06/11/17

Small town, big dreams

WHEN THE JINGLE BELLS RANG.

Last Christmas, I had the opportunity to travel to Westerville Ohio for the holidays. Dr. Opiyo Steven, a faculty member from Ohio State University and personal family connection, was my host. This trip was my first time to plan distant travel; I was as anxious as I was excited. This was also the first Christmas I spent with family ever since moving to Canada for my university education. I fondly recall the taste of typical Ugandan food, which I had not had out of Uganda before. I also recall the warm feeling of being around family, and being able to interact with international guests.

With Dr. Opiyo at Colombus zoo.

While in Ohio, I spent most of my time in Westerville, a small town close to Colombus. I explored the commercial horticulture farm where Mrs. Opiyo worked. Towards the end of my trip, I explored Colombus city where I spent most of my time at Ohio state university. More importantly, I had a tour of Dr. Opiyo’s research laboratory and a conversation about his work in bioinformatics. In addition to reinforcing my perception of bioinformatics as an increasingly relevant and lucrative career, I had an opportunity to speak to Dr. Opiyo about his experiences establishing his professional career in North America as an immigrant from Uganda. I also learnt a lot from his innovations, and big dreams for diversifying the nature of his data analysis work. I find his experiences inspirational especially as I plan to apply for graduate school to advance my research career next year after graduation.

In as much as I had well-deserved moments to rest after a challenging academic term, there were many moments of learning on this trip.

05/25/16

Jumpstart 2015: The vantage point

Vantage point.

I am often asked about my favourite experience at UBC; by now I have figured that it is no coincidence that my mind flashes back to the August in the summer of 2015. Not only do I remember it as a very rejuvenating experience, I recall it to be high up on my list of the most “efficient” periods of my UBC life. August is the time when the first groups of new students arrive at UBC through the jumpstart orientations program. Having failed to make it in time for my own jumpstart in my first year, I was strongly motivated to support other new international students in ways that I was not lucky enough to experience. This is an opportunity that was proffered to me when I was chosen to be an orientations leader (O.L) for the 2015 Jumpstart orientations program.

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With my learning community at Kitsilano.

My roles were centered on co-facilitating orientation for new international students through academic, social and holistic immersion programs. Under the supervision of senior Jumpstart staff, I was part of a closely knit team of over fifty orientations leaders in Totem Park (and over 100 in all residences). My experiences could have easily been limited to the (“job”) roles described above – not to say that they were not cardinal – but there were so many unforeseen pieces of being an orientation leader. There was something exhilarating about being in a position to contribute to the lives of other students here at UBC. I always knew I wanted to find a vantage point to be a positive part of other people’s stories and the jumpstart program turned out to be perfect for this. The connections that I made with the faculty fellows and first year students within my learning community also supported me to grow in leadership and interpersonal relations. Despite following a model for professional relationships, some of these students have turned out to be friends that I have kept in touch with even beyond the two week period.

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-With Cindy Shan, my partner O.L.

Closer to my heart however were the experiences I had with other orientation leaders. Having spent a slightly longer time training and meeting daily with this highly motivated group of individuals, I developed very supportive social and professional relationships with many of my colleagues. Since Jumpstart was my first involvement in student development, I was conscious of the fact that I would need support along the way. The sense of community that the team cultivated transcended the support I expected and augmented the energy and impact that I had during the program (and that the program had on me). In many ways, I stepped out of my comfort zone and I still recognize this as a turning point in several aspects of my character and ways of relating to other people. The program required a lot of time and energy, yet also gave a lot of exuberance in return so it was possible to keep

squad

With my O.L squad.

going on from early mornings to late nights. This was to lead to the “Jumpstart hangover” after the three weeks but it was worth every bit of the effort that was put into it. In this same spirit, I developed a good partnership with my Learning community partner (orientation leader) and together we took a step beyond our assigned times to ensure that our learning community created bonds that would last beyond. To this day, I am glad to see students from my learning community that keep in touch and support each other even beyond their first year. It is this “seed” of cohesion that drew me into this role of building community – and spawns the feelings of accomplishment that I attach to my experiences.

 

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With learning community at Beaty Biodiversity museum

My August experience was perhaps a salient personal reflection of efficiency because I was involved in a few other capacities around campus. In this spate of progress, I was accepted into my first role in research at the Chan Yeung Center for Occupational and Environmental respiratory Disease, and also co-organized the 2015 clubs orientation for the Science Undergraduate Society (as the 2015-2016 Clubs Commissioner). I would like to think that I was fairly successful in all the capacities I was involved in at the time. Being part of a warm community in Jumpstart, a driven collaborative network in the Science Undergraduate Society and fundamental scientific (clinical) research merges into one salient memory that has been irrevocably etched in my mind.

