How a Science Communication training and taking part in Falling Walls Lab Nairobi, helped me win grants.
Dr. Annette Obukosia Busula is a medical entomologist with specialization in malaria vector control. She holds a PhD in Medical entomology from Wageningen University and Research, the Netherlands and has had over 10 years of research experience from the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) and the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), Kenya. She is currently a lecturer of Biological and Agricultural Sciences at Kaimosi Friends University College in Western Kenya. She is also a TCC Africa 2020 trainee and Falling Walls Lab Top 10 National Winner.
TCC AFRICA: Tell us more about your research in medical entomology
Malaria has been a huge problem especially in sub-Saharan Africa, which Kenya is part. It has been known that malaria originated from apes thus I have been very keen to research on the relationship between apes and human beings. This interest is also partly due to the close proximity of Kaimosi Friends University College to the tropical rain forest which extends all the way to Congo. As an entomologist within the institution, I decided to develop a proposal and ensure that I work on objectives that can lead to control of any parasites that may spill over into human territory over time.
A fear that I have is a possibility of malaria pandemic in the future due to the parasites spilling over to humans. There is a lot of interaction between humans and apes as both cross into each other’s territories for various reasons. My action plan approach to this is to prevent infectious mosquito bites for households and student hostels around the forest. This will be done by use of several tools such as: screening eaves and windows with wire mesh, using double doors (with inner door screened too) and using odour-baited mosquito traps along corridors to trap any mosquitoes that may enter houses or hostels. I’m hoping that the outcome of this is prevention of a looming pandemic as well as reduction of malaria cases and some form of relief on the people’s economy as they do not have to go back and forth to the hospitals for treatment. This will be a one-time project in that maintenance of the eaves and mesh remains the house owners’ responsibility thus I don’t have to go back to train them on how to hang and empty the traps.
TCC AFRICA: In 2020, you took part in the Falling Walls Lab competition. What made you decide to participate in this global competition?
I really wanted my idea to be appreciated by people and was looking for funding and collaborators who would be interested in my proposal. I also wanted to know how good I would be amongst other competitors.
TCC AFRICA: What was that experience like once you joined the competition? Take us through what you felt from concept preparation to pitching your research idea before an audience.
First of all, I was really nervous and was not sure I could make the entire three minutes of the presentation as it was not something I had done before. It took me some time to settle on one interesting topic from the three that I had. After picking on the topic, I was able to revise and present it. Thanks to the trainings provided during the competition!
TCC AFRICA: You were among the top ten (10) finalist nationally in the competition that had attracted many participants from all over the country. What have you gained from having taken part in the competition?
My confidence, communication and writing skills have greatly improved. I am now able to pitch scientific presentations with ease, in the shortest time while making the content clear to the audience.
TCC AFRICA: What have you successfully gained in terms of international conferences and proposals you have submitted to, based on the experience of the Falling Walls competition?
During previous years before the Falling Walls competition, I had unsuccessfully tried to submit and pitch my work to international conferences such as the Keystones Conference, which is very competitive. However with the skills I built on from trainings by Training Centre in Communication and the Falling Walls Competition I was confident enough to register and submit an abstract of my proposal, which was accepted and I ended up getting a 200USD scholarship to participate at a symposia on ‘malaria in the era of COVID-19’ on 16th and 17th March, 2021. I was also one of the two Kenyans who took part in presenting my research work during the world Malaria day conference in April, 2021. This was an international conference that was also very competitive and one was required to record an mp4 video with a three minute pitch.
I have not only been working on virtual conference presentations but also on malaria vector control proposals. I have one finished proposal that has been submitted for funding as well as two manuscripts that I have submitted to journals for review and thereafter publication. The motivation to pitch and develop joint research proposals is amazing and something to appreciate.
TCC AFRICA: How did you feel when pitching your abstract on video under three minutes as compared to when you started out learning how to pitch your idea in three minutes?
It was fantastic! It was much better than the first time I did it, since I had been guided through the whole process and had key tips from the trainings I went through.
TCC AFRICA: What are you doing to support early career researchers in your university having had the experience of participating in competitions and undergoing trainings on writing research proposals and science communication.
I am guiding Master of Science students on how to pitch, how to prepare PowerPoint presentations that clearly bring out their research objectives. I also guide them on how to develop quality research proposals and abstracts for submission to scientific conferences that have calls for abstracts only.
I have also referred them to the academic community at Training Centre in Communication (TCC) for additional training and for collaboration.
Apart from the students at our university, I’m also mentoring an MSc student at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology. He will be defending his MSc thesis soon and I look forward to this, as he is my first Kenyan student to supervise after two MSc Dutch students.
TCC AFRICA: What does the future hold for you?
A bit challenging but, I have passion for writing grant proposals to support post graduate students by training them on how to write quality proposals, conduct experiments, write manuscripts, prepare for conferences and science communication.
I also want to add value to my university college through teaching, research and innovation so that it is ranked among the best universities in future. I will be glad to continue collaborating with Training Centre in Communication (TCC) to make the university college even better through research.
Thank you so much for your time. We remember how passionate you are about your work and how you are carrying forward what you have learned to support others.