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Meet Our Mentors: Dr. Mary A. Opiyo

Mary Opiyo
Dr. Mary A. Opiyo

Dr. Mary Opiyo is an Aquaculture Research Scientist at Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute – Sagana Centre, Kenya.  Her every day work involves working in sustainable aquaculture projects dealing with broodstock development, seed production (Monosex tilapia and African Catfish), fish health management and fish nutrition.  She has 10 years of research experience, and project coordination in the freshwater aquaculture. She recently finalized her PhD in Fisheries Science from Kenyatta University and her thesis focused on the use of dietary probiotics in enhancing growth and immunity of Nile tilapia cultured in low input ponds. She came about this topic after several studies previously done indicated presence of pathogenic bacteria in low input ponds. Her PhD study gives solutions to production of safe and quality fish from low input ponds by smallholder farmers in rural areas because of high cost of feeds. Dr. Opiyo would like to encourage upcoming scientists/ PhD students, saying that with passion they can pursue their career/academic goal.  A PhD program requires a lot of time dedicated for research, which needs patience to get reliable results. Constant consultations with supervisors help a lot in project design and progression in data collection. Additionally, consultations with experts in the field help get ideas on carrying out laboratory work and data analysis leading to a smooth PhD journey.

Opinion

Tips for Finding Opportunities to Fund Graduate School

By Caroline Marete

Graduate school is generally expensive. More so if you choose to study in the U.S. or Europe. An important step before starting graduate school is figuring out how to fund your graduate education. Fortunately, there are opportunities. Through personal experience I learned that the process of applying for funding is not a check list that one can follow step by step and expect an outcome at the end. On the contrary, the process of searching for funding is highly dependent on one’s ability to take personal initiative and be persistent in the search. Starting the search early and finding a mentor to guide me through the process are two ways I found helpful throughout the process. I was fortunate to find a mentor who saw my potential and was willing to invest time in nurturing my career growth. My mentor was a constant source of encouragement and reviewed my applications with me to make sure I did not leave out important documents or miss important deadlines. I started my search for master’s programs abroad after my undergraduate. Like most new graduates I was very ambitious but unprepared for the rigorous process of applying for masters’ programs abroad. Starting the process of application early allowed me ample time to review my applications and make sure the process did not wear me out. I was accepted into several graduate programs but none of these schools offered me full funding. So, I took a corporate job while I searched relentlessly for funding. Working in a corporate environment helped me establish a professional network and develop soft skills that are unlikely to be taught in a classroom. It also strengthened my CV, making me more competitive for funding.

Some funding opportunities are only advertised within networks. During my search, a friend mentioned to me a scholarship program I had never heard of before. I immediately went online and searched for the scholarship program, but in vain. In the end I decided to send an email to the organization that offered the scholarship. As with many funding organizations, they were receiving many unsolicited emails. I learned very fast that a follow up call or email can be the difference between successful and unsuccessful applicants. When I did not hear back after two months, I sent a follow up email and found an office telephone line that I called. The next time the call for applications was announced, I received an email asking me to apply. I got the scholarship. Had I not done those seemingly tedious follow ups, I might have missed that great opportunity. However, I caution against being aggressive; there is a thin line between being assertive in your search and being a nuisance. I found that following up with emails or a call every month is a good balance, unless your contact asks you to follow up sooner.

Having my admission letter in hand helped me distinguish myself from many other applicants for funding opportunities. I had already spent time and resources on standardized tests and submitted applications to several schools. This kind of effort shows self-drive and determination and can be what differentiates a candidate in the application process. I attribute a significant part of my success with funding to mentorship and a strong professional network. As a young professional, I knew I had a lot to learn. I volunteered to help in corporate events at work which allowed me to meet and interact with professionals at all levels in a more relaxed out of office environment. Some of the professionals I met had studied abroad and had experienced the same challenges I was going through with my applications. Most people were happy to share their experiences and allowed me to use them as my references. Through my professional network, I met people who had won prestigious scholarships such as the Fulbright Scholarship, Rhodes Scholarship, and Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship. Within my network, I identified a handful of people who I felt had followed a professional path similar to the one I was forging for myself. I kept constant communication with this group and occasionally asked for guidance whenever I needed professional advice. To date, I stay in contact with this group and will often reach out to them for professional advice.

Key takeaways for me during this process of finding funds to support my graduate studies are:

  1. Start very early (in the third or fourth year of your undergraduate);
  2. Find a mentor and be willing to go the extra mile;
  3. Build a professional network and join a professional body; and, most important
  4. Practice patience and resilience. Rejections happen—even when you thought that was your best shot. Keep an open mind and allow yourself to fail, but do not be afraid to keep trying.

 Caroline K. Marete is a Doctoral student at the Purdue University School of Aviation and Transportation Technology. She is a recipient of Purdue Graduate School Ross Fellowship and the Fulbright Foreign Student Scholarship Award.

Opinion

On Work-Life Balance: My Choice, My family, My Career

By Mercy A. Okezue

‘My career, my family’, or ‘my family, my career’; which one takes precedence over the other? This forms the question with which many professional women in the African and indeed many other societies battle. Battle? Yes, indeed, I describe it a battle and I am positive that stories abound of gender bias experienced by women trying to raise a family alongside building their careers in academia or other professions.

From life experiences, I have known women who chose career over family needs and vice versa. Some expressed profound regrets at their choices years after those decisions, while others recorded resounding success. My thinking is that everyone reading this write up has examples of some positive and negative outcomes from choices made by women in different phases of their lives. In assessing “why women still can’t have it all”, Lachover (2014) documented different scenarios where women in top leadership positions had to sacrifice some important career privileges to be able to spend more time with their families. Those professionals, very much like their African counterparts, were faced with the choice of prioritizing either the family or career demands at some points in the prime of their lifetime. The choices made could be somewhat likened to a risk:benefit analysis.

