“Kilifi will keep you busy”
This is the story of what I did at Pwani University in Kilifi (Kenya) for my PIPS.
I arrived in Kilifi (a town in the Southern coast of Kenya) the 26th of January. As soon as I landed in Mombasa, the second largest city of Kenya and one of the closest airports to Kilifi, I felt a slap of hot wind on my face. I remember that my first thought was “I am not gonna survive this weather”. But I soon forgot about that, as I had to deal with several taxi drivers that wanted to take me elsewhere. They were insisting but friendly, and they laughed when I started mixing English with the few words I had learnt in Swahili.
One hour and a half later I arrived to Kilifi, to the house of my supervisor Santie where I would live for the next three months. The welcoming could not have been better: I was received by four dogs that left fur and slobber all over my trousers. That same day I met another PhD student that was staying there, Peter. Thanks to him I discovered that mangoes from Kenya are the best fruit in the world and that anything is possible in Kenya if you know a guy.
The next Monday I went to Pwani University (PU). PU is a very young university that has around 7000 students and is starting to get national recognition. It has a beautiful campus and a new research building (PUBReC) where the John Innes Center organised the AfriPlantSci Summer School.
In the morning I was introduced to many staff and students and I started thinking about what to do in the next months with the students. I had two projects in mind: working on soft skills and gender.
Project 1: Soft skills
The previous semester another DTP PhD student, Annalisa, organised a series of practical and theoretical workshops on good research practices. Because of the popularity of those workshops and the request of several students to have training on how to apply for a job, I decided to run a programme on job skills using a similar format as the one Annalisa used for her workshops. Along with the executive members of Pwani University Bioscience Association (PUBSA) we designed a 3-week programme of workshops that covered how to write a CV, a cover letter and a personal statement, how to plan your career and how to prepare a job interview. After the workshops, students were asked to apply for a mock job and send a CV, cover letter and personal statement. The students whose job applications were successful, were then invited for a panel interview. Once they were interviewed they were also invited to be one of the interviewers in the panel. During all the steps of the application process all the students received personalised feedback.
120 students joined the programme, 61 sent all the documents for the job application and 30 were invited for an interview. There was a lot of hard work, and I was lucky to have many people helping me. But all the effort is worthy when you find out that the students have found the experience useful.
And this was not the end of the story! The project on job skills finished with a Student Symposium on Career Advice that I organised and that was generously funded by the JIC. During the symposium students showcased the skills they had been taught while listening to career advice talks given by professionals from different areas. There was also a discussion panel that answered questions from the students about career progression.
Project 2: Gender
The second project I was involved in was about gender. My goal was to find out the level of awareness and sensitivity on gender among the students at PU. Luckily, I met a group of 40 students interested in gender and after an introductory meeting in which I handled a preliminary survey, I found out that those students were keen on working on gender. That finding gave me the confidence to organise a 2-session workshop covering the definition of gender, how our gender influences our lives, what type of gender-related issues happen in tertiary education and what policies universities have to tackle these issues. Both sessions led to discussions in which the students pointed out several gender issues and gave potential solutions:
AfriPlantSci Summer School
By the end of my PIPS, I also helped in the delivery of the AfriPlantSci Summer School. AfriPlantSci was organised by the JIC and it aimed to give training on research and soft schools to African scientists. My roles were to help facilitating the practical sessions and to lead a session on gender inequality in science.
This PIPS would not have been as great if I had not been surrounded by a group of wonderful people.
I would like to thank Santie and Rose, for supervising me and helping me with anything I needed. I also want to thank Davies and PUBSA students (Thomas, Mercy, Mark, Sam, Clinton, Justus, Moses and Betty) for their help during the workshops, as well as the other PIPS students Connor, Summer, Danny, James and Hans who made the experience even more fun.
Also, I would like to thank the members of ssDNAfrica (Annalisa, Ana and Alice )who gave me great advice on how to run the workshops.
And finally, I would like to thank the people from JIC and GSO (Chris, Matt, Angela, Tilly, Sarah and Dave) for their support.