Writing a grant application is not a walk in the park. However, when you are a non-profit organization (NGO), you rely on grants to continue meeting your goals. The bioinformatics hub of Kenya (BHKi) is the brainchild of five young and vibrant bioinformaticians. As an NGO, our main goal is to use our talents, education, and experience to raise up a generation of globally competitive bioinformaticians from Kenya and Africa as a whole, for the good of humanity and the natural world. It is a purpose-driven venture that yields intangible rewards for us, and that’s why we keep doing it even when the pay does not translate to paychecks. The desire to see this passion project grow and flourish has always been bigger than the fear of failure. And let’s face it, a blow of rejection is less painful when the pain is shared. We share all the wins and losses amongst us. Ours is a dynamic group of minds that work together like a well-oiled machine.
We had been keeping our eyes peeled for grant opportunities. Starting BHKi was undoubtedly a great idea; however, the harsh reality was the lack of strong financial backing required to fulfill our goals. Open Science KE has been around longer than we have, and we consider it our mentor. It was founded to fill the training gap in our universities and promote open science among Biomedical students and researchers in Nairobi using the model: sensitize, train, hack and collaborate. We had partnered with them before to host training seminars and meetups because our goals mesh together. We teamed up with them to apply for the Code for Science and Society grant. Teamwork makes the dream work! Responsibilities were shared, and sleeves rolled up, and each one of us put our best foot forward. The result was a killer application. We said silent prayers and hit send just moments before the deadline elapsed. Then we waited with bated breath. And waited. And waited some more. As it turns out, the reviewers were impressed because one evening, the good news was announced! We had received the grant! This was our first grant ever, and boy did we land a good one! The excitement was palpable.
The funds will be channeled towards a 6-month training project dubbed “Empowering researchers with skills and tools in Open Science and Bioinformatics”. They will enable the acquisition of resources required for the successful running of the project and offer appreciation to the trainers. There will be a series of events, including open science symposium, bioinformatics workshops (introduction to bioinformatics, advanced shell scripting, data manipulation, wrangling and visualization in R, data analysis in python, and advanced bioinformatics), instructors training, hackathons for collaborative mini-projects, and a conference. Trainers will be selected based on their area of expertise and a willingness to pass on the skills to aspiring bioinformaticians.
Bioinformatics and open science are disciplines that are arguably at their infancy stages in Kenya. More and more graduating students are gaining interest in the field as it gains momentum. Another category of interested parties is researchers who are seeking to upskill their data analysis prowess. Inevitably, this has brought about an increasing hunger for skills in these areas. Therefore, there is a need to train and mentor the next generation of bioinformaticians. It is critical to close the gap between established bioinformaticians and aspiring bioinformaticians. By honing these skills in the next generation, we are assured of a pool of globally competitive bioinformaticians. They will play a key role in meeting the development needs in the African region whilst setting a standard and pace for coming generations.
We love our members and the bioinformatics community in Kenya to pieces! They are the reason we do what we do because the reward is priceless, quite literally. All the events will be advertised on social media to attract interested applicants, and the selection process will be unbiased. We will have equal representation of male and female trainees. The project will be inclusive and support diversity as we plan to assist the participants who have no access to resources to attend the events. Training materials such as presentations and scripts used in data analysis and tutorials and data used during each training event will be shared on GitHub. We plan to publish a manuscript about the events in an open-access journal. All the events will be held virtually.
The faces behind this incredible opportunity are Dr. Caleb Kibet, Festus Nyasimi, Michael Landi, David Kiragu, Pauline Karega, Kennedy Mwangi, and Margaret Wanjiku. And with support from ICIPE and H3ABioNet, we hope to deliver an unmatched experience for researchers over the next few months. On behalf of BHKi, OpenScienceKE, and all the partners who will come on board to support this venture, we thank CS&S for trusting us with this grant to make the changes in our communities.