[RUFORUM Postdoc Fellowship] My Personal Experience as Post-Doc Fellow at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources in Malawi

Dr Ruth Magreta

“If you knew what you were doing it wouldn’t be called research; – Albert Einstein”

After completing my PhD at LUANAR in November 2019, I had a strong dream to make a worthwhile contribution to my country by training a highly motivated team of students and engage in a lot of research activities that provide sustainable solutions to agricultural problems in Malawi and other parts of Sub-Saharan African countries. To achieve the above stated dream, I started writing grant proposals. By that time, I was very fortunate to be part of international networks such as the RUFORUM, which broadened by exposure to calls for grants. Little did I know that the same key would lead to my post-doctoral research grant from the Carnegie Corperation through the same RUFORUM. I was fortunate to be among the ten PhD graduates across Africa who were successfully awarded the Fellowship. This prestigious award gave me a lot of confidence and opened the doors to my long awaited dreams. The Post-doctoral journey was not a walk in the park for me. This was mainly because I had to juggle between my post-doctoral work and my other duties as an adjunct lecturer at the Host-University. Since I was not considered a full-time lecturer, it took a lot of time to be recognised and accepted fully by many faculty members as a fellow faculty member within the period of the fellowship.

My post-doc research interests were guided by challenges of the majority of smallholder farmers who depend on maize as a staple food crop in SSA. The farmers have always relied on maize, unfortunately in 2016 the country experienced Fall Army Worms as a consequence of climate change that destroyed the maize crop and left many without food. We needed answers as a nation to the question ‘how do we manage these alien species?’ Should we abandon maize and identify another staple crop that is not prone to climate change and its consequences (the alien species)? These among many other critical questions made me think of researching more on the FAW. Especially on the management aspect. Furthermore, the post-doctoral fellowship offered a platform for practical experience through research and mentoring young and upcoming scientists who are doing their post-graduate studies. This has assisted to shape my research direction and has sharpened my technical skills. As a fellow, I knew I had a task of ensuring that all milestones are achieved. The beginning was rough because we were hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. The school was closed, many people including students were hopeless and uncertain about the future outcomes amidst Covid. I was scared too. worse still, I had some milestones to deliver yet implementation was a challenge in that hopeless situation. I wanted my post-doc program to succeed and the pandemic  to slow down concurrently so that it shouldn’t affect further progress. I did not despair but made sure that the students and supervisors embarace use of social media and virtual platforms to interact and progress with the planned activities. It was our first time to  use Zoom platform, Microsoft Teams, Google classroom and webnar to engage with each other so effectively. I remember more than once we could speak whilst the mic was on mute and we had to remind one another to un mute the mic. Ooh I laugh it out now but then I had my fingers crossed, praying that everyone grasps the concept of virtual meetings so that we advance in the fellowship program. Likely it worked for us!!!!!!!

Please read the complete story here






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