On-site scientific training
International Research Schools
It can be hard to do good science in Africa. Many Universities suffer from chronic underfunding and oversubscription, which carries a myriad of consequences on the extent and quality of available higher science education and research of its graduates. All this leads to the continent’s low research output, furthering Africa’s international isolation. We aim to break this vicious cycle by providing top-level education and hands-on laboratory training by leading international experts. In addition, we help our African peers bring their research costs down by introducing low-cost open source tools and model systems for scientific research.
Why is it important?
We see our selves as a platform of communication between our alumni and Western researchers, thus bridging the often huge communication gap between scientists worldwide which can lead to fruitful international collaborations. Our work empowers scientists in Africa to carry out scientific research, they want and where they are.
Why is it unique?
Due to the lack of resources, and the generalized top-down university culture in many African countries, comparable schools organized on the continent are often heavily dependent on theoretical sessions and feature short or none at all laboratory practicals. We have been pioneers in introducing open-source software and hardware in the implementation of a neuroscience summer school in Africa. To our knowledge, we were also the first to organize a course featuring Drosophila neurogentics on the continent. Our programs, which were inspired by the famous NS&B at Woods Hole course, was the first IBRO course to last for 3 weeks and to introduce a heavy load of laboratory sessions. Due to the success of our format, IBRO has changed its policy to preferentially fund courses of this type.
The main scalability of the neuroscience schools comes from the fact that our growing network of alumni collaborates among themselves, organize TReND outreach events and in the future, they might be able to organize similar schools as these ones by themselves.
Courses to date
Neuroscience (8), Open Hardware (4), Genome editing (3), Bioinformatics: (3), Molecular Biology (2), Scientific Writing (1), Other (2)
Neuroscience and Molecular Biology
Neuroscience, the discipline that studies how the brain works and what goes wrong in its diseases, brings together tools from genetics, molecular biology, computer science, physiology, chemistry and physics to further our understanding of how we interact with the world around us. As such, the interdisciplinary nature and medical relevance of Neuroscience makes it a perfect entry point to empower African researchers across the continent. Neuroscience is so relevant nowadays, that both Europe and the U.S. have allocated vast amounts of public funds for its research, and African researchers should not be left behind.
Since 2001, each summer we organise a three-week school on “Insect neuroscience and Drosophila neurogenetics”. We have designed this school to do more than simply teach neuroscience theory and techniques – instead we use it as a tool to teach about science in general. We provide our students with a range of transferable research skills that are useful across a broad range of disciplines, such as statistics, scientific writing, bio-informatics, open-source, creative problem solving, management of resources, as well as creative and innovative approaches to affordable lab solutions. We modelled our neuroscience school on the world-leading “Neural Systems & Behaviour” school in Woods Hole, USA. Like this renowned course, ours is predominately lab-practical based and, with week-long modules being taught by leading international experts. As a result our students leave the school not only empowered with the knowledge needed to apply what they learnt to the research they wish to conduct, but also with an important network of peers and international scientists. Our alumni are now forming an ever-growing network of researchers across Africa and beyond, and many of whom have since gone on to undergo additional studies in some of the most prestigious universities around the world. In parallel, several alumni have set-up TReND outreach team to spread their knowledge and enthusiasm to school students, teachers, parents and national decision makers.
Although Africa accounts for 24% of the global burden of disease, the majority of biomedical research still happens in Western countries. Bioinformatics provides a promising field of research for African scientists because of low infrastructure requirements and a wealth of freely available genomics datasets. We want Africa to be part of this bioinformatics revolution.
We believe that the scientific independence of Africa means that scientists on the continent are able to set their own research agenda and develop their own solutions. Given the increase in freely available genomics datasets and low infrastructure requirements, bioinformatics provides a promising field of research for African scientists. At TReND, we aim to support scientific capacity development in bioinformatics by providing researchers with the training and expertise required to stay up to date in this exciting area of research.
Bioinformatics continues to be one of our most popular courses and in 2015 alone, we received 430 applications for the 25 spaces in our school in Kenya. TReND in Africa also received applications from 23 different African countries, showing the relevance of the subject across the continent.
The popularity of bioinformatics is perhaps due to its versatility, as well as its low infrastructure requirements. DNA sequencing has transformed many different areas of biology in the last decade, and remains relevant to areas from abstract evolutionary theories to the latest Ebola and HIV research. Furthermore, the advent of open access genomics data means that anyone worldwide can now analyse this information without performing expensive experiments. All they need is the right knowledge, a computer and an Internet connection.
Ongoing impact and meeting long-term needs
In an environment where all scientists above undergraduate level are expected to lecture regularly, the impact of advanced training courses quickly goes beyond the original participants.
Our students typically hold Masters qualifications or above and work at African research institutions. We estimate that each of our course attendees will have the chance to pass on some of those skills to an additional 200 colleagues within the first year alone, and many more on an ongoing basis from there.
For this reason, it is particularly important to improve and update lecturer skills, as well as those of students in the early stages of their scientific careers.
Kafilat at TReND’s first open Labware workshop in 2015
Kafilat with her clients from Prudent Associates Agro Consult
Adedeji Kafilat Jumoke
“Getting exposed to open hardware has spurned my further interest in learning more and researching further into applying it to Agriventure and my Ph.D. research of interest. I am working on two major projects with respect to these two.
Developing a low-cost field disease diagnostic tool for the rapid detection of tomatoes wilts diseases. I am working on a smart irrigation tool that will be remotely controlled for my urbanfarmacademy. And lastly I have been able to lunch a business idea called 3dtech2scale, though still at the prototype stage to be able to empower STEM students, researchers, businesses and careers to start, structure and scale their businesses and careers using 3D printing technology and open sources tools (IoT). And provide affordable substitutes to expensive labware and prototyping products to developing African countries starting from Nigeria.
On a personal note, I have been able to facilitate a speaking event on 3D printing technology and its application to scientific research organized by TReND in Africa at the University of Lagos, Nigeria. And I have been invited to a panelist session by the African Women in Technology where I not only spoke about the application of IoT in the Agric space but also my business idea was part of the winning business idea in the third place.
Recently I have been invited to a fully sponsored and paid speaking event in Sierra Leone to speak on the application of 3D printing technology in Agriculture in the later part of this year.”
The Course-Organisation Team
Lucia Prieto G
Neuroscience, Genome Editing
Neuroscience, Open Science