Five Questions With Immunologist Vanessa Mwebaza Muwanga

Name: Vanessa Mwebaza Muwanga
Places Lived: Eswatini, Kenya, Scotland, Ethiopia, South Africa, Uganda
Hobbies: Singing, Baking, and Taking Photos
Favorite Movie: The Theory of Everything

Vanessa Muwanga is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in clinical science and immunology at the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI), a tuberculosis research group housed within the University of Cape Town Health Sciences Faculty. Her research focuses on identifying a gene signature used in developing a point-of-care diagnostic test for Tuberculosis and involving the analysis analyzing a host transcriptomic data using the R programming language. She obtained an immunology master’s degree in distinction from the University of Aberdeen in 2018. Vanessa is an ambassador for Immunopaedia, has written articles for FindAPhD about the hustle of an international Ph.D. application, and has a deep desire to succeed as an African woman in STEM. In her free time, Vanessa loves singing, writing, baking, taking photos, working towards having a balanced life, and preparing for her future consultancy. Find her on TwitterLinkedInInstagram, WordPress, Tumblr, ORCiD, ResearchGate, and Facebook

On her research about tuberculosis:

“My research will be able to address some of the barriers that we see regarding effective TB diagnosis. TB disease remains the top cause of death worldwide by a single infectious agent. One contributing factor is the lack of timely diagnosis or complete lack of TB diagnosis of TB, leading to us missing cases. Most of the current diagnostic tests for TB are based on collecting sputum, which is not always easy to get from individuals, such as children and people infected with HIV. My research aims to identify a blood-based gene expression signature to develop a point-of-care diagnostic TB test. The goal is to pinpoint more TB cases in a shorter time frame and administer treatment in time to those who need it. Ultimately, this method can bring down the number of TB-related deaths, especially within Africa.”

On her efforts to communicate science:

“Having a voice and platforms is critical for me as a researcher, an African, and a woman. I have experienced, first hand, the encouragement and comfort from people in the same life roles as I am celebrated but also simply sharing their stories and letting other people have an idea of just what it means to do the work that we do. I now dare to do the things I am interested in and not let fear prevent me from living the life I chose.”

On her future goals:

“My future goals are so many!!!! Let me try stating the most immediate or possibly giving broad categories.

  • I want to become one of the top leading female research scientists on the African continent. I want to do excellent work but also mentor other upcoming scientists. My goal is to serve as a beacon of hope for people who do not know whether it is possible to succeed as a researcher within Africa, and most especially as a female.
  • To live more and have some balance in my life. I am invested in my research work, but there is more to me than just my experiments. During this Ph.D., I have been doing my best to set building blocks and develop good plus sustainable habits that will allow me to create more time for hobbies and being in the presence of friends and family.”

On her goal toward having a balanced life:

“Planning and setting boundaries. I am a morning person, so I do my best to wake up early to start my day. I can comfortably switch off at 5 pm and walk away from my computer because I try to reserve my evening time to address my social, physical, and emotional health. I aim to be in bed at around 9 and 10 pm so I can get my 7-8 hours sleep and prevent fatigue or stress ulcers.

Thrice a week during this COVID season, I have had group workouts with fellow postgraduate students in my condo, and that is one of the activities that has kept me sane during the COVID pandemic. I also decided not to sync my work emails to my phone because it never really helps me shut down.

Moreover, I come up with a daily to-do list and make sure to put in activities that do not go beyond eight hours because if we were all still in the office, 9-5 pm would be the standard time for working. I fight to make sure that I work within those hours even though I am at home, where the lines between work and personal space are getting more and more blurred.”

On her experience as an international Ph.D. student:

“I think I’ll talk about the one thing I’ve learned about being an international student. Very early in your journey, make sure that you can distinguish between hardships you face due to being in a foreign country and challenges you face simply because of who you are, such as your temperament, character traits, and personality. It has been soo important for me because it has allowed me to know how to fight my battles to overcome the different obstacles I face.

Sometimes we are very quick to blame a new place for some of our experiences. Being a foreigner has its fair share of issues to navigate. However, when we are honest with ourselves, we realize and come to appreciate that some pitfalls are purely a result of who we are. And that is where you begin to focus your energy on improving yourself, coming to terms with who you or changing your attitude and outlook on things so that it is easier to not only cope and survive but THRIVE where you are.”

Having a voice and platforms is critical for me as a researcher, an African, and a woman.

Vanessa Mwebaza Muwanga, MSc, PhD Candidate

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