AH Young Scholar of the Month of March 2021

We are excited to announce the Scholar for the Month of March 2021! Bancy Ngatia from Kenya!

Bancy works with the Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health (CoEWCH), Aga Khan University, Nairobi. Read about Bancy’s research profile, strides and be inspired!

Research interests

My research interests are multi-dimensional in nature. They range from health to education, agriculture, innovation, and entrepreneurship. I have been involved as a biostatistician in applied research revolving around these respective fields. From 2017 to 2018, I worked as a research assistant with the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), an international agricultural research for development organisation based in Rabat, Morocco. My work involved building predictive statistical and machine learning models using ICARDA’s gene bank data. This was part of a project using data to identify gaps in ex situ conservation of crop landraces.

From 2018-2020, I worked as projects and research manager with Linking Industry with Academia (LIWA) based in Nairobi, Kenya. LIWA is a linkages organisation that creates and institutionalises linkages between academic institutions, private sector, and the government. The research we did included investigating the status of linkages or partnerships between higher education institutions (HEIs), industry, and government. The involvement of industry partners in education and research improves the quality and relevance of the training that students receive in HEIs. It also contributes to technology transfer, increased innovation, and generation of patents. Still at LIWA, we co-organized innovation events for university students in conjunction with partners such as the Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the East African Civil Society Organisations’ Forum. I have continued to mentor and support some of the student innovators by connecting them with opportunities to participate in innovation challenges, receive entrepreneurship training, and apply for incubation of their projects. My main research work now is in the field of health and in particular women’s, children’s, and adolescents’ health. I am interested in the application of biostatistical techniques to data to solve health challenges and produce insights that can inform policy development and implementation. Without prioritising SDG 3 on “Good Health and Wellbeing” for all, we cannot achieve the other development goals.

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Academic and Scientific Achievements

I have a bachelor’s degree in sociology and economics obtained in 2010 from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Nairobi, Kenya. I also have a master’s degree in biostatistics obtained in 2017 from Hasselt University in Hasselt, Belgium. While at ICARDA in 2018, I helped in developing their first library using R statistical software with functions for performing statistical analyses. I also helped my supervisor to establish a partnership with Hasselt University, where we formulated master thesis research topics and hosted master’s students to undertake their thesis based on these research topics.

In 2019 while at LIWA, I assisted the team to organise the first national conference on industry-academia linkages in partnership with the State Department for Post Training and Skills Development in the Ministry of Education. In 2020, a proposal I had co-written with doctors from Aga Khan University and the Ministry of Health for the Grand Challenges Africa initiative received funding from the African Academy of Sciences in partnership with the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2021, I co-presented a keynote speech at an annual symposium on enhancing knowledge transfer and exchange in African higher education and research jointly facilitated by the University of Glasgow and the African Research Universities Alliance. I have received the professional award of Graduate Statistician (GradStat) from the Royal Statistical Society (UK) where I am a registered Fellow. I am also a registered member of the American Statistical Association (USA).

Current Research/Projects

Currently, I am working as a study coordinator and biostatistician in a research project aiming to analyse trends in maternal mortality in Kenya and identify factors associated with increased risk of women dying during delivery. The project is funded by the African Academy of Sciences in partnership with the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It is a co-creation between the Aga Khan University through CoEWCH and the Ministry of Health. The research will involve using innovative statistical modelling approaches to analyse existing data sets. Maternal mortality data is often difficult to obtain in most developing countries due to lack of consistent data collection efforts at both national and sub-national levels. There is, therefore, a need to develop novel and innovative analytical methods to obtain reliable estimates of maternal mortality using the available data. Based on results of the statistical analyses, significant factors of maternal mortality can be discovered and addressed. Policies and frameworks outlining potential strategies to reduce maternal mortality can be developed to standardise and institutionalise maternal health care practices across Kenya.

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Researching for the African community

Africa carries nearly half of the burden of neonatal deaths, stillbirths, and maternal deaths with 2.3 million deaths per year. According to a report released by the World Health Organization in 2019, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for approximately 66% of global maternal deaths in 2017. There is a potential risk of missing SDG targets for reduced neonatal and maternal deaths. While there have been increased efforts to accurately capture maternal mortality data in Africa, there is still a dearth of quality data on and routine monitoring of maternal deaths. The research we are doing at CoEWCH will produce novel insights that can improve maternal and child health in Africa and globally.

Challenges experienced as a young African researcher

One of the major challenges I have experienced is accessing funds to conduct research at the doctoral and postdoctoral levels. Most doctoral students have to fund their own research, which can be extremely costly. The same goes for postdoctoral students. This is one of the reasons why most young scholars opt to pursue their graduate and postgraduate studies abroad. The challenge of funding is also experienced by academic staff at universities. There are few available sources of local or internal funds for research either from the Government or industry. Most researchers rely on external calls for proposals, many of which already have specific priority areas identified that may not adequately address local challenges or independent research interests. Another major challenge is the lack of mentorship in research careers. Early career researchers would benefit immensely from being taken under the wing of senior researchers and mentored in aspects ranging from grant applications to conducting scientific research, publishing articles, and establishing networks for potential partnerships.

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Other Interests/Extracurricular works  

I created and manage a Facebook page called Constant Bloomers, where I share advice and inspiration for business, career, and education success. I am also the creator of Scholarbot, the first chatbot of its kind on Facebook that engages users to tailor-made scholarship searches based on particular keywords. Scholarbot can be accessed and interacted with by clicking the ‘Send Message’ button on the Constant Bloomers page. When I am not working or innovating, I enjoy solving puzzles through games such as Rubik’s Cube and reading literary works from African authors.

Word of advice to early-career researchers

I would advise emerging early-career researchers to seek mentors whom they can work with to help guide their careers. I have been fortunate to have supervisors who have also served as my mentors in my work roles. There is much I have learned from interacting with them and the feedback they have given to guide my work. It is also crucial to foster networks with other early-career researchers for collaboration in research, writing papers, starting projects, or sharing experiences. This can be with colleagues in school or at work, or even with researchers from other organisations or countries. Learning to leverage social media to build networks and showcase your work or research interests is key in this increasingly digital world. Finally, embrace new challenges, be patient and persistent in the process, remain optimistic, and always take good care of your physical and mental health.

Connect with Bancy Ngatia:

LinkedIn: @bnbancy

Twitter: @bnbancy

E-mail: bancy.ngatia@aku.edu

You can be the next Young Scholar of the month! Nominate here!

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