Bridging the Gap Towards a Truly Global Scientific Community

Lucia Prieto Godino shares her passion for providing access to science education and hands-on training in Africa. Lucia founded TReND in Africa to support global science efforts through educational course training, equipment donations and encouragement of international collaboration.

Script

Lucia Prieto Godino, Ph.D:

Hi, I'm Lucia, the founder of Trend in Africa, a non-profit organization devoted to promote scientific research and education in the African continent. I am later going to tell you exactly what we do and why we think it's so important. But first I would like to tell you a little bit how we got started. And for that, we need to go back 10 years ago when at a course in the US, I met Sadiq Yusuf. Sadiq come and introduce yourself.

 

Sadiq Yusef, Ph.D.:

Hi, I am Sadiq Yusuf, and a neuroscientist, currently working in Uganda.

 

Lucia Prieto Godino, Ph.D:

When I met Sadiq, we realized that just because we were from different parts of the world, the access we had to do the science we wanted to do was very different, and we thought that this was very unfair. That's why in 2011 with the help of other scientists, we decided to start a course that would replicate the course that we had attended to in the US back in 2006, but in Uganda, in the university where Sadiq was working. And what we did was to invite scientists from all across the continent to come there. Like this we could give the opportunity to all of the scientists to have the same education to the one that we had been able to enjoy in the US.

 

The course was a full success, and scientists really enjoyed, they were also very impressed by the equipment we had brought to Sadiq's universities and we decided to fund Trend in order to be able to repeat this experience over and over not only with neuroscience but also with other fields. Thank you very much and let me tell you more about what we do next. I just told you how Trend in Africa got started and now I'd like to tell you what we do and why it is so important for us.

 

We are trying to bring the gap towards a truly global scientific community, starting by the place where the gap is bigger and that is Africa. The reason why we think this is so important is because there's no such a thing as a local problem anymore. That's why research output needs to be more global. And a third point that kind of glued these two points together and is truly essential, is that we need to increase science literacy really worldwide. Let me go point by point.

 

There is not such a thing as a local problem anymore and I think this is best exemplified by the spread of Zika in the last year. Zika virus used to be considered a local problem back in 2015, affecting only a few countries in the developing world. However, now it has become a global problem and there are labs in Europe and the US investing huge amount of resources in order to tackle it. However, scientist waste in the countries where Zika was in endemic was a local problem. If these scientists would have had the resources to research it, they might have been able to tackle it on time before it became a global problem. That's why research output needs to be more global.

 

And let me illustrate this with a couple of maps. Here is a map of the world in which the size of its country represents its area. However, we can reshape this map by making the size of the countries represent something else. For example, we can make this shape of the countries represent their prevalence of a disease such as malaria. When we do so, Africa just blows out of all proportion and the west it becomes basically invisible. This map looks very different if instead we reshape the size of the countries according to the research output. When we do so, Europe and the US, they become massive and Africa is barely in existence. That's why we think that research output needs to be equalized across the globe.

 

The third point that I want to talk about is science literacy. The general public needs to be informed in order to be able to take part in policy decisions, and every country needs to have a critical mass of scientists to take care and solve local as well as global issues. And these scientists need to be engaged with the public and politicians in order to help them develop policies. From Trend in Africa, we tried to tackle all of these problems by focusing on the African continent. And the good news here is that there are a lot of universities and a lot of scientists already in Africa, and the only thing we need to do is empower them, help them do their research so that we can equalize this research output map. The way in which we do this with Trend is through different programs.

 

I'm going to talk about the main programs here, but I don't have time to go into detail into each of them. But basically with the research training, we have an equipment program through which we support research facilities, and we also have a program for development and teaching, do it yourself spirit, and do it yourself lab equipment technologies. The idea is that the scientists, once they have been empowered, they can on the one hand go on and continue doing their research, but now better equipped, and on the other hand, they go out to their communities and they can do outreach activities to explain to the general population, why science is important and why they should ask and demand from their politicians to support science education and science research. At the same time, the scientists they feed back into the system by organizing the research training themselves.

 

So let me tell you a little bit about each of our projects. In our research training project, we organize workshops in which we teach about a wide variety of topics. This can go from bioinformatics, to neuroscience, or build your own lab equipment. But our principles are always the same. We are focused on science excellency, we promote the use of the best and most cost effective model organisms for each scientific question, our training is always on site, that means at different African countries. And the reason why we do it this way is, because we think this brings local empowerment. The university that hosts our course, they benefit a lot by our presence, by the exchange of ideas as well as by the equipment that we bring. But of course, these workshops are always Pan African and we offer full scholarships for students and scientists from across the continent to come to the country where this is happening and learn what we have to teach.

 

Some of the workshops that we organize, they are on 3D printing and electronic, and it's through these courses, scientists learn how to build their own lab equipment by 3D printing it and by programming with electronics and integrating the 3D printed part with electronic parts. So for example, we teach them how to build 3D printers, and then they take this 3D printers with them. And the advantage here is because they now know how to build these machines and they have a deep understanding on how to use them and how to build them. If they break, they will know how to troubleshoot this.

 

However, we cannot build all equipment. There are some equipment that they are just too complicated for this. Like for example, a confocal microscopes. So in those cases we have donation, equipment donation program, through which we have donated a lot of different types of equipment, different types of dissecting microscopes, fluorescent microscopes, confocal microscopes as well as molecular biology equipment and other type of research equipment. And we always match this equipment donation with expert volunteer visits. These are experts in a particular field, that they go to different African universities and they can help out with research, or with teaching, or by showing how to use a particular equipment that we have just donated.

 

So far, we have trained 205 African scientist from 22 different African countries. Most of the scientists they are still in Africa developing these activities, developing their research, doing teaching there, but some of them, they are now abroad, getting further qualifications, like doing some PhD degrees. But all of them, they still keep their affiliation to their home institution in Africa and they still go back at least two times a year to help out in research programs as well as to do outreach. And this brings me to my last point that is outreach.

 

Our alumni, they now go to schools and to their communities to teach about the excitement of science and to tell students why this is so important, and this will, on the one hand bring awareness on why Science is important and it will also inspire future generations to become scientists as well. I'm really sorry that I cannot be with you right now, because I am in Tanzania teaching as part of this program. However, you do have any questions, you can ask me via email or we can set up a Skype chat and you can, if you want more information, you can also check it out in our website. Thank you very much for your attention.

 

www.TReNDinAfrica.org

 

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