Young Scientists

Yvonne Mburu: " The majority of African scientists in the diaspora won't return"

As a lot of young African scientists, Yvonne Mburu had to go abroad to continue her studies as she wanted. But it is a personal experience that made her understand how important a come back can be.

Why did you leave Africa for your PhD?

It was luck. I had the opportunity to go to Canada after high school. I had a partial scholarship to York University where I studied biology and chemistry. Then, I obtained a scholarship to go to the University of Pittsburgh, in the United States, where I did my PhD in immunology. After that, I applied for post-doctoral positions almost all over the world, and I ended up joining a team at the Curie Institute which worked on immunology and cancer. Precisely, why the immune system does not identify and treat cancer like it does other diseases.

Why didn’t you choose to return to Africa?

I wanted to come back in 2012 when my aunt died from cancer. My family asked me: “You are studying cancer, what can you do for your aunt, your country and your continent?“ This moment called to mind many questions. Chief among them, why isn't my kind of research applied in Africa today? I wanted to come back, but it was very difficult to find laboratories which were in my field of research. It is then that I decided to launch my project: a platform which brings together African doctors and scientists both in the diaspora and in Africa. The first aim is to map their skills, know where African professionals are and what they are doing, what skills and resources they have, so that we can connect them and create knowledge networks, sometimes even in cross-disciplinary subjects. The second aim is to promote science in Africa because it is not valued as much as it should. To my knowledge, there is no platform that allows us to connect in this way.

Do you have plans to come back in Africa?

I am still in France, I have asked a few diaspora professionals to find out if it is really feasible. I do not think the majority of Africans in the diaspora will return. At a certain point, when you are established abroad, it is very difficult to leave that career behind and come back to work in Africa. Especially in sciences and medicine where not all countries have the high level of technology and infrastructure required to practice in these careers.

What would you say to young African PhD candidates who want to return to Africa?

What is great with my platform, is that we connect people in Africa and abroad. Those who want to work someday in Africa, return to Africa, or just work on projects about topics covered in Africa. Each person connects with their login details. And from there, you can say “I am an immunologist from Kenya, and I am looking for another immunologist in Zambia, South Africa, Niger, etc.” It enables people to know what is going on in Africa, or for those who are in Africa, to find collaborators in the African diaspora anywhere in the world. It is a platform for professionals to find each other.

Interview by Anthony Audureau


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