In December 2020, I was so delighted to receive the 2020 Training Grant for Early Career Researchers from the journal Communications Biology a part of Springer Nature.
After registering for the PhD (in Biomedical Sciences) at the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical College in 2020, I immediately realized how much I needed to learn and to build my skills in order to execute my proposed research, specifically on novel mosquito control tools such as new generation bed nets and blankets. I was not so sure where can I secure funds to attend necessary additional trainings relevant for my PhD research. So, when the ECR Travel Grant 2020 was announced, at the very appropriate time for me, I gathered all my necessary information and decided on what I would spend the grant if I secure it, consulted my supervisor and applied for it. I have found that I do not have sufficient practical skills on Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), a technique required for species and insecticide resistance identification on mosquitoes. Characterizing the mosquitoes intended to be used for the assessment of the new generation bed nets and blankets is crucial in order to assess efficacy of these products against mosquitoes. So, upon applying for the ECR Travel Grant 2020, I opted for the PCR Boot Camp course that is routinely conducted at Kenya Institute of Bioinformatics (KIBs). As soon as I received the information of ECR Travel Grant, I contacted KIBs and set a date in March 2021 to attend the course of my choice. There were so many uncertainties on travel restrictions at the moment. A few weeks before traveling I was informed that, I would need a COVID-19 test to testify that I am negative and fit for travel from Tanzania to Kenya. Two days before traveling I did my test and I was negative.
I arrived in Kenya on 25th March 2021, and that evening the government of Kenya announced a complete curfew for the Nairobi. I called the KIBs to ask if it was feasible still to get the training with this curfew in place? Luckily, they have already focused and arranged on how to conduct the class. They have decided that all participants from within Kenya shall be trained on another day and that if any participant has arrived from another country shall be trained, and there I was, although alone. I arrived on 26th March 2021 at KIBS, met the laboratory manager, Mr Nassir, and Bernard the laboratory scientist. Through this training I have learnt several key aspects of PCR such planning, setting up, running and analyzing PCR results. I had an opportunity to do DNA extraction, gel preparation, PCR analysis and interpretation. Through this cause, I was taught on how to design primers, which is an important aspect of genetic analysis. I was introduced to different databases such as GeneBank, DDBJ, InsectBase, VectorBase and tools such as FASTA and trained on how to apply these in primer design. Additional trainings that I obtained from KIBs were on how to use online free programs such as JALVIEW and Molecular Evolutionary Genetic Analysis (MEGA) for multiple sequence alignment editing, visualization and analysis, this skill will be very important when I do mosquito evolutionary studies. Hence the PCR Bootcamp have empowered me with necessary skills that will enable me not only to analyze mosquito samples during my research project, but to advance my research in evolutionary studies as well which is very relevant to my research career. I had an opportunity to discuss with the lab manager and scientist in detail on my project. Their inputs have enabled me to modify and improve my study design in a more meaningful way. The skill that I have learnt will be shared at our molecular laboratory team and incorporated in the appropriate Standard Operating Procedures.
As an awardee of the ECR training grant, I have been given a free 6-month access to the Nature Masterclasses online course Managing Research Data to Unlock its Full Potential. I registered for this wonderful course and started to learn on April 2021 and completed the course on June 2021. I have been offered this course at the very right time, at the very beginning of my PhD study, when I have not yet stared my experimental phases, therefore it gave me a good lesson, very relevant for my research career, the course has enabled me to establish DMP, which ensures benefits both in my own research and in my field more widely. I have learned so much from this course, and I have improved my whole research conduct from planning, executing, archiving, and sharing. This course has sensitized me on the data policy, reminded me to look up for all the policies applicable in my research so that I can comply from the very beginning. I love the portfolios along the modules as I progress as it allows me to digest what I have learn and put it into practice for my research project.