In this Q&A with CARTA Communications, Melvin Ojo Agunbiade, CARTA focal person for Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) and cohort 3 graduate reflects on his academic journey, and the professional and personal milestones achieved, having been recently promoted to the position of Associate Professor at OAU. He also offers valuable insights to inspire the next generation of researchers and scholars.
Professionally, how would you describe yourself, and what inspires you?
I am an academic, fully engaged in research and teaching in the areas of Sociology and Anthropology, and I am based at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Nigeria. My interest is in studying various aspects of sexual health, aging, gender and development, and African traditional medicine systems. These topics are important for understanding how to promote healthy aging and inclusivity in Nigeria and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. My research aims to gather knowledge that can be used to create policies based on evidence. As a lecturer, I endeavor to impart knowledge and skills that go beyond the acquisition of education for my students but also shape and equip them to be agents of change in society.
My journey at OAU began in September 2004 when I joined as a Graduate Assistant in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. Over the years, I advanced through the ranks to my most recent appointment as an Associate Professor which was awarded in 2023 although backdated to 2019. My role at the university involves teaching undergraduate and postgraduate courses in sociological theory, research approaches and methods in sociology and anthropology, and health and medical sociology. I also supervise undergraduates and postgraduates within the department and coordinate postgraduate programs in Sociology and Anthropology for two academic sessions.
Currently, I play key administrative roles in the department, including being the examination officer, a role that involves coordinating examination activities. Outside the department, I co-supervise doctoral candidates in nursing science and the sociology of education. Since the 2019/2020 academic session, I have been the co-coordinator of a research methodology course at the postgraduate college of the university. The development of the course was supported by CARTA through a curriculum institutionalization grant that was awarded in 2017. The course is one of the CARTA success stories at OAU. So far, the research methodology course is the first of its kind, and all doctoral candidates across the 13 faculties of the university offer this credit course in the first year of their program
How does your recent promotion to Associate Professor shape your academic journey?
This promotion marks a pivotal point in my career. Achieving the rank of Associate Professor is an achievement of great joy and pride for me, my mentors, and students. It signifies the progress I have passionately strived for and worked towards for many years. The accomplishment not only validates my dedication to academia but also serves as a stepping stone for further milestones. I am eager to contribute more to knowledge-building, mentoring, and evidence generation for the betterment of society.
What would you say has been the catalyst behind your academic and professional advancement?
Several factors have played pivotal roles in my academic and research growth including but not limited to the divine arrangements that led me into academia, the supportive environment provided by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at OAU, and financial support to realize my academic pursuits. I received my doctorate degree in Health Sociology in 2016 from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa and the CARTA program fully supported this. I have also received other scholarships, such as the Commonwealth Scholarship for Distance Learning, that supported my second Master of Science Degree in Gerontology at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, which I completed in 2019.
My interest in gerontology was born out of my professional development plan and research interests. I owe the professional development plan to CARTA because it is from the program’s Joint Advanced Seminar Series (JASes) that I got the idea and saw this as valuable to have as a scholar. Over the years, I have found the lessons learned from the JASes indispensable in my research and teaching activities, as well as community engagement.
My progress would not have been possible without the support of my teachers as well as the mentors I have encountered along the way, including those from Author Aid and CARTA. I must also mention the encouragement I received from my undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as the unwavering love and support from my family. The network of relationships I have fostered has provided critical input for my progress and advancement. Without this holistic support, I am certain that my achievements would not have been possible.
You have highlighted CARTA’s contribution to your development. Elaborate on specific aspects of the program that have had impact.
The invaluable support I received from CARTA, starting from pre-fellowship to post-graduation, has been instrumental in my journey. The interventions and ongoing support from CARTA have been significant, particularly during my doctoral training, capacity to generate quality research outputs, and career progression. The impacts continue to evolve, and my story in academia cannot be told without acknowledging CARTA’s role. The four CARTA JASes and the program’s way of teaching have equipped me with essential skills that are challenging to quantify, yet their impact has been evident in my research approach, knowledge sharing, knowledge building, and community engagement. I cherish every component of the CARTA curriculum. The post-graduation phase of CARTA has significantly contributed to my success in securing research grants and fellowships. I have also been able to provide support and mentorship to graduate students, and I have taken up leadership positions at OAU.
