Tuesday, 3 July 2012

"Industries can be made to contribute to scientific works as part of their corporate social responsibilities "

This is a brand new door opened in The Toxicologist Today, as for the very first time in the life of this blog I am interviewing a person I have never met personally. Nevertheless, when I came in contact with Kenneth Yaw Agyeman-Badu I immediately got the impression that he would be a great individual to inaugurate a fresh perspective as part of the Profiles label. Reluctantly my interviewee decided to accept this invitation, hopefully for all of us who want to breath a little bit more of what is going on out there, worldwide, in terms of opinions, realities, impressions, perspectives, visions, attitudes, philosophies. I personally hope the best for Kenneth, I hope his professional endeavors deliver him  the best results possible, and I must say that the set of questions he agreed upon can be tough for those who are not in academia for that long, nevertheless Kenneth prized us with his opinions, thus providing a good idea of what rhythm tunes the scientific society in its many forms. Please meet Kenneth Yaw Agyeman-Badu in his own words:

Can you give us a little taste of your personal, academic and professional profile?

I’m a Ghanaian born and raised lad. I had passion for science early in my childhood stage and I pursued it to high school level. I actually had no idea about what I was going to do at the tertiary level but I guess my passion for science and instincts made me enter the Science Laboratory Technology program at the Accra Polytechnic and came out as one of the best students.

During my time at the tertiary level, I associated myself with Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) which is a centre of excellence for biomedical research into diseases of public health importance and got a job there right after school in the Department of Animal Experimentation. I’m currently there and working on various experiments in the field of Microbiology, Genetics and a little Toxicology.

     How did you end up choosing the scientific area you are in at        the moment?

Back in school during thesis time, I chose a Microbiology topic which I learnt was carried out by the Department of Animal experimentation at NMIMR. In fact I was sad because I didn’t want to work on something that had been done before so I contacted the Head of that Department [HOD]to make an arrangement. I then realized that the work wasn’t fully done and it was just the In-vitro aspect that was tackled so I then decided to tackle the In-vivo aspect. The HOD agreed and supplied me with Laboratory animals which I used for my work. After my write-up and submission, she became very interested in the work and asked me to come work with her so we can redo the experiment on a larger scale. I then found myself working in that Department.

    What was the greatest personality/event influencing you towards science?

With greatest influence, I‘ll say Science fiction movies I watched as a kid. These kinds of movies still have effect on me and motivate me a lot. One of my greatest, which is kind of recent and inspired me a lot to go into the research field specifically, is a Canadian Sci-fi known as “ReGenesis”.

    How do you see academic life these days, what would you change and what would you reinforce?

[In] Academic life these days [it] is tough to be honest. Graduates are out there with no jobs, Post docs with no labs on their own after so many years of working. In my country science students face difficulties in getting laboratory technical know-how. Science projects being too expensive to carry out by potential students… in fact I could go on and on.

To try and make things better, Government officials need to put in more effort in the promotion and investment of Science and Technology. There should be more labs, more sponsorships, motivation, job opportunities…all these made available to potential students and scientists to help bring a nation forward, especially in my Country Ghana.

        How do you think the world can promote a better living when science is becoming a victim of the profit fallacy, i.e., industries promote research, therefore, research must pay back when the final product comes to life (and to shelves)?

Awards, profiling of achievers and the urge to make a change to impact on the world positively will keep people constantly on their toes to delve into various dimensions of research to gain self fulfillment. However, industries can be made to contribute to scientific works as part of their corporate social responsibilities in order not to expect much from science but rather benefit from final products.

            In your opinion, what are the greatest challenges science will face in the coming years?

Science has a long way to go and a lot of challenges to face. In this context and in my opinion, science will have to do away with false publications and findings. As you can see, we had a number of retractions last two months and all these is because some scientists want it the fast way thus doing anything to get recognition and landing your product on shelves or your knowledge in books. This is wrong because lives are at stake here and I think we have to strengthen the measures in science to get the right things done.

          Tell us a funny science story where you've been involved and how you managed to survive to it?

Interesting, back then in my first days at the lab, I was given a paper type of pH strip with a tiny comparison chart to check the pH of my buffer I prepared. Instead of dipping the clear strip, I dipped the whole comparison chart in the buffer thinking the specific color change will occur at one of the pH points on it. My PI entered the room and was looking at me. Felt bad the whole day because he thought I knew and I screwed up.....with a basic pH test, still feel bad now that I've remembered.

           Europe is facing an economical turmoil with austerity plans, increasing unemployment and an unknown exit negotiated by Troika. How do you see these things affecting research in Europe and do you have any ideas that would help researchers live through this tough period?

It’s a very challenging situation since reduction in spending and public services will lead to mass unemployment of some talented researchers as well as low budgetary support for researchers to undertake numerous scientific researches and come out with new findings and knowledge. However, the best way to keep research in motion is for scientist to be self motivated in carrying out research as well as a policy to prioritise scientific research, since it serves as the basis for improvement on technology, which is a catapult to productivity, and economic development.

        Doing a PhD, do you advise people to go for it and if so what should they be aware of.

Well I wouldn’t just advise anyone to go for a PhD just because of interest variations. I will rather advise students to find their potential niche and go on to motivate interested students to go for it.  For something to be aware of, I will advise them on finances needed to get a PhD especially in Ghana since students go through a lot to get things done.

     Where would you like to be in 10 years time?

Well currently as a Technologist, I’m planning on continuing my education and attaining a PhD in a field that is not currently well tackled here in Ghana. I really want to study and expose myself abroad, come back and practice. I see myself heading a department at NMIMR and imparting knowledge to graduate students as part time in 10 years time.

    What would you consider to be a breakthrough in your scientific area in the coming years?

One of my main focuses in the lab is on a disease common here in Africa known as Buruli ulcer. This disease is a form of necrotizing fasciitis and caused by bacterium known as Mycobacterium ulcerans. There is currently no treatment; we don’t know the mode of transmission, why it evades immune cells, its reservoir host etc. The breakthrough in my scientific area here in Ghana is to find answers or a cure to Buruli ulcer.

I'd like to thank Kenneth for offering us his insight on the different areas covered in this interview and wish him the best for the future. Maybe sooner than later we will be acknowledging his contribution in the field of Medical Microbiology and the foundations of a cure to Buruli ulcer. Once again, all the best for you mate.

Next week I'll bring the last module of the Regulatory Affairs review, a few lines on the different seminars I've been attending and some more interesting articles for us to savor. The Toxicologist Today now is armed with a search box where you can browse through the past articles, please go fetch by keywords and you'll be amazed with the number of things that were already presented here in the blog. In addition, you can also browse the " interesting reading" column of websites using these same keywords in the search box. Cheers, guys!

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