SERAH SONGOK, 35: “Chickpeas chose me… I now have the knowledge to compete at global level”
•Study topic: Introgression of root trait quantitative trait loci associated with drought tolerance in elite Kenyan chickpea varieties using a marker-assisted backcross breeding scheme
•Enrolled: 2010, PhD, molecular breeding
“I did not choose this topic. This topic chose me, “ Serah freely confesses. “ I first got involved in molecular breeding through Prof Kosgey. I was totally fascinated by the science! My MSc was on genetic diversity in pigeonpeas.”
While Serah’s PhD may not be on the same crop, it is a sister from another mother in the legume family. Serah’s a natural bridge builder, and another special something about her is that she’s both a faculty member at the Moi University/University of Eldoret as well as a PhD student at Egerton University, the lead institute for GCP’s chickpea research in Kenya.
Serah’s work on molecular breeding has seen her spend two years at ICRISAT, India, under the tutelage of Rajeev Varshney, the immediate past leader of GCP’s work on crop genomics. “From this stay, I developed several marker-assisted backcrossing lines. I also benefitted greatly from Rajeev’s mentoring who has taught me everything that I know about molecular breeding in chickpeas. Rajeev has been my support throughout this work and without him,I have to confess,I would not have reached where I am today .”
Sarah’s PhD work has been somewhat delayed owing to problems with international transfer of germplasm, but she is not daunted, as her practical vision goes well past method and the academics of the PhD: “I will continue to work even after my PhD, my goal being to ensure that improved varieties are released to farmers. I am confident I will get there, as I now have the knowledge to compete at global level, I enjoy mentoring from some of the best scientists in my field, and I intend to stay in Kenya and implement my theory-to-practice right here!” Serah asserts. Her PhD is fully funded by GCP, and we wish Serah well in achieving her post-PhD impact-oriented goal, for which she will need to seek fresh funds.