Young Scientists

Nelson Torto : "Young scientists who face the same challenges should know each other"

For the African Academy of Sciences (AAS), the return of young Africans with PhDs is really important. To encourage more of them to come back, they, for example, fund postdocs everywhere in the continent. Nelson Torto, executive director of the AAS tells us about their programs.

Who are you?

My name is Nelson Torto. I work for the African Academy of Sciences as executive director. We are based in Nairobi in Kenya and I am originally from Botswana.

Why is the return of young African scientists important to you?

I think one of the reason people go to study in Europe is it offers more in terms of learning environment. But obviously, because they come from Africa you want to get them to come and apply themselves in the continent, and I think it is very very important to bring back what they have learned, and they can apply to the various challenges that are facing their own country.

What do you do to help young African to return to Africa?

At the AAS we vote many programs, some of these programs focus on funding post-docs. So, because of that post-docs programs we are able to help them settle in the different universities they are working in, in all parts of Africa. We are operating in about 46 African countries and we have acquired a huge number of post-docs and PhDs. So again, in that network we create an atmosphere where they can actually be able to engage with people at the same level of their career in terms of development.

What can we do to encourage more of them to come back?

I think it is an issue of making sure young people who are facing the same challenges, they know about each other. It is easier when young people are able to consult each other on issues that affects them because there are many similarities. So, on that basis, we want to provide them with a platform to do that. Networking platforms are very important. We want also to be able to ensure when they come back they are able to settle in into their environment. And be supported for a while because obviously it is very hard for someone to begin. Sometimes you find they come back in a department, there are no role model, no people who are doing the same thing. So, provide support is a very critical thing.

What is the first priority to get there?

We are talking with our partners, we are talking with NIH, the Gates foundation. There is a possibility that we can have a post doc program that is going to support young graduates for two or three years, for an extended period of time. Because sometimes, one gets to do a post-doc, but they don’t get supported to start as a scientist or whatever area they want to work on. This program that we are looking is a program that looks into now assisting them to settle down in the area they are going to be. And I think that is very important.

Interview by Anthony Audureau

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