I have taken the few past months to reflect on these fast-paced but momentous three weeks of my life. As much I recognize many things that I could have done better (and/or that the program could have done better), I believe these were an amazingly well put 3 weeks that epitomize the highlights of my life at UBC.

 

 

04/6/16

Breakfast with the president

Today April 4th…

Today is an amazing day, a day of gratitude and reflection. Today, I stop for a moment to take a look at the road unwound behind me. Two years ago, I joined this amazing university as a first year student. I was introduced to the concept of constant engagement in leadership by the MasterCard Foundation leadership development activities. Then, I could neither see how to start my journey of leadership, nor how to transcend my previous personal capabilities in this foreign system.

With the MCF team at Sage Bistro

With the MCF team at Sage Bistro

Today, I stand among a group of leaders recognized by the President and Vice chancellor of UBC, Martha Piper. Nominated to attend by Jolanta Lekich and Yuko Lee (a science international student advisor), I am greeted with a sumptuous breakfast at Sage Bistro and an important message of encouragement from reputable UBC staff. In a way, this is the kind of revitalization I need occasionally on this journey. It has been easy to lose track of the impact I have had in my communities, right from my first involvement in my house council in Kwakiutl house down to the Science Undergraduate Society where I have been a clubs commissioner for the past academic year.  These are simply the bounds (chronologically) of the examples of roles I have taken on. In this moment of reflection, I realize that contrary to my pre-current beliefs, leadership has become an integral part of my life and ceased to be a set of tasks that I am must do.

 

 

Today, I am not short of things to be grateful for. I am grateful to God, for the cascade of opportunities that unravel ceaselessly. I am grateful to the MasterCard foundation scholarship, to UBC, and more specifically, to the people who stand behind these reputable organizations. There have been people who have believed in me along the way. The people who have nominated me, the people I have worked with and the people who have supported me in my duties. Tomorrow, I look forward to being here again as a student ambassador with campus tours. As I take home a written form of inspiration signed by Martha Piper, I pause at the door of Sage Bistro and glance back. I am not one to pass an opportunity to be grateful for good food.

04/5/16

The Clinton Global Initiative University 2016

CGIU 2016.

This year, I was honoured to be a part of the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) at UC Berkeley. With the support of the MasterCard Foundation and CGIU, I was given an opportunity to be a part of an outstanding global movement. Driven by observations of the increasing socio-economic challenges on the globe and increasing ability of

At CGI

At CGIU

the world to observe critically, the Clinton Global Initiative is one of the numerous initiatives to create capacity to tackle these problems. This year, the initiative converged thousands of delegates from many universities around the world to inspire commitment to creating change within small communities as pieces of the larger picture of global development.

Going back to 2013, my greatest misfortune was the impediments between the translation of my ideas into developmental projects and impact. In developing the HYDRA 256 concept, I was driven by the change I wanted to see in remote communities in Uganda. However, I was limited in the number of like-minds and resources to set the development of the idea into motion. Despite not being able to access these resources then, being part of the CGIU this year felt like my second major chance to contribute. Through my commitment to action with CGIU, I have been inspired to use my personal career development to contribute to the public health sector in central Uganda.

My commitment to action.

I was raised by a mother who has been a public nurse for over 20 years, and therefore was extensively exposed to the healthcare system in Jinja district. Through casual interactions with the staff and patients, I was impressed by the support system in place especially for HIV/AIDS patients under The AIDS Support Organization (TASO). However, I also observed challenges within the system. I developed hypotheses to explain the challenges I saw, but did not have an opportunity to undertake rigorous research to identify these challenges and contribute to finding solutions. The CGIU system has given me the much-sought opportunity to channel this curiosity into action. My commitment is to develop a protocol for monitoring HIV/AIDS treatment in low-income settings and promote adherence in central Uganda. This also aims in long term to also deal with multi-drug resistance that is wide-spread on the African continent due to misuse of available drugs. This would be a research based commitment as an incremental effort to the already existing medical and public health research on HIV/AIDS in Uganda. This is also inspired by my career aspirations in Immunology/Microbiology. My commitment to action also aligns with my summer internship in which I will be engaged in translational research in HIV/AIDS at the infectious Disease Institute at Makerere University. I intend to use this as an opportunity to kick-start the commitment and also have practical exposure to assess the feasibility of my project.