What do you hope to achieve and accomplish in your current position?
I aspire to engage in cutting-edge research, provide extensive mentoring to those around me, and foster collaborations with researchers within and outside my discipline. I aim to make substantial contributions to knowledge creation and positively impact the lives of individuals and communities through evidence-based policies and interventions.
Any points of reflection that you can offer CARTA fellows and early career researchers in Africa?
I encourage my fellow CARTA beneficiaries and early-career researchers in Africa to continuously seek opportunities to acquire new skills and collaborate with peers within and outside their discipline. Be pragmatic, persistent, and maintain a positive outlook while endeavoring to empower those around you as agents of positive change. By embracing these principles, you can navigate the challenges of academia and research, paving the way for personal growth and societal impact.
A passion for pharmacy
As far as I can remember, I have always been resolute about contributing to better health outcomes in my country and beyond. I have therefore been deliberate in carving a path that allows me to be in a position to find solutions to health challenges particularly substandard and falsified medicines in low-and middle-income countries in order to contribute towards better health for the poor through higher education and a career in Pharmacy.
I was among an inaugural group that enrolled for a Diploma in Pharmacy at the Malawi College of Health Sciences when it was introduced as a direct course. I was also in the first group for an honors degree in Pharmacy when it was introduced at Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHES), formerly the College of Medicine, University of Malawi. I graduated with a first-class Bachelor’s Degree and immediately joined KUHeS as an Assistant Lecturer in April 2010. With a scholarship from the Australian Awards Scholarship in 2012, I proceeded to undertake a Master’s Degree in Health Economics at the University of Queensland. I came back to Malawi in August 2013 having completed the degree and assumed a Lecturer position.
Between 2014 and 2015, with the guidance and collaboration with Prof. Lutz Heide (University of Malawi and University of Tubingen Germany), we won a grant from the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) to study the quality of antimalarial and antibiotic medicines in Malawi. This was followed by a CARTA scholarship and with the two grants, I enrolled in a PhD program at KUHeS. Professors – Lutz Heide and Ulrike Holzgrabe (Institute of Pharmacy and Food Chemistry and University of Würzburg, Germany) were both my primary and secondary supervisors, respectively. I successfully completed the program in 2018 and graduated with a PhD in Pharmacy (specializing in Pharmaceutical Analysis).
While advancing my academic pursuits, I developed passion for research and appreciated the role it can play in realizing impact and the common good. As a researcher, I have particular interest in the quality of medicines and their relationship with pharmaceutical supply chains and logistics and associated public health impact. This has been my passion since my undergraduate studies in 2006.
The passion has grown, as in most cases whenever there is treatment failure, we assume either the patient was not complying or is resistant to the medicine. What we forget is that in some cases it would be that the patient was under-dosed due to poor-quality medicines which is often ignored in the medical circle. There is also a growing concern with the administering of poor-quality antibiotics which is contributing to antimicrobial resistance. For us to combat these problems, there is need to assure the quality and safety of medicine given to patients. And it is my endeavor to do this and potentially aid Malawi’s Pharmacy and Medicines Regulatory Authority in routine testing of medicines that are on the market.
For any academician, professorship is a status we all aspire to achieve, being the highest rank. My recent promotion to the rank of Associate Professor is one step toward this coveted position. It is therefore an achievement I am extremely proud of in my career as well as for the pharmacy professional in Malawi. I am very happy because Malawi has very few pharmacy professionals who have attained such a rank and to join the hopefully growing number is encouraging. Additionally, in the Department of Pharmacy at KUHeS, I am the first local person to attain Associate Professorship.
There are several components that have contributed to my growth including strong mentorship and training, and supportive family and friends. Various academicians including Professors – Lutz Heide, Victor Mwapasa (KUHeS), and Adamson Muula (KUHeS) have rendered such mentorship and guidance at different stages of my journey. Additionally, administrative support from KUHeS has enabled the implementation of various research on the quality of medicines.
