[RUFORUM Postdoc Fellowship] Post Doctoral chronicles: Dr. Natasha M. Mwila RUFORUM Alumni in Zambia

Post doctoral selection: the build up

Like a turtle in a shell walking slowly and getting back in its shell when senses something different, so was I as I returned to Zambia after my PhD in plant breeding and biotechnology studies at Makerere University, in Kampala, Uganda. My PhD studies were funded by DAAD and Carnegie Corporation of New York through RUFORUM from 2015 to 2019. Life out there was different, after five years of intense course work and research activities and more less non-existant social life, I was back into the world, with a dream to mentor and contribute to agricultural systems. Unfortunately, in March, 2020, the first COVID case was detected in Zambia, and that spiraled into more cases and rapid changes in daily life activities, conditions, the economy, health for most and general stress to everyone. The future seemed unknown with unclear possibilities, inducing fear, anxiety, uncertainty and drawing back into a shell.

I slowly got into a network called the Zambia Women in Agricultural Research and Development (ZAWARD), the Zambian version of AWARD fellowships. The network was just the right thing for me, I started meeting people in the agricultural circles, some of whom were familiar to me. I was selected as part of the technical team in that organization and that meant I would write proposals for grants, review technical documents and offer the needed advice on various technical aspects associated to ZAWARD activities. I slowly started coming out of my shell, becoming more interested in other people and more willing to talk and take part in social activities. I also became a part time lecturer at the University of Zambia. Additionally, started getting to exchange with other stakeholders in the sector, from seed companies, non-governmental organization’s and governmental institutions. I then also consulted for the now Synergy, in terms of maize and soybean improvement. Inbred line genetic purity assessment, characterization and documentation of distinctness, uniformity and stability among other activities were conducted. On the 3rd of August, 2020, I was among the 10 people that were selected for the Post doc fellowships under RUFORUM, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. I was overwhelmed with joy and asked God to give me wisdom and guidance in this post doc fellowship. I did not realise that it would define a huge part of my life and career. Out of the shell now, I started walking slowly, hopeful that I would get somewhere. Vital lesson; the importance of networking at various levels to help someone learn and identify opportunities cannot be understated. Team work and partnerships are very important in setting the tone for a career.

Learning the process

Fellow engages with farmers and private sector on a soybean variety

I had to learn what a post doc fellowship would entail. My proposal was focused on two legumes, soybean and cowpea. Initially, it was only looking at the genetic basis of resistance to insect pests. After reviews, I was made to realize that I am supposed to be looking at a broader perspective. It had to be a project which people would be interested in, buy into and see the potential in it solving an issue or more. I drew up a stakeholder map to observe who would be interested in the research and have some influence at different points of the research. I engaged with some of these stakeholders such as farmers in terms of the insects that were problematic to them. Also, the research institutes on the current research advancements on insect pest resistance and nutrition in cowpea and soybean, as well as other legumes. Consequently, coming up with an overall project name “End-user Centered Legume Improvement Program (ECLIP),” in which my post doc research fits into. Eventually, I started getting comfortable outside the shell. Lesson learned; Learn, think big and do not limit yourself.

Please read the complete story here

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