Why commit to research?

The research commitment aims to alleviate mortality due to HIV/AIDS arising from poor adherence and accessibility to treatment. The findings of my reports would be useful to bridge the gap between the sources of treatment and the affected patients. This will be by providing a well-researched set of guidelines for public health personnel to execute treatment programmes and evaluate their proficiency. Another issue that could subtly be addressed by this research is the multi-drug resistance that is associated with poor treatment adherence especially for opportunistic infections at the AIDS stage. There has not been extensive public information of the risks of this drug resistance. The target population is East and Central Uganda, with a focus on Kampala and Jinja districts.

What success would look like…

As with most scientific research, my project’s value is incremental and informational. I intend to write a comprehensive report on the current system of diagnosing, treating and monitoring HIV/AIDs infection. The real value of this report would be to use these observations to optimize the control of HIV/AIDS mortality right from the level of health policies down to the patients and society. In effect, this project aims to instigate the revision of policy and process surrounding treatment.

Perhaps the more unique aspect of my research would be to investigate drug resistance by pathogens, using HIV/AIDS patients as a starting point since they are constantly exposed to antibiotics and antivirals. Through my education and in my community, there wasn’t a strong emphasis on the drug resistance due to misuse. This makes such communities a ground zero for a foreseeable global medical catastrophe known as the “post-antibiotic era” which would be in large due to lack of emphasis on appropriate drug use in developing nations. My commitment should raise awareness on the matter through advocacy.

Personal lessons from CGIU.

 

With President Bill Clinton (left), me (right) and P. Wangui, a student member (centre)

With President Bill Clinton (left), me (right) and P. Wangui, a student member (centre)

In addition to focussing my plans to contribute to society, there were several more specific moments of learning at CGIU. I was honoured to personally meet President Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States of America. In his addresses, I found many messages to be revolutionary in the way I think about being part of change. He reiterated the significance of interdependence and particularly, the importance of positive interdependence as opposed to negative interdependence. I vividly recall his inspirational drive for reporting failure in order to use it as a foot hold for future development. Subtly, this speaks to my personal inaction for fear of failure. A more human message from the former US president was to see people as individuals and pay attention to each and every person.

A salient theme of the CGIU was engagement of local communities in solving their own problems. In his opening address, Bill Clinton stated that “the people closest to the problem are closest to the solution, yet often furthest from power”. I find remarkable truth in this statement and the promotion of individual empowerment through CGIU serves to bridge that gap – an effort I was encouraged to believe I can be a part of.

With Chris Ategeka (right).

With Chris Ategeka (right).

I was also able to network with several students from across the globe and listen to amazing initiatives. This has broadened my network of like-minded people and given me an opportunity at peer mentorship. I was honoured to meet and receive advice from Chris Ategeka, a successful Ugandan-born social entrepreneur who was featured in Forbes 30 under 30. If there was anything to learn from Chris, it was how he sustainably developed projects for community support and empowerment. I was impressed by his model of maintaining financial sustainability and using it as an effective pitch to garner more funding. Furthermore, Chris’ idea to use mobile clinic and motorcycle ambulances to increase accessibility to health care in rural communities ignites questions surrounding the use of these methods to increase accessibility to HIV/AIDS testing and treatment.

More specifically, I attended several workshops including those about securing funding and storytelling to effect change. I find these quite relevant to communicating my ideas and getting support to get them off the ground.

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My reflections are on going.

Overall, my learning experience at UC Berkeley was highlighted by the flamboyant weather and the vibrant community of San Francisco. My reflections from this extraordinary experience are ongoing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

10/3/15

Building Biotech 2015.

22nd September 2015.

An eye into the future of Biotechnology.

This year, I was privileged to attend the “Building Biotech dinner and Networking” event organized by the Student Biotechnology Network. Sponsored by the MasterCard Foundation Scholarship, I attended a night full of learning among outstanding figures in the Biotech industry in Canada. This was my first exposure to different role players in the biotechnology industry; I got the opportunity to meet economists, scientists and human resource professionals from different Universities and Biotechnology firms.

Academic research or Biotech industry?

My interactions with three post graduate students have contributed to my knowledge about the conditions of academic research and industry career paths. Since I am in the process of choosing what path will support my professional development and impact, this insight was helpful in helping me organize my own thoughts. Through assessing the challenges of each career path from the personal experiences of the professionals that have taken them; I learnt that the academic path offered more freedom in research than the industry, but offered many challenges as regards career development because of its limited focus on “vertical” development towards a few available professional positions. Overall, this information will add to my thought process for my future decision between the two options.