The CARTA program has particularly played a huge role in advancing my career and research aspirations. During my fellowship, CARTA was a unique platform that allowed me to acquire advanced research and grant writing skills through the Joint Advanced Seminars (JASes). I would say the biggest contribution of CARTA has been the sharpening of my academic writing skills. This has resulted in me being among the prolific researchers, able to competitively win grants as well as publish in high-impact journals. The program has exposed me to networks that have been of great personal and professional benefit. Further, the CARTA reentry grant (awarded in 2019) and the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership II (EDCTP II) early career grant (awarded in 2020) have both enriched my academic and research profile. The CARTA re-entry grant specifically provided a platform where I was able to partner with Prof. Victor Mwapasa who has been key in mentoring my academic journey.
An inadequate number of senior academicians is one concern at the Department of Pharmacy at KUHeS, and this has been cited as a challenge by several external examiners and assessors. My promotion will hopefully bridge this gap and reduce some of the shortfalls that the Department has been experiencing. A priority in my role will be to intensify mentorship to more junior researchers and quality supervision to graduate and postgraduate students. I also intend to continuously compete for more grants that can support my work toward ensuring that there is quality medicine in Malawi. As I aspire to be a full professor over hopefully the next three years, I plan to work to meet the criteria and realize this achievement.
Reflecting on my own journey and the R&D ecosystem in Africa, I wish to tell early career researchers in Africa to have a goal and aim to achieve that goal. When you have something you are working towards, then you have the drive to work hard, be persistent and focused. In this academic journey, there will be several distractions and one needs to stay focused towards the goal!
Enock Chisati, CARTA cohort 7 graduate from Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHeS), previously the University of Malawi, was recently promoted to the rank of Associate Professor of Exercise Physiology in the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences at the institution. He holds a PhD in Exercise Physiology obtained from the University of Malawi, College of Medicine in 2020, and a Master of Science Degree in Exercise Physiology and Sports Sciences from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Norway in 2014.
Talking to CARTA communications, Enock elaborates on his academic and professional journey and shares what he believes has contributed to his growth. Here is what he had to say…..
When did you join KUHeS and how has your career progressed over time?
I joined the university in 2011 as an Assistant Lecturer and from there, I have held various responsibilities as I grew to my most recent position as Senior Lecturer (2018 to 2020): Coordinator of years 2 and 4 of the Bachelor of Physiotherapy program (2014 to 2016), Deputy Head of the Physiotherapy Department (2014 to 2016) and Head of the Physiotherapy Department (2016 to 2020).
I am proud to have also been appointed to other responsibilities within and beyond KUHeS. I am a member of the Academic Standards and Compliance Committee (ASCCo), a subcommittee of the KUHeS senate. Since 2020, I have been the Country Contact for Global Observatory for Physical Activity (GoPA). As a GoPA country representative, I am part of a strong global network of over 164 countries dedicated to physical activity and health research, policies, and surveillance at the national level. Additionally, I am a member of the Malawi Anti-Doping Organisation, an Associate Editor of the Malawi Medical Journal as well as an Academic Editor of the PLOS ONE Journals.
Besides academia, I am passionate about research and my interests are in understanding the beneficial effects of exercise on the underlying mechanisms of human physiology to guide the treatment and prevention of lifestyle diseases and chronic conditions. I also take interest in understanding the effects of exercise on sports performance and injury prevention. I have a number of peer-reviewed publications and book chapters in the area of exercise and health associated with my name (ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5596-9386).
What does your recent promotion mean to you?
My recent promotion to the rank of Associate Professor is a great milestone. The role positions me to be one of those authorities who can ably contribute to capacity building and generation of new knowledge in my area of specialty. In addition, my promotion increases the pool of individuals within KUHeS who can be entrusted with important assignments and responsibilities to achieve University goals.
What would you say has contributed to your growth in academia leading up to your promotion?
