Alumni Malama Chisanga

Malama Chisanga is a lecturer of Analytical and Inorganic Chemistry at the Copperbelt University - one of three public universities in Zambia. He is also studying for a PhD in Bioanalytical Chemistry at The University of Manchester. We spoke to Malama about the skills he gained while studying at the University, and what he hopes to achieve in the future.

What does your current position involve?

As a lecturer, my duties include offering tutorials, conducting workshops and leading lectures for undergraduate students in the areas of analytical and inorganic chemistry. I’m also involved in research that uses stable isotopes to analyse functional roles of microorganisms in environmental samples using vibrational spectroscopy and multivariate chemometrics.

My PhD, meanwhile, involves intense research into the application of vibrational spectroscopy and multivariate chemometrics in gene-function analysis of clinically and industrially relevant microorganisms using a range of spectroscopic tools.

What do you most enjoy about your current role?

As a PhD student, I like working on different research projects with internal and external collaborators in addition to my own research. I enjoy critical thinking and getting hands-on research experience using a range of equipment and statistical software to identify and characterise microbial systems.

I love sharing my project ideas with fellow scientists, engineers and businesses. I also enjoy working as a demonstrator for undergraduate research projects.

Why did you decide to stay in higher education after completing your undergraduate degree?

Since childhood, I have dreamed of how I could use scientific research to contribute to economic development at both a national and international level. However, to be taken seriously in research and to work in academic institutions, you need higher academic qualifications as well to develop a deep knowledge of the subject area.

So, after completing my undergraduate degree with Distinction, my aim was to attain the higher qualifications (MSc and PhD) that would help me become a professional researcher. With these qualifications, I hope to effectively contribute tangible solutions to the scientific problems my country, Zambia, and the world at large are facing.

Working as both a lecturer and a researcher means I can transfer my knowledge for capacity building, and so contribute to the development of human resource in analytical science. After graduating with a Distinction in MSc Analytical Chemistry at The University of Manchester, I decided to do a PhD at the same university to further improve my research skills and broaden my knowledge base. This will help me to work as an independent researcher and, eventually, as a principal investigator (PI) in the future.

Why did you pick The University of Manchester?

The first time I looked at the alumni of The University of Manchester, I saw that it’s one of the birthplaces of science and technology! In order to be recognised as an all-round professional scientist, one has to be educated by a top-class university with a rich history in scientific discoveries that have contributed to economic development. The University of Manchester certainly fits this description!

I was especially taken when I read about Ernest Rutherford, Niels Bohr (both Nobel Prize winners at The University of Manchester) and John Dalton for his invaluable ground-breaking discoveries in the area of atomic science. This rich history, coupled with state-of-the-art equipment and well-qualified and experienced lecturers and researchers, convinced me to join The University of Manchester. Now, I too want to be part of its iconic history!

What attracted you to the course you chose?

The course modules and research projects I read through prior to joining the university were very enticing! Particularly MSc Analytical Chemistry, which included spectroscopic and spectrometric characterisation of biological molecules, complemented my own research plan on microbial analysis using vibrational spectroscopy. In fact, these are now the projects I’m working on as a PhD student. These projects are still in their infancy, but are in-line with the developmental needs of my country’s clinical and industrial sectors.

How did you find the teaching on this course?

It was really interesting. The course was divided into four parts so we had four lecturers, each with their own area of expertise! I loved the lectures that demonstrated chemistry models, and students were encouraged to ask questions at any time (and get feedback instantly!).

What did you most enjoy about your course?

The course was designed in such a way that it involved plenty of workshops and tutorials with numerous lecturers - even those who never taught our MSc classes. We would learn the theory in lectures and then move on to problem-based learning and practical work. It was real fun!

In order to be recognised as an all-round professional scientist, one has to be educated by a top-class university with a rich history in scientific discoveries that have contributed to economic development. The University of Manchester certainly fits this description! 

What did you most enjoy about living and studying in Manchester?

Manchester city is multicultural, so I had the opportunity to interact with people from different cultural and academic backgrounds. This means that in addition to studying for my MSc in Manchester, I also learnt the basics of languages like Mandarin, Arabic and French simply by chatting with my friends from different countries. Thanks to this diversity, I also had a wide range of food and activities to choose from. Plus, the rent, bills and food were affordable compared to other cities.

How did you fund your MSc, and do you believe it to have been a worthwhile investment?

My MSc study was funded by the Copperbelt University, Zambia. No doubt, I got value for money.

What skills/knowledge from your degree have you found particularly helpful in your current role?

The advanced knowledge in physical-organic and spectroscopic techniques sparked my interest in bacteria analysis using vibrational spectroscopy, which is the area I’m currently studying for my PhD. I also learnt advanced research skills, which include the ethics of research and how to protect yourself from academic theft (plagiarism).

What advice would you give to students applying for the course that you took?

I would advise them to go for it! The course combines theory and practical study and is led by highly qualified staff who are leaders in their respective fields. There’s also state-of-the-art equipment available to aid your studies.

This course provides a bridge between academia and industry, which gives you the freedom to progress in either an academic or industry-based career, depending on your preference.

What do you hope to be doing and achieving in 10 years’ time?

I intend to play a leading role in introducing advanced instrumental techniques in bioanalytical chemistry as a course for students of chemical sciences at the Copperbelt University and other universities in Zambia. I also hope to provide guidance and leadership training on the application of Raman and FT-IR spectroscopy, and the use of chemometric techniques in bioanalysis.

My plan is to take the lead in enhancing research in health, water and sanitation using spectroscopic methods to improve the living standards of people in Zambia. In the long-run, I hope to be regarded as a leading professor of bioanalytical chemistry at the Copperbelt University, Africa and the world!

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