Discussing identity can surely be complicated! My background is complex: I was born to a Tunisian-French mother and to an Ivorian Father. I grew up in five countries (France, Côte d’Ivoire, Tunisia, Kenya, the US) spanning three continents and I have now been living in Canada for six years since I started university. I have also had the chance to travel to many countries across all continents for leisure or as part of my work. I thus identify as a mixed person, an African and European, a third culture kid (an individual who has lived in cultural environments other than their parents’), and as mainstream as it may sound, a global citizen.
I was in the French school system abroad until I started my BSc at McGill University, Canada; an English-speaking institution. Two years ago, I started an MSc at Trent University, Canada from which I fast-tracked to the PhD program this year. My research interests broadly include ecology, evolution, conservation, and water science.
For my PhD, I study the urine of fish and invertebrates. I look at how different nutrient components of urine vary relative to species, their diet, the type of water body they live in (lake vs. stream), and how brown the water of that water body is (because of decaying plants and animals). I also collaborate with colleagues on various other projects.
Dexter on Cartoon Network and a documentary on climate change when I was ten! After watching Dexter, I would pretend doing experiments in my imaginary laboratory and would spend hours reading encyclopedias and science books. Later, I watched a documentary on climate change which infuriated me and sparked my interest in environmental sciences and in the protection of our natural resources. Since then, my life has been punctuated by meaningful encounters and experiences, including several female scientists as role models, which galvanized my desire to become a scientist.
I cannot say I have personally – at least not that I am aware of – but I would say that the lack of representation of African scientists, particularly in my field ecology and environmental sciences is definitely problematic. I know of many Western scientists who study in Africa, but it is until I got an internship in Côte d’Ivoire that I finally met other ecologists who had a similar background to mine. The quality and application of their research despite limited funding is impressive, yet the work done on the continent rarely gets to be shared both within and outside Africa. This lack of representation can prove challenging for a young African aspiring to a career in STEM.
My multicultural background and experiences expanded my horizons and taught me not to be afraid of the unknown. “The sky is my limit”; this allows me to nurture a diverse set of research interests, meet scientists from all over the world, foster new collaborations, and be flexible with the region of the world I do my research. These diverse experiences also allow me to make a bridge between my Western science education and the local context in which I am working anywhere in Africa.
We need to know about the research done in Africa by African scientists. African scientists on the continent should get trained to communicate their research with the public both locally and internationally while African science journalists should get trained to share these stories with other Africans and the rest of the world. For the African scientists abroad, they should not be shy to say where they are from as their background certainly allows them to approach research questions with a unique lens. Our ability to disseminate information about projects and findings made by African scientists in an accessible way will be key to 1) change the narrative about African contributions to global STEM research and careers and 2) attract more funding for research done on the continent. We should also start giving more credit and value to the local indigenous knowledge which is plentiful; that is the resource from which Ivorian botanist Dr. Laurent Aké Assi drew his early teachings about the Ivorian flora.
The scientific community and the world need more of you out there! There is space for you and we want to see you. Science is a universal language which has a multitude of unique dialects; the world wants to learn your dialect. Be passionate, communicate your passion, surround yourself by uplifting and supportive people, and I am confident that you will be successful.
I am developing a strong interest in science communication, which has led me to participate to several science outreach events (Skype A Scientist, Exploring By The Seat of Your Pants, The Global Science Show) both in French and English. I also use Twitter, Youtube, and my personal website to share updates about my research progress, videos from my fieldwork, and initiatives led by my university graduate students’ association for which I am the president. Follow me to find out what I am currently up to!
Do you identify as an African in STEM? If so, please send us some basic information to see if we can profile you on the VSA page.
I think it’s about time you heard my story.