By James Mphande
The ultimate goal of all marketers is to exceed the expectations of their customers through their product offering. And for organisers of the 2019 World Congress of Undergraduate Research in Germany, they might have done just that if the experiences of Temwani Chisunkha are anything to go by.
Chisunkha, a third year Bachelor of Science in Earth Science student at the Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST), was surely elevated from prospect to partner on the organisers’ ladder of customer loyalty.
Today Temwani speaks nothing but good things about the congress and quickly recommends it to all serious undergraduate students that want to make a name for themselves in research.
Temwani found himself at the World Congress of Undergraduate Research after his research topic–A study on ground water with special reference on fluoride levels and an account for the governing rock-water interactions: A case for Phalombe district in Malawi—was the only one selected from Malawi and one of the few from Africa, selected for the final stage.
“It was a great and perfect experience for me to present my university and country at this global event which takes place once every three years. The first one took place in 2016 and the 3rd is expected to take place in 2022 at the University of Oldenburg,” said Temwani, a few days upon his arrival from Oldenburg in Germany.
As a first time traveler, Temwani said he was lucky not to have experienced many problems in his maiden flight from Malawi.
“All this was down to the best organization and support from the Travel Support team. I had four connecting flights, three train rides and a bus to reach my final destination. Too much for a first timer you would say. If anything, my biggest challenge was language barrier, especially within Germany as most natives there don’t speak English. There are generally few black people and you rarely see any black person in the townships and cities,” said Temwani who presented his research finding at the Congress that also attracted hundreds of other undergraduate researchers from across the globe.
It was an enjoyable and highly educative trip. The organisers made sure their stay was a balanced diet of academic and social life.
“It was the best programme for interaction among students from all parts of the world. We had three days set for just social activities. We went for afternoon excursion where we played several games and other sports followed by a cultural dance fun. The following day we had a student night disco for networking and culture exchange.
“During the Congress we were given free transport tickets to be using and we visited several townships by buses with friends. The most exciting day was the after congress tour to the Fresian Islands in the North Sea. There were two teams and our team travelled by bus for one and half hours to the North Sea. We were shown the old statues of German people. We then went on a ship cruise and sailed to Sperokeroog Island where we stayed for four hours exploring the small island, said an excited Temwani.
On the academic front, he said students in related fields were put together to share knowledge and experiences.
“I joined fellow environmental students from around the world for a thematic session where we discussed a lot on research topics of common interest. My group where we all dealt with surface and groundwater analysis consisted of students from Guyana, two from USA and one from the Maldives. I wrote a presentation for my group and we presented together.
“On a Saturday I presented my project to the Congress for 15 minutes. After my presentation, the judges from National Science Institute and St John Hopkins were interested in my paper for further research. It was a great platform to work with peers of the same research areas and learning how their countries are doing on implementation of research projects at undergraduate student level,” said Temwani.
Wowed by the organization, activities and presentations, Temwani had some take home messages as well.
He said, among others, the Congress highlighted a lot of things that Malawi is missing.
“First was the realization that everyone that side is conscious about time management. Everything happened exactly as indicated on the programme, no funny excuses. I also noted that Malawi is lagging behind in research projects implementation as it fails engage students at early stages of their lives. For example, in our universities, we start talking about research in fourth or fifth year,” he said.
The student also said most of the research presentations were so mature he wondered if the presenters were really undergraduate students.
“Our public universities need to expose students to research much earlier because the world out there is not looking for people to employ but those who can bring new ideas to contribute in solving current problems. I, therefore, encourage a collective effort among students, university managements and the public to introduce several centres of scientific research for a better future. If every university introduces a centre specifically for research and designing then we will definitely be recognized in the academic world.
“It was hard for most people at the Congress to recognize where Malawi is on the Malawi on the planet and I had to use a map to show them where we are. This means there is less research and innovation that can put pour country on the map. This has to change and we need to plan for that change,” he said.
To be selected, Temwani responded to a call MUST received through networks from the University of Oldenburg in Germany and circulated to the student community.
The organisers had asked university students from across the world to submit abstracts on areas such as environment, politics, communication, economy, create and health.
Being an Earth Science student, the choice was easy for Temwani as he settled for environment and submitted an abstract on the topic: “A study on ground water with special reference on fluoride levels and an account for the governing rock-water interactions: A case for Phalombe district in Malawi”.
“Something just told me to give it a try. I did not even know how many students from MUST or indeed Malawi responded to the call. However, I was excited last December when I received feedback that after the first review of the abstracts, I scored 80 percent and I was among a group of 600 international students from across the globe that had made it to the next phase,” said Temwani, a fourth year student, in a recent interview.
“Later, I was also contacted again by Oldenburg University that I had made it into the final stage of around 220 global students who would participate in the 2019 Congress. In this last group, I was the only Malawian.”