Higher Scientific Officer: Majidah Hamid-Adiamoh
Image credit: Copyright L’Oreal South Africa - For Women In Science Sub-Saharan Africa Fellow 2015
Length of career:
Positivity, hard work and persistence in following what you believe are the keys to progression in one’s career. For me, I refused to give up even when I wasn’t sure if this career was actually leading in the direction that I envisaged. I kept working at it, and these values have been my mainstay.
Career in brief:
I gained my BSc in Biomedical Science from University College Hospital, Nigeria. Since then, all my research experience has been working at MRC Unit The Gambia (MRCG). I first heard about the MRC as an undergraduate when I was part of a blood bank and phlebotomy lab where we collected blood in MRC bottles.
Research has been my passion since I was an undergraduate and I have always wanted to contribute my own quota to the vast sum of research and knowledge in my field.
After my degree, I joined MRCG with the basic medical microbiology skills required for malaria parasite culture. The role gave me the opportunity to handle technologies I’d previously only read about: I was trained on using automated systems for sample analysis including BACTEC, Medonic and axsym analyzer.
Following this initial project, I have benefitted from the numerous training opportunities MRCG provides for staff both locally and abroad; these have included training in molecular biology, cell culture, serological techniques, statistics and quality management systems. That training in molecular biology has led to this becoming the mainstay of my career today. The MRC also sponsored me for my MSc at Ulster University. My MSc project addressed a baseline detection of genes responsible for knockdown insecticide resistance mutations in mosquito population in The Gambia.
Thanks to my line manager, in 2009 I achieved a measure of independence in my work when I began to run a mini-project on developing a novel method for identifying mosquito species in The Gambia. My line manager introduced me to the project objectives and how to develop the method and I took things from there: combining the work with my part-time MSc and nursing a baby! There are times I cried on my way home due to failed assays which I followed with overnight reading on what to do next... The project was a success though and since then, I have gained confidence in my science and in my own abilities.
I spend my days:
I am mostly in the lab performing assays, at my desk analysing results from previous runs and troubleshooting whatever goes wrong and then dashing back to the lab to run assays. I also prepare summary reports for my supervisor. For almost two years, my main work has been optimization of new methods we have been introducing in our labs and supervising technicians in applying these assays on study samples.
Winning the L’Oreal-UNESCO fellowship was a great achievement for me. It was a moral boost that helped resuscitate my self confidence as a scientist and rekindled my hopes for the future. Shortly after, I received a full PhD scholarship which was another highlight. I am determined to encourage others to keep working and to never give up hope in their abilities to achieve their dreams.
The biggest challenge I have faced so far is advancing in my career to a PhD level after obtaining my MSc. It took me almost six years to eventually secure a PhD opportunity. In 2014 I applied for more than 20 scholarships for two main admissions. I got to the interview stages of most of these scholarship applications but always lost to younger applicants. I thought that I might have to self-fund my PhD if I really wanted one as much as I did.
However, I started learning from online resources on how to identify and develop scientific research proposals. I came up with more than five proposals which I sent to mentors. I eventually settled for the one which I secured my PhD admission at the University of Ghana, and with which I competed for L’Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science Award, which I received.
What I’d do differently:
I wish I had taken the initiative earlier to develop my own research project for my PhD rather than spending five years applying for a fully funded PhD attached to a project. I was also slow to realise that mentorship does not have to be from my immediate environment only. There are many people out there who can also help.
Once I realised the problem, I used every opportunity to socialise and network with whoever I could in my immediate environment, at workshops and conferences, to seek advice on some of the proposals I developed. Right now, I am very confident that I have the skills, values and all it takes to successfully complete my PhD and produce the required publications (and more) from this studentship.
Skills I consider most valuable:
In addition to the core technical skills, writing and communication skills are very important and scientists must read far and wide around other scientists’ work because that is one of the ways to be technically and theoretically sound. Next is to develop the ability to identify knowledge gaps, develop questions around these and get good at fundraising for the research. Finally, a successful scientist must be great at communicating their findings to the world. I am personally a-work-in progress in these areas but I am committed to building these skills.
I am inspired by:
Those great malaria researchers who have worked tirelessly to bring down the burden of malaria to the present level have inspired me and will continue to. Their continued efforts have reduced death due to malaria by 60% (WHO, 2015). I did not understand the extent of the social and economic burden of malaria until I became involved in the research and I have been inspired to be part of the global family and contribute my own quota towards eliminating and eradicating the disease.
I cannot forget my line manager and supervisors – I’ve had many supervisors over the years, I can’t mention all of their names! Seeing their zeal to keep working, reporting and celebrating their success really inspired me. I want to be like them...
Words of wisdom:
To junior scientists, I’d say: Don’t wait to be pushed in order to move up, rather you should take the initiative – seek advice, socialise, network and be out there.
To senior scientists: I appeal to you to look back a little more and remember what it’s like to be starting out – use your experience and wisdom to encourage and carry along the young.
Initially, my PhD was part time and self-funded. But, I have recently secured a full scholarship so I will now be on a full-time program. This is a big achievement for me. I want to concentrate on my PhD and be able to complete it very successfully. I believe this is just the beginning of my success story.
I have learnt during the difficult days to focus and keep working. I want to improve on my networking skills and identify many more mentors during this period, while at the same time improve on my thinking and problem-solving abilities. I hope to come up with a highly competitive post-doc proposal and get funding for it as soon as I complete my PhD. This is a huge challenge I am prepared to overcome with utmost dedication and hard work.
MRC guidance on career breaks
Correct as of: July 2016