In addition to my record in teaching as well as administrative duties and responsibilities, my academic and scholarly leadership achievements coupled with my ability to attract funds and resources to KUHeS have contributed to my growth in academia and research ultimately leading to my promotion to the rank of Associate Professor.
In what ways has the CARTA program contributed to your academic and research growth and this promotion?
CARTA made substantial contributions towards my achievement of various milestones including this promotion. One of the criteria for promotion to the rank of Associate Professor was scholarly leadership through publications, and CARTA’s unique training greatly enhanced my research capacity. I honed manuscript-writing skills through aspects such as qualitative and quantitative research methods, journal clubs, scientific blitz, and academic writing offered by the program during the four Joint Advanced Seminars (JASes). Using manuscript writing skills, I was able to produce 10 peer-reviewed publications that were presented for assessment to my application for promotion. I also obtained grant-writing skills through JAS 4 training, which contributed to my acquisition of a $200,000 FIFA-funded research grant, which was also a key consideration for the promotion.
What do you hope to accomplish in your current position?
The Associate Professor rank provides a platform for me to focus on postgraduate research supervision since my teaching load will be reduced. I also intend to continue conducting scholarly research in my area of specialty that contributes relevant knowledge for the public good. This research may sometimes disagree with public opinion or authority but the rank bestows upon me autonomy and freedom to engage in academic dialogue for the public good. In teaching and research, I hope to contribute to capacity building and the generation of new knowledge in the areas of exercise and health in Africa.
Any reflections and advice you would like to share with CARTA fellows and Early Career Researchers (ECRs) in Africa?
I owe most of my career achievements to CARTA. The program offers the best PhD and postdoctoral training relevant to solving key African problems. I, therefore, would like to encourage all CARTA fellows and any African-based ECR to embrace all the CARTA opportunities as they have proven to be effective and relevant for personal and career development as well as the public good.
The Developing Excellence in Leadership Training and Science in Africa (DELTAS AFRICA) launched the second phase of the program on March 14, 2023 in Nairobi, Kenya. As one of the 14 grantees of DELTAS Africa II, CARTA joined funding partners, government representatives, the diplomatic community, and international development organizations to celebrate the key milestone.
The prestigious and high-level launch event was convened by the Science for Africa (SFA) Foundation and was followed by a three-day inception meeting (March 15-17, 2023). Collectively, the event sought to engage the African and global scientific and funding community; project the visibility of the DELTAS Africa program at the continental and global level; profile the DELTAS Africa II grantees and their expertise; highlight the continental significance of the challenges being addressed in phase II of the program; and provide a platform to build new relationships, productive partnerships, and networks.
DELTAS Africa is a long-term, multimillion-dollar program launched in 2015 to support collaborative consortia led by Africa-based scientists to amplify Africa-led development of world-class research and scientific leaders on the continent while strengthening African institutions. The first phase of the program was implemented between 2015-2021 and awarded grants to 11 consortia headed by world-class senior researchers from 8 African countries. While DELTAS Africa I focused on transdisciplinary research, the second phase will extend to new priority research areas including non-communicable diseases, public health research, social sciences and humanities, implementation science, and climate change.
As a program dedicated to building research capacity in Africa and promoting the development of a vibrant African academy, CARTA benefitted tremendously from the first phase of the DELTAS Africa initiative and is hopeful that the program will equally contribute to a significant shift in the research ecosystem towards impacting development in the African Region during the second phase.
“The Science for Africa Foundation has emerged as a new bold player in promoting excellence in science on the African continent. We at CARTA are thrilled to be part of the DELTAS Africa II initiative. We cannot do science in a business-as-usual way.”
Dr. Catherine Kyobutungi, CARTA Co-Director and Executive Director of the African Population and Health Research Center
The DELTAS Africa I grant supported CARTA’s goal of rebuilding and strengthening the capacity of universities in Africa to produce well-trained and skilled researchers and scholars, to be change agents within their respective universities, and promote and/or lead active research and training programs. As a result of the grant:
DELTAS Africa II grant will be instrumental in the implementation of CARTA’s current strategic phase, CARTA2025 which has four interlinked objectives of maintaining a pipeline of high-quality ECRs; creation of research hubs in partner institutions; mainstreaming of CARTA interventions at partner institutions; and facilitating the engagement of the CARTA community with society.
