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FEATURE STORY July 15, 2021

“I would never have done this without my love for what I do: that is my driving force”



Photo: Grace Sename Peter

Launched in 2014, the Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence (ACE) Program seeks to meet labor market demands for skills in specific and priority fields. It has become synonymous with delivering quality and relevant post-graduate education supporting over 14,000 Masters and PhD students in agriculture, health, and other sciences, of whom 30 percent are women. Meet Grace who shares her experience and the challenges she overcame.

ABUJA, Nigeria, July 15, 2021—“Where do I go from here?” This is the question constantly on the mind of Grace Sename Peter, a young lady of Beninese and Nigerian descent. The youngest of five children, she has always had a deep love for science and research. This propelled her to the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases in Nigeria, where she pursued an Master of Science (MSc) in Molecular Biology and Genomics.

Grace’s studies focused on antibiotic-resistant bacteriaorganisms, and specifically, using molecular techniques to identify mutations in the Plasmodium falciparum parasite, known more commonly as malaria. This focus, she says, was borne out of the fact that Africa has fewer preventive measures when it comes to diseases and infections.

The teaching and facilities at the Center of Excellence exceeded Grace’s expectations, opening her mind to the different ways that her scientific and research skills could be used for the benefit of Nigeria and Africa. She is passionate about using local solutions and resources to address regional issues. “We can’t always wait for the Westernized countries to come in and solve our problems for us. We are not deficient when it comes to manpower or intelligence. Why not utilize what we have to solve our own problems?"

Outside the Center of Excellence. Photo: Grace Sename Peter

Understanding the value of research

Grace is now studying for a PhD in Environmental Microbiology with a focus on antibiotics in the environment. She is planning to use her knowledge of biochemistry to develop a technique to eliminate antibiotics in wastewater collected from hospitals. Treatment plants for wastewater in Nigeria are few in number and expensive to maintain, which has long-term consequences for society. “All the wastewater collected from farms, or run-off from hospitals and pharmaceutical companies just gets released into the environment and goes into the groundwater and surface water. People end up consuming this, predisposing them to infections they are probably not able to treat in the long-term, due to exposure to antibiotics.”

"I would never have done this without my love for what I do: that is my driving force"
Fights Malaria in Nigeria

“We’re going to trial how we can use control measures by setting up treatment plants that can be maintained in different sectors to see how we can treat the waste before it is released into the environment.” In addition to her scholarly pursuits, Grace is the editor of Water Magazine, a publication that aims to sensitize her fellow Nigerians about the importance of the environment, and how it can become “a point of exposure” if not treated properly. For research to be effective, she stresses, the public must understand how it benefits them

Our research must not only end in the laboratory. It must go from the lab to the environment and meet the needs of people.”

Graduation day. Photo: Grace Sename Peter

The sky is your limit

Grace plans to go into full-time research after completing her studies, as she wants to keep abreast of new technologies and techniques. She is devoted to her work and admits that she does not have much time for socializing.

Fortunately, there is little pressure from her family, as she grew up in a single parent household and saw that her mother was able to raise her children and hold down a job. Instead, most of the anxiety comes from her work colleagues, who say that “men get intimidated by intelligent women or by the fact that I will have a PhD.”

However, Grace is undeterred. “I don’t pay attention to it. My love for what I do is my driving force. My job is very demanding, and my partner will need to understand, see my passion, and want to help me advance.”

She is similarly forthright in her message to young African women, encouraging them to ignore naysayers and to believe in themselves. “. The whole idea is that you are being productive and helping the lives of other people.

“Never limit yourself. Through passion, you will bring forth true accomplishment.”