Pollution lab 2015/2016

Baby steps…

My involvement at the Chan Yeung Center for Occupational and Enviromental Respiratory Disease (COERD) holds due significance because it was my first step into research in a laboratory. Set up as a dynamic research environment, COERD (also known as pollution lab) was a unique opportunity for me to get my feet into medical research. Pollution lab UBC is involved in momentous research on allergies, respiratory disease and pollution; exploring the interrelations between these and their implications on the control, prevention and treatment of respiratory afflictions. Under the supervision of Dr. Olga Pena, my Mastercard Foundation Scholarship career mentor, I have been exposed to the research process right from publication, grant applications and laboratory work. As of September 2016, one year later, I still intend to volunteer at Pollution lab and my process of learning is ongoing, but a reflection of a remarkable year feels due.

Read, write, Pipet.


My entry into pollution lab was through identifying literature relevant to respiratory research and making literature-review recommendations for the research team. Through this, I was able to learn more about the work that pollution lab does and how it snugly fits into our society’s efforts to tackle the increasing global respiratory health concerns. In slight detail, I was also able to learn about the immunological aspects of the respiratory system. This research has since gone a long way in providing context to my “classroom-concepts”, and providing motivation for me as I try to narrow down my research interests and progress towards graduate studies.


Learning at pollution lab has been full of opportunities to diversify my professional skill set. Maintaining and updating the COERD website  https://pollutionlab.com/  initially came as a challenge; besides the very basic introduction I had to Microsoft FrontPage a few years ago, my understanding of website design has always been limited. Using the WordPress platform on the COERD website has by no means made me an expert but it has expanded my professional creativity and versatility. Having to research and learn new techniques in the process of editing and improving the website has added a skill set I look forward to transferring into customizing WordPress applications  (like this blog!), and any information technology I might have to work with in the future. Through constant mentor-ship, my role has allowed me to translate my ideas and those of the team onto the website through information adverts and other features.

In addition, I have been exposed to advertising for scientific studies. In advertising for the DE3 study, I have designed and distributed posters. I intend to be more involved by reaching out through other advertisement platforms in the future. As advertisement is a dynamic process, I also hope to compare the platforms for effectiveness as I envisage that I might have to be involved in it at some level throughout my career.


It was not until May 2016 that I had the requisite availability to train effectively at the COERD laboratory in the Jack Bell Research Center at the Vancouver General Hospital. Shadowing in the lab has given life to many immunology concepts I studied in my courses. Learning about the lab work behind the current studies at COERD has given me insight into this cardinal piece to scientific research. Pollution lab has been an opportunity for me to acquire (relatively) early training in many laboratory-relevant techniques. To a greater degree, I have trained in serological testing. Through the aspergillus serological test, I was able to learn about clinical testing right from sample processing to handling information.

The Team.

Despite the keen discipline and diligence that pervades the work environment in and out of the lab, the COERD team is rife with warmth and community. I have found it easy to socialize and interact with everyone. There is also an impressive system to foster socialization through the weekly socials and occasional events. Needless to say, this environment has augmented my training and work here.

As I proceed with my career developed, I look forward to another fruitful year at the UBC pollution lab.


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?


Multidisciplinary Undergraduate research conference 2015

Date : November 2014 – 21st March 2015 

The first undergraduate research experience.

A few months after my application for mentor-ship under the Undergraduate Research Opportunities (URO), a REX program, I was selected by Jennifer Guthrie, a PhD student in the faculty of health sciences and also a researcher at British Columbia Center for disease Research (BCCDC). The objective of the research experience was to conduct and present research under professional supervision, in order to develop and refine research skills.

I was tasked to conduct literature research on Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) techniques, contact tracing and surveillance, and how all these could be integrated to improve public health in Canada. I worked with two other mentees, with my individual focus being contact tracing, surveillance, and the implications of our review-type presentation on the public health system here in Canada.

Prior to my involvement in this research, I had conducted literature reviews for two of my courses for the first term and thus had some experience on research. However, doing research on techniques and content I had never been exposed to back in Africa, so much that I could present this information at a conference with a strong state of knowledge, was an initial challenge. In all honesty, I was afraid of cases where I had to answer questions on the details of the process of whole genome sequencing. Having a good mentor went along way in alleviating these feelings of inadequacy. With continued support and guidance from Jennifer Guthrie through out research and poster design, I was able to compile all my research and inculcate it into a poster that I would co-present with two other students from the faculty of science. Being able to do this well was tremendously inspiring – I was involved in research in something I had personal interest in, and my research could contribute, or at least serve to reinforce a greater cause.

The conference.

This experience was as much about the process of research as it was about poster design and presentation. A week Prior to the conference, I co-presented the research to Dr. Jennifer Gardy at the BCCDC, Dr. Gardy’s feedback was instrumental to polishing our work since she is one of the most prominent figures in public health in British Columbia. On 21st March 2015, we presented the poster to guests at the Multidisciplinary Undergraduate Research Conference (MURC).

With Julio Lailano and  Jennifer Guthrie at the MURC

With Julio Lailano and Jennifer Guthrie at the MURC.

This experience has been particularly rewarding in terms of my career development. Working with a professional researcher enabled me develop better research methodology, review skills, critical thinking, poster design and professional presentation. More importantly, this gave me insight into the public health sector here in Canada; the disease control techniques, grant applications, shortcomings and potential areas of improvement for more effective disease control. Overall, I found this experience very rewarding.

The knowledge accrued thereby is vital to my development as an aspiring research scientist and hopefully, medical doctor in the future. The methodology of the research process is a set of skills I intend to use through out my career and the details on public health techniques I learnt could go a long way to improve disease control in my own community in Africa.