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How mentoring has helped me as a PhD student in agriculture


A lot has happened in the past six months of the YPARD mentoring program. And it was time to have a face to face session with my mentor and evaluate progress. Meeting a mentor and a friend was so exciting; it was a different session since previous sessions was done over the phone, being the only way to overcome the challenge of distance.

We had our meeting at a coffee shop in Nairobi, as I had to travel 280 miles by road from my work place at Mbita to Nairobi. My mentor, Dr. Justus Ochieng, was equally happy to see me!

The main agenda of our meeting was to review the Purpose Road Map that Justus and I developed during the mentoring orientation workshop 6 months ago. We wanted to make sure that I was still following the right tracks to achieve my dream.

I envision myself as an agricultural leader, and contributing to food security and poverty alleviation among the smallholder farming communities in sub-Saharan Africa. As such, we discussed at length about my PhD fellowship at the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) in Nairobi, Kenya. In my graduate study, I intend to assess the agronomic and phytochemical properties of Brachiaria grass for use in management of cereal stem borer in a ‘push-pull’ technology.

Stem borer is an important pest in cereal production, especially maize and sorghum. ‘Push-pull’ technology is a conservation agriculture technology developed by icipe and partners to integrate pests, weed and soil management in cereal-livestock based farming systems. The technology continues to improve smallholder mixed cropping systems in Africa. This fellowship is a big step towards my dream of being an agricultural leader.

I shared with Justus the challenges that I am facing in creating a balance between academics and other domains of life. These include family, community, religion and recreation. Having gone through a PhD program, Justus agrees it is not a walk in the park. And in our meeting, he shared with me experiences from his previous academic life. He shared empowering life lessons, as well as tips and essential skills of making it a smooth ride. And for motivation, Justus brings in an analogy of a tree with bitter roots but sweet fruits. He encourages me to work hard saying that I will soon be travelling across regions, working in reputable organizations and most importantly, giving back to the community.

As a youth who wants to actively contribute sustainable agricultural development, YPARD has immensely nurtured my dreams. Without YPARD, I wouldn’t have a mentor, a great listener and an adviser. And now I have a development journal and a Purpose Road Map (PRM), which is a guide for my personal, interpersonal and academic/professional development. From the program, I have learnt a number of skills such as; communication, networking, scientific writing etc.

Justus finds my work and study at icipe interesting, and in our meeting we discussed the possibility to visit me and have a feel of what I do before the end of the mentoring. But before then he will keep track of my progress through the usual phone calls and emails. We shall also be discussing about other skills and qualifications necessary in achieving my long term goals.

Parting shot: “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Paulo Coelho, the Alchemist. 

Photo provided by Duncan Cheruiyot