PU BIO Students’ Colloquium

This is the story of the culmination of our program at PU

The first Pwani University BIO Students’ colloquium was never going to happen… up until the point when it did happen! 

It was not a joke when we said in the last video that all the odds were against the organisation of this event. We found obstacles constantly in our way, even during the colloquium, but with the uncountable support of our supervisors and our students, we overcame all the challenges one by one. And for that, we have proudly won the title of muzungu msumbufu mbili (the two stubborn whites).


We were not able to host the colloquium at Pwani University, which closed its doors last week. Fortunately, when those doors closed, the ones at KEMRI – Wellcome Trust  opened. KEMRI – Wellcome Trust facilities are very impressive. This huge world leading research centre is found in the heart of Kilifi town and is surprisingly hidden amongst street shops and residential housing despite being on the top of a hill and surrounded by high security walls. The research centre and government Kilifi district hospital benefit mutually from their close proximity. Many students had the opportunity to visit this centre during their undergraduate degree, whilst on attachment, and for most it is a source of inspiration. Hosting the colloquium at KEMRI – Wellcome Trust was an opportunity not to be missed!


The first PU BIO Students’ Colloquium was held on the 29th of November 2017. It started, with sheer punctuality at 9.30 am, with an emotional introduction by Pr Santie De Villiers, who almost succeeded in making the two of us burst into tears. Dr Rose Kigathi then shared with us her journey to becoming a scientist in a fun and inspirational story of passion for plants and curiosity for pest control. Dr Martha Mwagome put the final note to the plenary lectures by telling us about her personal journey interlaced with brilliant tit bits of advice for progression in science.

Then the students took over the colloquium. A mixture of 16 students from 2nd year to masters level defended either a research proposal or a topic of their interest in a series of 8 talks and 8 posters. The amount of work the students had put into the various presentations shone through and the sheer quality made the judges’ decision a difficult one. “Their work could be taken to an international conference” was a particular favourite quote of the day. In the end, the winners were decided. Second year students swept away all of the poster prizes. Mercy Sada Safari and Edward Nyareru Joseph won the first prize by leaving the judges astonished by their energy, passion and knowledge on the discovery of DNA as genetic material. They were closely followed by Thomas Atenya Muturo’s colourful and informative poster about amino acids and by Samuel Njoroge, who explained the benefits and intricacies of bioremediation.

For the oral presentations, prizes were scattered amongst the different year groups. The first prize went to Bernadette Ataku, an outstanding 4th year student who captivated the audience talking about her current addiction: the documentary Blue Planet. Her research on the corals’ microbiome will help scientists across the globe to extract DNA from those “stony houses”. Davies Kaimenyi, a masters student, won second prize by clearly explaining that seagrass is not seaweed. Seagrass potential has been understated but his research on seagrass’ microbiome highlights their potential use for food or fertilizer. Third prize went to Robert Weria, a second year told us about agroforestry simply and clearly. He shined during the questions by showing authority and in-depth knowledge on the topic. Throughout the talks, students took part by asking questions to their colleagues – 4th year Dennis Mukhebi stood out among the crowd with his many insightful questions.

We finished the colloquium with a session focused on career perspectives. A panel of early career researchers explained their careers and gave valuable tips to the students present in the room. The formed by Eunice, master’s student funded by “Ideal“, Carol a recently graduated KEMRI master’s student, James, a PhD student at KEMRI and Zonia who was recently awarded a studentship towards her master project by Ideal. After some interesting discussions with the panel over coffee and cake, we gave the final ever workshop where we introduced the importance of understanding the skills you have and incorporating these skills and experiences into CVs, interviews and elevator pitches.

We closed the day with a heartfelt goodbye and thank yous, from the organizers (even one burst into tears…) and the students. It was probably not until this moment that every single participant realised the impact the last three months had had in their life. Our supervisors were amazed by the results of the workshops, a river of students came to us with promises of hard work and excellence, and we came to the conclusion that being muzungu msumbufu mbili was one of the greatest achievements and greatest times of our life so far.


This event would have not happened without the contribution of  many people around us. We would like to thank:

Pr Santie De Villiers and Dr Rose Kigathi, there are not words to thank you enough for being our supervisors during this time and making us feel at home. Dr Samson Kinyanjui for offering KEMRI as the venue and for his advise to the students, and to Rita Baya for organising the day at KEMRI. Dr. Suhaila Hashim for her support to all our activities during the last three months. Dr Cheryl Andisi and Dr Sammy Wambua whose dedication to the students is truly inspirational. To Hosea and Rachel for taking part in judging the presentations. To the panel for volunteering their time to share their experience with the students. To the students for sticking with us and for showing their determination, even when the date and venue changed for the colloquium and the university closed. To UEA Career Central for the materials on CVs and Interviews. To BBSRC for funding the first ever PU Bio Students’ colloquium.



Opening of the PUBReC lab

This is the story of how the new facilities at PU will create new opportunities

On Tuesday morning, we meandered through Pwani University grounds heading towards the beat of animal hide drums. We glimpsed the finale of the Giriama dance, under a white and blue balloon arch, before scuttling into the large lecture hall, LTN.


The windows had been covered in red, blue and white drapes and ornamental flower displays adorned the stage. The microphone crackled into action as various speakers introduced and expanded on the celebration. Pwani University was being certified for the ISO 9001:2015 quality management award by Bureau Veritas and was now one of less than 5 universities in Kenya to receive such an award. The hard work and dedication of the staff, students and partners were praised and the certificate presented.


And this was not the end. Tuesday also marked the opening of a new molecular biology lab, the Pwani University Bioscience Research Centre or PUBReC for short. PUBReC is the result of a collaboration between KEMRI Wellcome Trust Research Programme and Pwani University. After some short scientific talks, the congregation were led to the lab itself, the ribbon was cut, and students, staff and visitors entered to be greeted by eager masters students, PhD students and post docs showcasing the work that had been happening in PUBReC. Amongst the crowd visiting the new installation, there were a great number of amazed and proud undergraduate students. Everyone was hooked by the many scientific posters being presented and the first class facilities PUBReC has to offer.

From then there was one more important event – lunch. The table bowed under the weight of rice, ugali, chapati, cabbage, chicken, ribs and mchicha (the best spinach we’ve ever had). We shared lunch with a bunch of 4th year students and sat for many hours after it discussing life and fixing the world, we touched all topics you can imagine, from student life at Pwani University to whether extra-terrestrial life exists.


It was a wonderful day beautifully captured by a 3rd year biochemistry student who enjoyed the use of Ana’s camera!

ssDNAfrica goes “pole pole”

This is the story of how we met our biggest challenge yet (and we don’t mean the tropical storms).

Since last week, the question we get asked by those not living in Kenya is “how are things going with the elections?” The truth is that Kilifi is the place where people come to find tranquility in shaken times. The election meant no workshops last week and a recently called lecturers’ strike left us with an indefinite pause to our teaching. Moreover, storms keep coming causing power cuts and gloomy days. Meanwhile, we are working hard from home planning different strategies to fulfil our PIPS placement. We keep going “pole pole” but surely.