overall, Josie felt her PIPS placement was a very positive experience and she advises students yet to undertake their PIPS to take their time when deciding on their placement to make sure they will get the most out of it. “Being able to take a bit more time to explore different opportunities, and find something I was really excited by meant that I got more out of my PIPS than I would otherwise have done”, says Josie.