Persistence helped me achieve my dream, My Postgraduate Training Journey

AkBy Akasairi Ocwa, MSc graduate of Crop Science, Kyambogo University, Uganda

Pursuing a master’s degree in crop science at Kyambogo University was my career dream come true. Having attained a Bachelor of Vocational Studies in Agriculture with Education at the same university, I wanted to specialise in crop science in order to contribute to increased food production through dissemination of knowledge and technologies to rural farmers.  Although today my face is full of smiles, this achievement did not come on a silver plate as i had to overcome many challenges. In hindsight though, these challenges helped to refocus my mindset and gave me a positive outlook on things.

For my master’s research, I studied the morphological identification and in vitro efficacy of fungicides to control Phytophthora in Uganda. Phytophthora is a water mold that causes pineapple heart rot disease, one of the latest diseases threatening the pineapple industry in the country. There is still limited information on the causal organisms associated with this mold and how to manage it, yet it is so devastating it is reported to cause 100% yield loss! This implies total loss of income by communities that derive their livelihood from growing pineapple.

This research was my first major experience in plant pathology and was not short of challenges. At the start, the task looked impossible because it was difficult to isolate the pathogen.  Even some of the most experienced field pathologists I knew doubted the feasibility of my research and thought I did not know what I was doing. This was very discouraging. In addition, the antibiotics that were needed to isolate the pathogen were not only costly but unavailable in the local markets; causing the entire batch of the first samples I had collected to get spoilt. It was expensive and time-consuming to collect fresh samples. Still in the laboratory, much as my aim was to isolate Phytophthora, the first pathogen I recovered was Pythium instead.

These were among the frustrating moments that almost caused me to give up. However, my strong conviction to become a scientist kept me going, helped by a reminder of the three things my principal supervisor had said he never wanted to hear: blame, excuses and procrastination. This spurred me to work extra hard and I graduated within the two years stipulated for the program.

Currently, I lecture part-time at both Kyambogo and Bugema universities. Thanks to the knowledge and skills gained through this RUFORUM-funded training, today I move with my head held high with confidence. I am really grateful to RUFORUM for the support provided to me during my studies and to Associate Professor Bosco Bua for the mentorship. Professor Bua ­­­­was not only my academic supervisor and mentor, but also happens to be Dean of the Faculty of Vocational Studies at Kyambogo University.

My career journey is not yet complete though. Now, that I have obtained an MSc, I have set my sights on greater things and look forward to pursuing a doctoral degree in plant pathology if I get funding. Thereafter, I will continue to contribute to science through knowledge generation and dissemination. I also plan to mentor young scientists and contribute to sustainable food production by working on vagaries that hinder increased food production.

There are many secrets to success, but if I were to mention the reason behind mine, I would say it was having good mentors who never gave up on me. With good mentors, I believe, every person can achieve their desired goals in life. For graduate students who are thinking of giving up on their studies, I encourage them to persevere. Research is sometimes frustrating, but never lose hope because almost everybody has faced the same music and many have succeeded. With persistence, you will finish and enjoy the fruits of your handiwork.

Mr Akasairi Ocwa, a Ugandan, graduated with an MSc Crop Science from Kyambogo University in 2016. His studies were funded by the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), through a Graduate Research Grant awarded to Kyambogo University (Grant no: RU 2014 GRG- 085).

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