CARTA2025 aims to address the problem of inadequate production and utilization of quality research by strengthening research and related capacity of Early Career Researchers (ECRs) and the environments in which they work while also growing towards independence and research leadership in Africa. The ultimate goal is to build a critical mass of well-trained and motivated researchers supported by a conducive environment, who can produce high-quality research that can solve common health and development problems in Africa.
To commemorate International Women’s Day which is marked annually on March 8, CARTA Communication Assistant, Topistar Karani caught up with Boladale Mapayi (CARTA cohort 4 graduate) and they chatted about her recent promotion that saw her become the first female Professor of Psychiatry at Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria. Here is what she had to say.
Tell us about yourself and your research interests
I am a behavioral scientist with extensive experience in the study of the dynamics of human behavior and interpersonal violence. I practice as a Consultant Psychiatrist and Clinical Psychologist at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) and OAU Teaching Hospitals Complex, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. Beyond my practice, I consider myself a distinguished researcher and I am extremely passionate about women’s and adolescent mental health, gender-based violence, and sexuality issues. Over the years, I have participated in several agenda‐setting initiatives concerning gender, sexual minorities, sexual violence, adolescents, and young people as well as the development and reviews of multiple national and international technical reports. I have over 50 publications in peer-reviewed journals, and I have won and executed several research grants and collaborated with colleagues within and across institutions and countries to provide pertinent data to foster health and wellness.
Recently, you were appointed the first female Professor of Psychiatry at OAU. What does this milestone mean to you?
Although I am the first female Professor of Psychiatry in my institution, I join a list of many other female professors in the institution from different disciplines. Personally and professionally, I am elated and proud of this milestone! I am grateful to the many great mentors in my institution and in my department who have inspired me along my journey. While a lot has been done to forge the success path for myself and other women in academia and top positions overall, I strongly feel that there is still a long way to go in ensuring gender parity, especially in the top positions. We have made giant strides in creating some balance for women but we should not rest on our oars.
For me, this milestone means that the hard work, sleepless nights, and numerous tradeoffs were all worth it. The constant nagging of concerned friends and family members on the dangers of advancing in my career at the possible detriment to my home. It means that I can be a role model to my children so that they can be the best at what they want without missing out because they are female. If I can do it, so can anyone. It also means that I can keep more doors open for the people coming after me and I am super excited about that.
What advice can you give to women in “male-dominated” spaces?
Keep pushing and never give up! There will be tough days, the days when you curl up and cry, when it is just easy to give in and give up, throw in the towel. But if you keep pushing, you will get beyond that point. Do not let anyone make you small or keep you quiet. Ensure that your voice is heard, keep working hard and do find your tribe, your support gang, the people that will connect you to the right mentors. Remember, a tree does not make a forest.
You are passionate about women, gender, and sexuality issues. Are there initiatives you are currently involved in professionally or otherwise along these lines?
I am currently a gender specialist in my institution and a technical adviser/consultant and trainer to several development partners including WHO, Federal Ministry of Health and National Agency for the Control of AIDS on gender-based violence issues. I also volunteer with several CSOs that cater to the needs of survivors of GBV. My interest in women, gender, and sexuality issues stems from the harm that I encounter daily, experienced by some sections of our population because of unfair socially assigned roles that are based on unequal power relations. Intolerance fosters stigma and discrimination which further hampers access to support and worsens health outcomes. There are simple steps that we can take towards inclusivity, equity, fairness, and justice that will improve lives. It starts with raising awareness through community engagement in research.
What do you hope to achieve in your current position in line with this year’s theme of the International Women’s Day #EmbraceEquity?
I hope to use my leadership position as the Head of Department in my institution and the affiliated teaching hospital to model embracing equity with policies that will improve access and agency for all colleagues and coworkers regardless of their different demographic and social characteristics.