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Transcript - Vulnerable conversations between scientists

A conversation with Sarah Nyanchera Nyakeri

Published onFeb 09, 2023
Transcript - Vulnerable conversations between scientists
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Jo: Karibuni sana dear listeners to Kenyan episode of Access 2 Perspectives Conversation, today. We’re here with Sarah Nyanchera, who also has her own podcast called The Vulnerable Scientist. And yeah. Welcome. Karibu Sana, Sarah. 

Sarah:  Asante Sana

Jo: Please introduce yourself as we get to talk about your podcast and how that started and the kinds of stories you share in interviews you do. What brought you here? What is your journey so far? I hear you’re also a researcher yourself, so that’s where the connection comes from. Yeah. 

Sarah: Okay. My name is Sarah Nyanchera Nyakeri. I am an MSC fellow at ILRI, International Livestock Research Institute where I am studying vaccines. I’m looking for new vaccines for pleural pneumonia that affects cows caused by macro plasma. I’m also a student attached to Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. I’m also a podcaster. Four months into podcasting and I’m loving it. I’ve been thinking this is the path that I want to take. I’m not sure yet, but I’m loving it so far. 

Jo: Anything science communication, I guess. 

Sarah: Yes, informal science communication. 

Jo: And why do you think that’s important? What’s so exciting about it?

Sarah: I think it’s important to communicate what we do in the closed spaces of the labs. I think it’s important for scientists to communicate that to people around them. Most of the time you find that sisters or family members don’t know what their family member is doing in the lab. Those conversations don’t really happen unless it’s just by the way, or unless Corona has come. And that’s the time people actually are interested to know, okay. Or they have a question related to maybe a medical thing and they want an answer to that. That’s when they have those conversations. But a day to day activity of telling people what you actually do, people don’t really understand. At the same time, scientists are not as comfortable. Most scientists are not as comfortable doing that. So if it’s so difficult to have conversations about science with people who you are close to, how about the public? How about the other people who we are doing science for? We are doing science for farmers. We’re doing science for people looking for new vaccines or diagnostics, but we don’t tell them this is what you’re doing. And when you finally come up with a technology, you want people to understand what you’ve done and what this technology brought up will help them and how it will help them. It’s hard if you haven’t taken them through that journey and let them understand what this thing is. And for me, that is why I try to help first scientists to communicate their own science through the different mediums that I use. And also I’m very passionate about telling the public what is happening in the science spectrum. 

Jo: And then your area of research, like with research topics around cow or cattle diseases, your stakeholders will be farmers and cattle breeders also masai because they’re known to be custodians of the cattle. That eventually in Kenya also provides for a percentage of the meat industry, right? 

Sarah: Yes. I’ve actually been thinking recently, honestly, no, this is just being honest. I’ve been thinking recently I need to talk to someone who is in the farming of cows and things related to that. I have friends who do that, but we don’t really and we have conversations. Of course, I always talk about what I’m doing to anyone who’s interested to hear what I have to say. But I would like to come into contact with the big farmers when it comes to livestock. And I think that would be a great motivation for me, especially when I come across hurdles through my research. It would be a great motivation for me. But again, I have colleagues who have family members who are big farmers in terms of livestock, and there are certain diseases, especially goats and cows. This person is farming. I wouldn’t say the specifics. You’ll find that they’re having trouble, their business is going down, and you’ll find that this person is stressed. And if your brother is stressed about something and they know you’re actually in that spectrum of looking for new vaccines, they will always have those conversations and it will trouble you. Right. And that troubles everybody across. So apart from it being about looking for new solutions to problems, it is also a personal issue to other people or to most people, like they want to find a new solution for something.

 When it came to this project, I saw this project being advertised and I thought to myself, ‘you mean that there’s no vaccine for this disease?’ That is like, you could see the map of Africa. It is capturing a very huge percentage of Africa, sub Saharan Africa. It is endemic in twelve countries and it’s majorly just Africa, and it’s an African problem. And I was like, seriously, there’s no vaccine for this? And I was like, I need to be part of that. It’s amazing to do something and you know that the result will nicely or positively affect someone. It’s a nice thing to be part of. Of course, it is a vaccine, it’s not as effective. It’s very low efficacy. Sometimes it becomes virulent. And farmers are not happy about that. But I got emotional about it. It became a personal problem for me. So that’s why I do what I’m currently doing. And that’s the motivation that I have to do the project that I’m doing. Though it’s tough. 

Jo: Yeah, I know, it’s a great motivation to have. I think many of us researchers have or see a purpose or at least develop a purpose with the work that we do at some point. Sometimes we can’t see it from the beginning, but then the more we dig into the topic, we see how things are connected and interconnected. And now we can actually have an impact by providing puzzle pieces to the bigger picture. It’s funny because I actually have a Kenyan friend, but she lives in the Masa Mara, and she’s also from a cattle herder Masai tribe. And she told me that I’m asking if this is the same disease she’s been talking about because it turns out that some other species or the Wildebeests rather, well camels are not native to Kenya, but Wildebeests. I think the Wildebeests are also cattle-like, and they seem to be immune to that virus. Well, the virus that they’re struggling with, maybe it’s the same. So whenever positive other way around or when theWildebeests comes and they don’t get infected, but then they can transfer the virus to the cattletle. I think that was the issue. And then the cattle ith the Masaiof the Masai are roaming free, so they’re not fenced and they can’t and don’t want to fence thetle cattle, but that’s an extra threat. And they were also hoping for somebody to develop a vaccine so that they wouldn’t lose so many of their livestock. And the virus spreads like twice a year and only when theWildebeests Wildebeests call around that time. That’s when they’re transferred. But maybe we’re talking about a different virus there, but I’ll introduce you, and then you can do your expertise exchange.


Sarah: I love that. Whatever I’m working with is a bacterial disease, and it’s the only bacterial disease that is notifiable if it occurs somewhere like you have to notify the international space, and you can see what that does to business. If people are afraid to deal with because I have this disease in my farm or in my country, then trade is impossible. And doing trading between countries, like in terms of beef and anything related to cattle or produce, then the farmer suffers. There’s an economic stream there, yJo: Hou know.

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