MPhil Science Policy
University of Manchester
Could you tell us about your background?
I got interested in physics back in high school by accident and was lucky enough to be picked to study a newly designed degree program in Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Nairobi. I was then selected to do a taught Masters course in Physics at the University. The funding for both of these programmes was provided by the Kenyan Public.
Please tell us more about your current area of research.
I am currently studying Science policy; I am specifically interested in studying the development of radio astronomy in Africa. My particular case study is a comparative development of Kenya and South Africa. This involves an analysis of the comparative economies of both countries, and attempting to measure their productivity through access to publication data bases. I am also mapping global radio astronomy collaboration networks in Africa and the world. This work is done with some of the methods of social network analysis using Python. It is part of an emerging field called Big Scholarly Data which is the application of data analysis methods to publications.
What are your plans for when you finish your Masters?
I hope to go back to physics research and embark on a PhD program in it. I am still very interested in science policy though!
What started your interest in science policy and data science?
I think it is useful for trained scientists and students of science to have an understanding of public policy and how it interacts with science. This is more urgent in Africa as she begins to commit some of her resources to science education and science. Who should be funded? Why? By who? How? For example, the advent of the global pandemic has made it clear that dependence on global supply chains and innovation systems cannot be sustained in a crisis. How should Africa respond?
What would your dream job be, and where?
I’d really love to teach! I’d love to teach anywhere in Africa and at any level!
What accomplishment are you most proud of so far?
Come to think of it, I don’t have any! What I can say is that up to now, I have been able to bring all my deepest dreams and ambitions to life for a consecutive 7 years. Anything that I have wanted to do, I have gotten the opportunity to do. I realise that this is an incredible position. Not just as an African, but as a person. Very few human beings get to live their dreams.
What advantages do you think there are for students with machine learning skills, particularly in Africa?
There are two things that are happening:
The problems that the continent faces are becoming increasingly complex and interlinked with each other, and the world
The information that we need to use to solve these problems is coming at us fast, ferociously and relentlessly
We can respond to these problems in one of two ways:
Look for a simple story which we will stick with at the expense of everything else
Attempt to grapple with the problems, with the hope of alleviating and solving them
The first strategy is very comforting, but useless otherwise. Anyone who is interested in actually solving the problems of Africa will have to use the second strategy. But how is this best done, with data coming at us relentlessly? We use equally relentless tools; computers are relentless! If we train them to draw insights from data, they can keep up with the data flux and give us the insights that we need to solve our problems. This I think, has implications for almost all aspects of our future. There is a claim that machine learning is the new hammer making every problem look like a nail. This attack misses the point. Computers are not hammers, and our problems are really problems of information.
What have you enjoyed most about the UK while you've been studying here?
I had looked up to Steven Hawking since high school and had always fantasised about meeting him. When he passed on, it hurt a lot. I then vowed to myself to visit his grave at some point in my life. My friend Bonface and I made a trip down South to visit London. We visited his grave and that of Isaac Newton. It was an incredibly humbling experience. I have also visited the Emirates stadium, ruins of the Roman Empire and Trafalgar Square amongst others. These are places I have been fantasising about visiting almost all of my life. I guess dreams do come true.
I thank my Mum, the rest of my family, my advisors, supervisors, the DARA and DARA Big Data community for helping to mould, guide and support me!