I’m An Agent Of Change – Chikondi Peno

Did you know that you could be passionate about biology and not be interested in becoming a Medical Doctor? Here is an example from Malawi showing a career you could pursue with your passion. Let us hear your thoughts about other options in the comment section below, and please don’t forget to nominate a woman for a feature.

Hi Chikondi, thank you for accepting to be our guest today. You are our second Malawian guest, after Anne Chisa
Thanks, Winnie! I am happy to contribute to the project. Not so sure if my story is interesting enough though 😊, but I am happy to inspire someone out there.

Kindly introduce yourself to our audience
My name is Chikondi Peno from Malawi. I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Inflammation at the University of Edinburgh through a scholarship from the National Institute for Health Research-Mucosal Pathogens Research Unit (NIHR-MPRU).

How has this STEM journey been like for you?
I did most of my education in Malawi, up to the Bachelor’s degree level which I obtained from the University of Malawi. After my first degree, I developed a research interest mainly because of the experience I had during my final year research project. I managed to secure a job with Malawi Liverpool Wellcome Trust, which is a research institute funded by the Wellcome Trust. I first worked as a Malaria Microscopist for a 3 months maternity cover. After the 3 months, I was lucky to secure another post in the same institute as a Laboratory Research technician. During then, I also managed to secure some funding for my MSc program with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Following completion of my master’s, I was awarded a Ph.D. scholarship from the National Institute for Health Research-Mucosal Pathogens Research Unit (NIHR-MPRU) which I am now pursuing.

Let’s talk about some of the hardest moments you have faced along this journey
You appreciate that being a woman in sciences comes with its challenges, and I wasn’t spared from these. I have been challenged by the under-representation of African women in STEM. Other challenges I have faced include being less rewarded and sometimes disrespected in my line of work.

How have you been able to move forward in such situations?
Haha, as they say, you need to fix your eyes on the prize. I was lucky that in my journey I had colleagues who trusted, encouraged, and supported me academically. These people are my role models who have taught me that if things are to change in sciences for African scientists particularly women, I am the agent of change. Their seniority and excellence in research have benefited me through sharing experiences and giving advice, hence making my journey less lonely. It might have been informal mentorship but it was very assuring and keeps me going to date.

Tell us about some of your achievements and awards
There are two main achievements that I can highlight; my current full-time NIHR-Mucosal Pathogens Research Unit Ph.D. Scholarship, and the Malawi Liverpool Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Program M.Sc. Scholarship.

What do you enjoy doing outside work?
I don’t have much to do outside work. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, taking long walks, and exploring nature.

What is your favorite quote?
Develop enough courage so that you can stand up for yourself and then stand up for somebody else” ~ Maya Angelou.

How do you encourage a young girl who is passionate about STEM but can’t find her ground in the field?
For a young girl in STEM, there’s nothing that you cannot achieve; if you work hard and stay focused, there’s always a reward for that. There’s a lot of work that needs young scientists, particularly women to take up. Reach out to necessary mentors and work with people in the field that have your best interest at heart. You can achieve anything.

Thank you, Chikondi, for those inspirational words and for honoring our invitation. We look forward to more interactions in the future.

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