My opinion is that the family-workplace conflict will not only affect the women ‘in the line of fire’, but the society at large will also be impacted. I recently read a book authored by a female which described different strategies for resolving work-family frictions employed by womenfolk in different parts of Africa; alternatives included the role of household helps and recommendations for government measures such as welfare packages. Additionally, a quest for family-friendly policies, such as men’s greater participation in family life as well as gender equality, all aimed at ameliorating the situation faced by the working woman within the region (Mokomane 2014). Another perspective suggests that women respond to work-life challenges in a variety of ways: choose not to have partners or children; turn in to “super humans”; take leave of absence; or choose to work part-time (Bielby & Bielby, 1988). Finding a balance between career and family demands would provide a desirable endpoint. In making choices, it is important to not compare one’s life circumstances with those of other peoples, rather endeavor to evaluate each situation and find what works best based on personality, environmental settings, and personal value systems. In any event, whichever turn a woman chooses to take at those critical decision points should be respected; her choice, her family, her career!

Mercy A. Okezue, B.Pharm, FPCPharm, MSc.(Purdue), NAFDAC certified GMP lead inspector for Pharmaceutical products is a PhD. Student in Biotechnology Innovation and Regulatory Sciences at Purdue University. She can be reached at mokezue@purdue.edu, amaka_u@hotmail.com

References

Bielby, D. D., & Bielby, W. T. (1988). She works hard for the money: Household responsibilities and the allocation of work effort. American Journal of Sociology, 93, 1031-1059.

Lachover, E. (2014). “Why women still can’t have it all?” Israeli media discourse on motherhood vs. career. Hagar, 11, 105-126,175.

Mokomane, Z. (2014). Work–Family Interface in Sub-Saharan Africa: Challenges and Responses. Cham : Springer International Publishing : Imprint: Springer.

News

Prof. Gitau Gives Invited Talks at Qinghai Normal University

 
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Prof. Margaret Gitau recently gave invited talks on “Managing Water Quality for a Sustainable World” and “Modeling for Hydrology and Water Quality” at Qinghai Normal University in Xining, China. In these talks, she discussed perspectives, current research, and future directions for water quality management, and also highlighted challenges and opportunities for hydrologic and water quality modeling.
Opinion

African Women Can Compete on Competence

By Abigail A. Ekeigwe

Competence, in my understanding, opinion and words, means the aggregation of knowledge and skills, some hard, some soft, that make one capable of effective performance that achieves desired outcome while having a balanced life.  For example, if you are a pharmacist with a college degree, you need to synergize the knowledge from your college education with experience from “deliberate practice” of pharmacy. You also need to add soft skills like emotional intelligence that help you coordinate your family, work environment, and customer interests to deliver desired outcomes.

My native African experience is that women are often raised to believe that their gender predisposed them to be less competent.  But I have come to learn that this is untrue, for example, as shown by the three characters in the book Hidden Figures, “the phenomenal true story of the exceptionally talented black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space.” (Shetterly, 2017). It is an inspiring book for all African career women to read. Competence is important because it is one of the key fundamentals of the capitalist society in which we work. For this reason, it is not within our control to choose whether or not to become competent, it is imposed.  Capitalism is competence-driven, efficiency-driven, profit-driven and, therefore, gender-agnostic.  Ideally, if you are the best the market will hire you, driven by its gender-agnostic profit motive.  But note that being the best includes being courageous to say, “yes I can,” the inspiring Barack Obama slogan, even at the risk of being labelled “proud”.  It is part of the creative personality profile that fired you up to competence in the first place and consistent with research findings of Csikszentmihalyi, who reported that “creative individuals have a great deal of energy, … often quiet and at rest … are also remarkably humble and proud at the same time.” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996). We now know that “being too modest likely won’t serve you well.” (Nasher, 2019). Therefore, do not be demur; it would be professionally counterproductive for your career if you skittishly demur to the realities of your competence. The converse is true if you do what the market wants, namely, obey market rules, with evident demonstration of competence, and deliver that efficient resonant performance for which you have prepared. The society is replete with contemporary evidence in this respect.  A 2018 Pew Research survey shows that the American society is now more agreeable to the idea of women being in leadership positions in both business and politics (Horowitz, Igielnik, & Parker, 2018). Entrenched barriers are gradually crumbling and becoming morally unpopular.  But there is yet more work to be done.

To my fellow African women, I say, be strong and courageous, and watch the genius in you emerge to become visible to the market. These thoughts are from my daily introspections as I intently build my career capital to be compelling and resilient, and I wanted to humbly share them here hoping that someone would benefit from it.

Abigail A. Ekeigwe, B.Pharm, M.Pharm, FPCPharm, MSc.(Purdue), ASQ Certified QIA is a PhD. Student in Biotechnology Innovation and Regulatory Sciences at Purdue University. She can be reached at aekeigwe@purdue.edu, abigail.a.ekeigwe@gmail.com; LinkedIn page – https://www.linkedin.com/in/abigail-ekeigwe-74416b16/; ORCID – https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2695-7690.

References: Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: Harper Perennial.; Horowitz, J. M., Igielnik, R., & Parker, K. (2018, 2018-09-20). How Americans View Women Leaders in Politics and Business. Retrieved from https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2018/09/20/women-and-leadership-2018/; Nasher, J. (2019). To Seem More Competent, Be More Confident. Harvard Business Review(March – April).; Shetterly, M. L. (2017). Hidden figures: the American Dream and the untold story of the black women mathematicians who helped win the space race. New York: William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.