Message from Former JSPS Fellow (9)
JSPS Dramatically Enhanced My Scientific Career
I received my doctorate in Animal Breeding and Genetics in 2000 from the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, Germany. In March 2001, I was invited to spend six months at the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit (AGBU) of the University of New England (UNE) in Australia. In Australia, I was researching Hereford beef cattle breeding schemes incorporating direct and indirect measures of feed intake. One of the breeding objectives that I evaluated was specifically targeted for the Japanese beef market. Since the liberalization of beef import restrictions in 1991, there has been growing interest in the United States, Australia and Canada in exporting beef to Japan. This scenario spurred my interest in spending some time at a university in Japan. I wanted to contribute to increased beef production in Japan. Having learned about the JSPS postdoctoral fellowship, I embarked on searching for a suitable host in Japan.
In August 2002, I attended the World Congress on Genetics Applied to Livestock Production held in Montpellier, France. At it, I met Prof. Yoshiyuki Sasaki of Kyoto University and expressed my desire to apply for a JSPS fellowship with him as my host. He was very supportive and encouraged me to apply. I promised to apply for the fellowship but I could not do so immediately because of other issues at my university in Kenya. In 2004, based on my experiences in Australia, I wrote a concept note on the evaluation of advanced Japanese beef cattle breeding schemes incorporating performance testing for Blood Serum Insulin- Like Growth Factor I and carcass traits, and sent it to Prof. Hiroyuki Hirooka of Kyoto University. He appreciated my note and we developed a joint research proposal; he submitted an application for a JSPS fellowship on my behalf. In August 2004, I was pleased to receive a letter of invitation from JSPS. I traveled to Japan in November 2004 to embark on what would be a career-enhancing experience at Kyoto University.
The research environment in Japan was very conducive to the type of work that I was doing. The work combined both field visits and computer simulations to test alternative breeding schemes for their genetic and economic efficiency. In this type of studies, one must engage in extensive collaborations as they require inputting parameters that describe the actual situation as accurately as possible. I was able to obtain such parameters through the healthy interactions I enjoyed with my host and Japanese colleagues. In fact, my host made himself available to me on short notice and in most cases without formal appointments. Prof. Hirooka made sure that I was an integral part of their scientific environment. This gave me an opportunity to learn and experience other fields in animal sciences in which I had not yet done extensive work. My Japanese colleagues were very supportive, and I coauthored a number of publications with them.
My host also made sure that I was part of their social environment. I remember with nostalgia the social activities I participated in and visits I made to some landmarks. He introduced me to delicious Japanese cuisine, most unforgettably beef dishes such as shabu shabu and sukiyaki. Naturally, I made them part of my diet in Japan as my research was aimed at adapting beef cattle to the Japanese palate.
In December 2005 while still a JSPS fellow, I was promoted to Associate Professor at my home institution, Egerton University. I must say that the research environment in Japan contributed to this promotion. The environment allowed me to author or coauthor several publications in 2005. The JSPS fellowship program supported almost every aspect of my life as a researcher. With it, I was able to travel to international conferences to present my results. For example, in August 2006, I gave a presentation at the 8th World Congress on Genetics Applied to Livestock Production in Brazil, a country that I had never dreamt of visiting.
When my fellowship ended in November 2006, I returned to Egerton University in Kenya. In January 2007, I was appointed Chair of Animal Sciences. In addition to these duties, I lecture, supervise postgraduate students, and lead a number of research projects. I have made it my responsibility to inform other researchers about JSPS by displaying posters announcing JSPS's fellowships. I am currently a member of the Executive Committee of the Eastern Africa JSPS Alumni Association. Formed in July 2007, this association promotes scientific exchange and research collaboration between Japan and Eastern Africa countries.
I remain in close contact with my host and other Japanese colleagues and continue to coauthor articles in animal sciences. I hope to work with Japanese researchers in opening up scientific channel between Kenya and Japan in animal science research. In fact, the JSPS fellowship is still helping to link animal scientists in Kenya and Japan. Currently, Prof. Hirooka and I are putting together an application under the JSPS AA Science Platform Program for a research project that will further enhance scientific exchange between researchers of the two countries.