Inspiration is often the critical ingredient that fuels success and can be drawn from anywhere. As we draw closer to the end of the 2021 calendar year, we want to continue inspiring our current and future workforce of researchers. In a bid to do so, we recently reached out to one of our own, AHRI alumni, Prof. Gezahegn Mamo, who was part of the graduate research program almost two decades back. Over the years, following the graduate research program, Prof. Gezahegn’s career development has been nothing short of astronomical. Prof. Gezahegn has been part of great research findings and publications and has recently received his full professorship. He currently heads the Department of Veterinary Microbiology, Immunology, and Public Health in Addis Ababa University-College of Veterinary Medicine and Agriculture. We caught up with the professor at Bishoftu campus and the following were excerpts from the candid interview.
How did you get to know of AHRI and what were some of the first experiences you recall after being introduced to the institute?
I got the wonderful opportunity to attach myself with AHRI in 2002, back when I was a master’s student at the faculty of medicine at Addis Ababa University. At the time, there was a Graduate Research Programme opportunity being availed by AHRI and I rose to the call and applied for the program. That is how I first got exposed to one of the most famous biomedical institutes that we have in our country.
What was the research that you looked into while you were pursuing your masters? What was the duration of your attachment with AHRI?
The beauty of science is that it is very broad, and this is true for me. Despite having a background in veterinary medicine, my research focus whilst pursuing my master’s dealt with the human immune system response to mycobacterium tuberculosis. Through my time spent at AHRI which was two years, I was able to have an in-depth understanding of Tuberculosis which is a significant disease to not only humans but also animals as well.
You recently received your full professorship. How would you describe your career development to the position you currently are in right now, and to what extent did your attachment with AHRI catapult your career?
Ethiopia being a developing country, at the time opportunities were very minimal and luckily my time at AHRI presented me with a gateway of support from the international collaborators of the institute. Looking back, I can confidently say that my exposure at the institute catapulted my career because I was able to access a state-of-the-art technology in science which later opened the door for my Ph.D. work at the University of Oslo.
Moreover, I had the opportunity of meeting and networking with brilliant researchers, from AHRI, the University of Oslo, and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. Due to the already established relations, from Norad supporting AHRI, and also the guidance of Prof. Gunnar Bjune, former AHRI Director, who is a professor at the University of Oslo, I was able to adapt and transition faster during my time in Oslo.
Overall, for a professor to be recognized in his/her line of work, persistence, and engagement in a specific area are required. My time both in Norway and at AHRI helped greatly to instill this disciple of persistence with regard to conducting and engaging in research works over the years. These valuable experiences coupled with successful publications have eventually led me to be recognized by the University of Addis Ababa as a full professor.
Apart from your individual experience at AHRI, what are some of the social relations that you have forged at AHRI both then and now?
I have been able to meet amazing researchers, that I can comfortably call friends. During the Graduate Research Programme days, I had the pleasure of knowing and working with one of the top African scientists in Dr. Abraham Aseffa, who recently received the prestigious African Union Kwame Nkrumah Continental Award for the Scientific Excellence for Life and Earth Sciences. Moreover, I’m good friends with Dr. Alemseged Abdissa (AHRI’s Acting Director-General and Deputy Director-General) and Dr. Adane Mihret who leads the Bacterial and Viral Diseases Research Directorate at AHRI, both of whom were my research colleagues in the master’s program.
While remembering my social life in the institute, I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank Dr.Howard Engers (AHRI Director at the time) for his hospitability and encouraging words. Sometimes, some of the samples being processed went past normal working hours and I always felt at home in the institute because the director provided for me a hostel room for my stay.
To date, I still have a fruitful relationship with the institute as I guide and mentor MSc and Ph.D. students in their area of research work. Most recently, a Ph.D. student, that I have been advising successfully graduated and defended his thesis and this empowers me to continue inspiring and uplifting the next generation of researchers who will have a great impact on this country.
What would be your go-to advice for career development for students who are now pursuing their MSc. and Ph.D.?
I think for a young charismatic student, whether they are in the Graduate Programme or in their early years as an undergraduate, hard work is a very important skill to have. Hard work in complement with consistency will automatically bring natural success to any career.
For example, at AHRI, students are provided with an opportunity and support both locally and internationally and the only thing expected from the students is hard work and drive in the various fields that they are in. As a student, you must perfectly utilize that opportunity and take advantage of the wealth of the knowledge available through the mentors as well as other complementary sources be it from online sources since we live in a digital generation. So, I would say, hard work, consistency, and drive are really important for a flourishing long-term career.
What would be your advice to AHRI as the institute continues to strive for better health?
Even after I had completed the research program, I still kept in touch with the institute and have had several collaborations over the years. From my end, I have witnessed AHRI’s growth first hand as it expanded its research portfolio as a Biomedical research Institute in Ethiopia by working in areas of tuberculosis, HIV, malaria, Leishmaniasis, as well as providing training and research capacity building. It has extended its collaboration with universities and overall clinical research networks and I can only urge it to keep up the pace.