Economics in Biotechnology.

To my surprise, many of the guests and some of the panelists were economists who sometimes started out as scientists. Through hearing the professional story of Aura Danby, the Territory account manager of Illumina, my understanding of the possible ways to contributions to science have been broadened. Also, the contributions and influence of economic policies and systems on research funding has been illuminated. One particularly interesting highlight of the night was the 5000 percent increase in the price of a vital drug by Turing pharmaceuticals. Though disheartening in its implications for patients that rely on the crucial drug at the time, this “pharmaceutical catastrophe” was crucial in building my understanding of the undeniable influence of economics on my own potential career progression towards medical research and pharmaceuticals. Because scientific research is dependent on funding, it is important to pay keen attention to economic policies and conditions.

Building Biotech 2015: Networking and Dinner.

Building Biotech 2015: Networking and Dinner.

 

Laboratory research and Graduate school.

Perhaps my biggest take away from this networking event was from my lengthy discussion with Dr. George Haughn, a Biology faculty member who has been involved in Botanical research at UBC for over 20 years. Dr. Haughn’s perspectives on the importance of plant research on human health and survival were insightful. This seemingly distant research is potentially one of the most vital contributors to the future Global Food Economy, and pharmaceutical research.  Furthermore, I got an insight into the vetting process that Faculty members use in choices of funding Graduate students, and laboratory employees. This is fundamental information in my own aspirations for Graduate school and laboratory involvement.

Overall, this has been a momentous event that I am glad to have attended. Scientific research, like my own career goals, isn’t isolated but rather part of a mesh involving very many contributors that must all be factored in making decisions.

09/6/15

Give back idea: Foundation.

Introducing the challenge.

As of August 2015, my Give Back idea is to tackle health care challenges in Uganda mainly through three avenues: increasing focus on epidemiology (disease outbreak prevention); promoting medical research for novel disease treatment and medical practices; and research to promote the local manufacture of cheaper yet effective pharmaceuticals and treatments. This idea was conceptualized from my personal observations of the health care system in Jinja and Kampala where I spent ample time in the public hospitals (especially Jinja). This exposure drew my attention to outstanding challenges like medical drug shortages. From my deductions, these were in large due to high costs of (usually imported) drugs, and a very ineffective national health sector. In addition, the occasional outbreaks of Ebola, cholera, malaria, etc. subtly suggested a need for substantial research on epidemiological techniques used in controlling these epidemics.

In trying to deconstruct these challenges into a a feasible personal Give Back idea, I had always considered the contemporary crippling factors responsible for this status quo: the limited availability of funding for research and technology. These are not new thoughts, yet, I still consider them noteworthy as part of my “recent” reflections. This is because every time I review these same fundamental sub-challenges, I unravel a new “layer” of impediment. Case in point; amongst other reasons, the substandard technology is due to limited funding due to the limited amount of progressive research, which is also due to shortage of professionals, caused by a limiting non research-intensive education system. Yet, an effort to diversify this system could in turn affect the chances of low income citizens to get a meaningful education at all. From my speculative deductions, the challenge is as multi-faceted as it is multidisciplinary. Perhaps tackling the challenge would require as many academic/industrial reforms as political/systemic reforms.

2015 Summer.

Continuous interactions with professionals and reflections only seem to expose how convoluted the challenge in focus is.  This summer, I was able to connect with a microbiology/ Immunology professional from whom I learnt that even in presence of resources, there are several research policies in place that require comprehension. I learnt that thoughts can only be translated into research to a limited extent, and with deep understanding of research policies. This has expanded my academic goals to include research policies. Also, I was privileged to have an informational interview with a public health professional. This was perhaps a big inspiration because it was through this conversation that I got insight into small projects being employed to make small-scale momentous change with in communities in Uganda. My research experience under the Multidisciplinary Undergraduate Research Conference (MURC) earlier this year and continued conversations with professionals have given me vital input and helped to diversify my Give Back idea, put it in perspective, simplify it and yet sometimes, complicate it.

Overall, my recent reflection has given me a list of ideas; a tentative map for the path I should tread in progressing towards my Give Back goal. Currently, this path is made up of more questions than answers, but, after all, isn’t the process of learning more about asking the right questions? Some of the questions that stood out for me are:

How can I get academic exposure to public health at undergraduate level?

How do my ideas fit into the current Ugandan/African political and health systems?

How can the academic and employment sector support research and specialization?

What can really be achieved with the existing technology?

What impact can I personally make as an undergraduate? Do I need more academic charisma?