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IBERS’ International Distance Learning Scholarship begins to bear fruit (well, cobs!)

'A light bulb went off in my head when Dr Phillips told me that each research paper always has a clear overall message. His words were a game changer'

For the past two years, IBERS has been providing a scholarship to students from the Global South. The aim of the scholarship is to provide agricultural advisers and influencers with access to the latest thinking in agriculture. To qualify, students must be working in the agrifood sector either for a state-funded body or an NGO. One of these students, Seke Kazuru, is a bioinformatics scientist working with researchers in both public and private sector agriculture in Malawi. Seke says: My job basically involves working with large amounts of data, processing, analysing, visualizing, and interpreting it for decision makers to make evidence-based decisions

During the first covid-19 lockdown in Malawi, Seke began to feel that he needed a new challenge. He has an ongoing interest in using technology to improve crops and decided that studying online would be a way to challenge himself and learn more about this topic whist still being able to meet work and family commitments. Seke says: I needed to study at a world class institution while still at my job and looking after my family. IBERS courses clearly fit this bill, the courses are flexible and convenient.

Seke has done a few MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and so had some idea what it might be like to be a distance learner and the amount of effort required. His main concern was that it would be a lonely activity, which is always a worry with distance learning. However, this was not the case. Seke says: It was much more interesting than I thought it would be. The first course I took had several students and I enjoyed the presentations and the forums. I enjoyed the interactions with the tutors, especially the online meetings and the seminars.

Whilst he found the courses are more intensive than he expected, requiring more commitment to complete than a MOOC, Seke felt that format works very well especially for students from his part of the world. Seke says:One of the biggest advantages of these courses is that I directly apply my experience and knowledge to the modules, in doing so it is easy to notice gaps in my knowledge and this encourages me to do more research. Even for the tasks that I routinely do, I now question myself more and I always want to find out what the current research on a particular topic is about.

Seke has now started the research project for his MRes. He will be using high tech methods to dissect the genetics and morphological characteristics of some of Malawi’s local maize landraces in the hope of reducing the growth of aflatoxin-producing fungi in the crop. Aflatoxins are particularly harmful to children causing stunted growth, delayed development, liver damage, and liver cancer. Seke says: This research is important as it will inform maize breeders and researchers what to consider in breeding maize varieties to enhance the future health of the population.

IBERS is proud to continue to provide scholarships to students from: Cameroon, Colombia, Malawi, Pakistan, South Africa, Tanzania, Trinidad, Uganda, and Zambia. Find out more about International Scholarships

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