20 June 2016

Challenges, strategies, and tools for research scientists in Africa

Posted by Shane Hanlon

This is a guest post by graduate student Ngozi Oguguah as part of our ongoing series of posts where we ask students to share their experiences in science communication.

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Discussing with research plans with colleagues. Photo credit: Andrew Esiebo

When I started my PhD research, I encountered three main challenges: 1) funding, 2) access to laboratories, and 3) access to publications. After much work, I learned that I could overcome these challenges through building networks, many of which involved online communication with other researchers.

I searched for funded PhD programmes in Nigeria but I could not find any. So, I had to opt to fund myself! As you all likely know, it is a very expensive venture! Since my research work was on Lagos lagoon, I first met with colleagues in similar research projects. From there I keyed into the field surveys done by the institute, we combined my resources with colleagues, and we carried out our field work. I spent a lot of money analyzing my survey samples in different laboratories but, luckily for me, my institute acquired an atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS) and I was able to use the institute’s laboratory to analyze my samples. Access to publications was also a great challenge. I got around this by using the network I have built over the years through my yahoo group (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/scienceresearchinthetropics), through my international training programs and conferences, through e-lists that I belong to, and most especially through the fellowships I belong to, most notably the US Alumni Exchange and African Women in Agricultural Research and Development. Through these networks, I was able to get trained in different aspects of research, writing, publication, and leadership, and had access to online publications.

NoSoAT Equator CTD

Aboard RV Polarstern during PS95 cruise. Photo credit: Pauhla McGrane

As a saying in Nigeria goes, “Slowly, slowly the hot soup was licked”! Through the Yahoo group that I started over 6 years ago, we have been able to share hundreds of funded scholarships, trainings, calls for paper, grants, and other opportunities. I am an internet ‘rat,’ always online looking for funded opportunities to share! It gladdens my heart when I get feedback that someone keyed into the opportunity that was posted in the group. It means that the stumbling block (lack of access to opportunities) I encountered when I started my PhD is now being overcome. I am a proponent of collaboration and networking as a way of going forward in research in Africa as “a tree cannot make a forest” and ”two heads are better than one.” Our people have a saying: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

There is also a proverb that should be in the forefront for everybody who wants to be a success: “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress and working together is success!”

-Ngozi Oguguah is a PhD researcher with the Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR) in Lagos, South-West Nigeria.