Moi University students recruited to Indiana University Bloomington for an 8-week summer research internship. Back left to right: Dr. David Daleke, Dr. Daniel Schwab, Moustafa Saleh, and Dr. Greg Demas. Middle left to right: Ahmed Ghobashi, Annie MacKenzie, and Dr. Soni Lacefield. Front left to right: Gabriel Gihana, Jonah Masika, Erick Wabwire, and Batula Robow. Photo credit: Terri Greene

On a global scale, both the quantity and the quality of research produced from Africa remain low. The major challenges impeding the development of research in Africa include insufficient funding, inadequate infrastructure, as well as low number of trained personnel. In face of these challenges, several individuals, organizations, and institutions are offering their contributions towards long-lasting solutions. One such institutions is Indiana University Bloomington (IU), which for the past two years, has recruited African college students and offered them hands-on experience in research laboratories in biology. This year, Afrisnet’s Education Committee has joined IU’s Biology Department to offer professional training to research interns from Moi University, Kenya.  

IU is a public university in the state of Indiana, USA. IU’s Biology Department includes five African students that are pursuing Ph.D. degrees. These students realized that research experience was the main limitation preventing other African students from getting admitted into Ph.D. programs in the USA. The students then reached out to the department’s Chair and asked for a possibility to recruit college students from Africa and provide them with hands-on research experience in the department. The Chair, Dr. Greg Demas, saw the possibility and took the matter to Dr. David Daleke, the Associate Dean of the University Graduate School. Dean Daleke welcomed the idea; he, too, saw the possibility of recruiting a few African college students for research internship through an already-existing IU Summer Undergraduate Research Program. Dr. Soni Lacefield, an Associate Professor of Biology at IU, graciously offered to spearhead the program for the Biology Department, and she has brought it to success for two consecutive years. 

Pursuing an independent research project is an essential experience in the development of young scientists, and such experiences are increasingly a prerequisite for gaining admission to STEM graduate programs. However, being able to design and execute a research project is only half the challenge: it is also critical that young scientists learn how to communicate their research to others, as well as how to leverage their research experiences to successfully apply to graduate school. By partnering with the IU Summer Research Program and the IU Department of Biology, we have been able to develop the professional skills of the Moi undergraduate students by teaching them how to orally present their research to other scientists, as well as to write about their research and compose effective graduate school applications. It is not always easy to perceive the needs of students coming from different countries and institutions, and developing this completely novel course has been a great challenge. However, I have found the Moi students to be highly receptive to our professional development course at every stage, and I have been continuously impressed by their rapid intellectual growth and diligence. I have no doubt that they will be highly competitive when applying to graduate school!

Dr. Daniel Schwab

Afrisnet Education Committee

From June to August 2019, the program hosted three students from Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya. The three invited students were Jonah Masika, Erick Wabwire, and Batula Abdulkarim Robow. These students spent eight weeks in biology laboratories where they were mentored in research. Jonah joined the laboratory of Dr. John Patton, which studies viral life cycle. Erick was hosted in the laboratory of Dr. Soni Lacefield, where he did research on cell cycle in budding yeast. Batula was in the laboratory of Dr. Claire Walczak, and her project dealt with polyploidy in cancer cells. Students were trained on how to review research literature, as well as how to plan and execute experiments in a research laboratory. This training was in addition to direct exposure to cutting-edge research facilities and to interactions with several graduate students on a competent research campus. 

Working with the Moi University students has been very rewarding. It has been great to see their confidence grow from the first week to now. It has been rewarding watching them develop a good understanding of their individual projects as they collect data and make new discoveries. In addition to the scientific aspects, it has been fun watching them experience American culture through fireworks and meals together, while also teaching me a lot about Kenyan lifestyle and ways. Some challenging parts have been finding enough time in my schedule to devote to the students, as I have to keep my own work up  while ensuring that the students are doing okay

Annie MacKenzie

Afrisnet Education Committee

In addition to research in the laboratories, the Moi interns benefited from weekly professional training organized and offered by the Afrisnet Education Committee. Members of the committee that offered the training were Dr. Daniel Schwab, together Ph.D. candidates Annie MacKenzie, Ashwini Ramesh, and Gabriel Gihana. The committee trained the students on a range of topics including research communication, research presentation, as well as academic and professional writing. The committee also taught the Moi interns how to successfully apply to graduate programs in the USA. Through these training sessions, students have learned how to write important graduate application documents such as research statements, statements of purpose, CV, and letters of intent to potential faculty advisers. Afrisnet believes such training is indispensable for the Moi interns as they prepare to apply for graduate school in the USA. Indeed, in addition to research experience, most graduate admissions prefer students with both academic and professional proficiency. 

At the end of their internship, Moi interns delivered effective and professional research presentations, from which it became obvious that these students had accomplished and learned a lot in a relatively short period of time. This internship illustrates that, once given direct exposure and appropriate mentoring, students from African colleges can successfully participate in research in fast-paced environment. Afrisnet applauds Indiana University and its Biology Department for providing the Moi students with an opportunity to do research. Congratulations to the Moi students for a job well-done, and Afrisnet wishes them the best of luck as they seek admission to graduate school. 

How can we mold and shape the next generation of scientists to push the boundaries of research? What can we do collectively to diversify science, and promote quality research regardless of zip-code? These were the intentions that I set for myself as I prepared to train students from MOI universities. The students from MOI were perhaps one of the most dedicated, gritty, and persistent REUs I have mentored. In their time here, the students displayed their commitment to learn while striving to excel in their research. It was also wonderful to see genuine camaraderie in this group and be invested in each other’s success. As an instructor, I developed and helped prepare modules that would strengthen their graduate school application. As a fellow international student, I realize the challenges of the application process and moving countries in pursue of education. This enabled me to both empathize and provide them insights from my own experience in overcoming these challenges.  Working with students from MOI university via Afrisnet in partnership with IU Summer Research Program has been an enriching and rewarding experience. I look forward to welcoming any of these students as my colleagues at IU Biology!

Ashwini Ramesh

Afrisnet Education Committee

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