Expanding opportunities for young African female scientists to reimagine their dreams

Jessica Nnenna Uwanibe is one of many young female scientists enrolled in a PHD/Master’s program at one of the ACE Impact II centers. Jessica is scheduled to complete her PhD studies in Molecular Biology and Genomics at the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID) hosted by Redeemer’s University in Nigeria. Her research work is focused on identifying and comprehending drug resistant patterns of Salmonella species in South West Nigeria, research she hopes will help treat thousands of people, reduce suffering, and save lives. Salmonella are types of bacteria that can cause diarrheal illness in humans, typhoid fever, gastroenteritis and other related illnesses. “This research will work to inform the proper diagnosis of Salmonella related diseases and suggest improved monitoring policies in Nigeria.”


As a young and upcoming African Scientist, Miss Uwanibe has always wanted to solve global health challenges through her research. Her career goal is to achieve this by enrolling for a Postdoctoral fellowship to focus on translational infectious diseases research. She aspires to lead large research projects to unravel the mechanisms by which pathogens cause diseases and develop novel therapeutics and vaccines to fight them.


Jessica chose to study her PhD at the Redeemer’s University African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases as she found the field of Molecular Biology and Genomics to be “new, exciting, and innovative.” She tells us how science and engineering centered subjects always had low female participation rates and she wanted to see this change, inspiring the next generation of young women. “ACEGIDs vision really resonates with my own personal vision for using science and research to improve everyday people’s lives.”


As a PhD fellow at ACEGID, Jessica says the aspect she enjoyed the most was being exposed to innovative research and cutting edge molecular tools. This access afforded her the ability to serve Nigeria during this time of crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been “such a life changing opportunity and experience.” She is looking forward to her graduation in September 2021 after four years of intense, but fulfilling research.


Knowledge and resource sharing are at the core of all ACE Impact centers. Miss Uwanibe has benefited from the expertise of her mentors whilst participating as a member of the ACEGID team involved in the pioneering and innovative COVID19 research, led by Professor Christian Happi. “I am so proud to be part of the first team in Africa to successfully sequence the genome of SARS-CoV-2 and share it with the international science community.”


ACEGID has proceeded to identify 10 distinct lineages of SARS-CoV-2 in circulation within Nigeria through genome sequencing and this work has been helpful in steering Nigeria’s public health response. The experiences of being part of the ACEGID team handling the COVID-19 diagnosis and sequencing have given Miss Uwanibe the confidence to reimagine what is possible in the field of health research in Africa moving forward.


Miss Uwanibe’s advice to young people and particularly young women aspiring to do their PhDs is that they must “persevere, be patient, tenacious and be mentally prepared.” Jessica is just one example of the high-quality postgraduate students being trained under the Africa Centers of Excellence for Development Impact Project. The project is positively improving the quality, quantity, and development impact of postgraduate education in sub-Saharan Africa by supporting regional specialization in thematic areas that address regional challenges.