On the sunny day that was 14th of August 2019, three brilliant and visionary young masters’ students came up with the idea to start a hub. Their goal was to bridge the seemingly large and widening gap between aspiring and established bioinformaticians in Kenya. The seed had been planted, and the tree that would eventually spring out would be called the Bioinformatics Hub of Kenya (BHK). A structural and organizational framework was designed. A few months later they would approach and pitch the idea to two other female masters’ students who bought into their vision. The gender equation was balanced! The 5 constituted the steering committee, responsible for running the affairs of the hub, in the shadows. A few months down the line, they approached Dr. Masiga, Dr. Jean-Baka and Dr. Caleb Kibet with the idea, in order to get some semblance of direction and advice on how to move forward. All three were intrigued and vowed to help in whichever way they could. Preparations to launch this hub began. Word was spread through different social media platforms for interested participants to sign up and join this great initiative. Different established bioinformaticians were invited to give a few words of wisdom during the launch. Aspiring bioinformaticians showed up in large numbers. Out of all the people who attended the launch, 32 aspiring bioinformaticians registered as members. The number of registered members has since continued to rise.
The steering committee seized the opportunity to be part of the first cohort of Open Life Science (OLS). It was a mentorship program that lasted 3 months. We were taught how to be more impactful to the bioinformatics community in Kenya. Great relationships were birthed from that program. The trainers took interest in the project and have since chipped in in any way they can to the affairs of the hub in terms of resources and nuggets of wisdom. Along the way, it was agreed that the hub should be registered as a non-profit organization (NGO) according to the constitution of Kenya, and this came with a slight name change to the Bioinformatics Hub of Kenya Initiative (BHKi). This would, among other things, help with attracting funders. A constitution was drafted as one of the requirements for this procedure. The process of registration takes a few months and it is currently underway. A website was then created to give the hub more visibility.
In March 2020, the activities of the hub were disrupted due to Covid-19. With the changing times and new directives put in place by the government for our protection, physical meetups became a challenge. Following in the footsteps of our mentors and other science organizations, we resorted to virtual meetups via Zoom which always attracted large numbers of participants. We were blessed to have mentors who helped us with professional accounts to be able to hold our virtual events. Our first virtual meetup in June covered Bioinformatics Core Competencies. We were taken through what it means to be a bioinformatician, the skills, and the type of plan you need to make for your career. In July we had the privilege of working with the Galaxy team and did training on End User Open-Source Bioinformatics Tools. Our members were taken through workflows on Galaxy. This is the point I tell you to subscribe to our YouTube channel, so please do. In September we got down and dirty on the nitty gritty of kickstarting a career in Bioinformatics. We looked at what goes in a CV, application letter to conferences and how to do an application. And to close our virtual meetups for 2020 we collaborated with OmicsLogic and offered training on NGS omicslogic. Once more, subscribe to our YouTube channel and look out for more staff.
One of our main aims being to provide our members with the best in training, we are working on collaborating with renown organizations. We were privileged to collaborate with ICIPE and be a part of the training of two cohorts of Internship opportunities. We are also working with the Carpentries (link to their website) to offer a workshop in the first quarter of the year, so keep an eye out. We will expand our network for much more. Now at this point, I make a kind request for you to follow us on Twitter @BioinfoHub_KE and also look at our HubPortal page on GitHub for Opportunity alerts.
Talking about collaborations and networks, our first year saw us connecting with students from all over Africa and other parts of the world. We however noted that our reach was just within few universities in the country in comparison to the total number of universities in Kenya offering life sciences. We are working on ideas to reach out to a wider audience. Reach out if you can help out.
Workshops, training, bundles and zoom accounts cost a shilling or many. Limited resources and funds have been a major constraint in running the affairs of the hub. A huge chunk of the membership fees was used up during the registration process and in creating the hub’s website. We are thankful to our collaborators who so kindly lend us some funds to buy headsets, pay up part of the registration fee. On occasion, some of them lend us their zoom accounts to host our meetings but thanks to our collaborators OLS who recently bought us a pro zoom account! Currently, we are on the lookout for possible sources of funds from publicly advertised grants. Fingers crossed, we will land one major one.
Phew, one year wrapped up in one blog. We have enjoyed the experience of bringing young scientists together and reducing that existing gap. We have been challenged and pushed and look forward to doing more. Hoping to see you in our next virtual meetup or in our Twitter, or GitHub or email. Cheers!