I got to know about DAAD scholarships through my aunt Dr. Jayne Binott who is a DAAD alumnus. Later on, while an intern at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), I found out about ARPPIS-DAAD scholarship, a prestigious in-country/in-region scholarship programme from icipe’s Capacity Building unit. My supervisors encouraged me to apply after I completed my MSc degree.
2. What does the DAAD scholarship mean to you?
The DAAD scholarship gave me a chance to do a PhD degree. It takes care of my tuition fees, medical insurance and a stipend that allows me to fully concentrate on my studies without worrying about where my next meal will come from. It also funds my research work in collaboration with the icipe and provides access to scientific writing courses that improve my scientific writing skills, a pertinent skill that every early career scientist should have. Furthermore, I get access to a huge network of DAAD alumni whom we can build collaboration and still be supported by DAAD even after graduation. I am sincerely grateful for this opportunity.
3. Do you have any connection to Germany? Have you ever been there and if so, how did you experience the country?
I once attended a conference in Germany. I was amazed at the level of development, systems that worked and it challenged me to contribute to the development of my own country.
4. How is studying in South Africa different to studying in Kenya?
I am based at icipe in Kenya and only make short visits to the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, where I am registered for my PhD.
5. Your research is based on how the character of a landscape and farmers’ practices can impact the coffee pest. What are the main issues for the coffee farmers and what can they do about it?
Coffee is a crop with economic importance globally. Over 25 million smallholder farmers grow it in more than 100 countries in the tropics. Recent trends have shown a gradual decline in coffee production and fluctuation of market prices that have affected smallholder farmers negatively. Coffee pests and diseases contribute largely to this decline, which is further worsened by climate change. Warmer temperatures due to global warming have resulted in upsurge and establishment of coffee pests and pathogens in regions that were initially unsuitable. The coffee tree is also a sensitive crop to climate change.
6. How can we motivate more girls to study science and work in fields that they normally wouldn’t?
Studies show that girls start losing interest in STEM courses as young as six years old. This means that they are predisposed to a society and culture biases that limit their chances to discover their potential in STEM. Parents have to be intentional in removing subtle societal norms such as exposing their daughters to games and experiences they would have otherwise exposed only boys to, so that girls grow up with an open mind. I was lucky to have gotten that opportunity in my family and pursuing a career in STEM came naturally for me. At institutional level, we continue to see more efforts put in place to encourage women to take up positions and opportunities in STEM. We have fellowships such as AWARD (https://awardfellowships.org/) and L’Oréal – UNESCO For Women in Science (https://www.forwomeninscience.com/en/home) that encourage women who are in STEM to go further and break the glass ceiling in their careers. Scholarships from the DAAD and institutions like icipe are giving more women opportunities to pursue their career in science, increasing the pool of role models that young girls can look up to.
7. What’s your advice to girls and young women who want to follow in your footsteps?
Foremost, I want to assure girls that they have innate ability to pursue a career in STEM just like their male counterparts. They should never shy away from putting in their applications for a job or a scholarship even when they do not have 100% of what is required. Be passionate about what you do and it will make you stand out from the crowd.
8. What do you plan to do once you’re done with your PhD?
I want to pursue a career in research; therefore, I will be looking out for a postdoc opportunity and find a platform to mentor young women into STEM. I also want to begin a family of my own.