Juma Orach was the runner-up in the 2019 Three Minute Thesis competition, with his presentation, "Dose-response study to identify a biosignature of diesel exhaust exposure."
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
I have always had a personal proclivity for the preservation of human life. Pursuing a career in health sciences was the perfect way for me to do impactful work while also indulging my passions. Moreover, I realized that I could expand the impact of my work by doing rigorous research that could foster the future of my research discipline and transcend geographical limitations. Whichever way I looked at this aspiration, graduate school was the unequivocal route for me.
Why did you decide to study at UBC?
I completed my undergraduate degree at UBC. Initially, the factors that drew me in were the financial support of the MasterCard Foundation scholarship, the academic excellence of the university, and the diversity of the student body. However, it is UBC’s research prowess and the networks that I established here that inspired me to stay for graduate school.
What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?
I was attracted by the breadth and flexibility of the Experimental Medicine program which would offer me opportunities to delve into different research interests and engage with students and clinicians specializing in a diverse array of disciplines. Moreover, this program also facilitates the translation of research ideas into healthcare.
What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?
I was pleasantly surprised by the cultural diversity of UBC and Vancouver in general. There are groups of people from all over the world, which gives me opportunities to explore ideas, languages, and cuisine that I would never be able to experience because of travel limitations.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?
I always look forward to insightful constructive feedback. I am always delighted when my knowledge of my research topic grows; when I tap into the minds of my colleagues to build and improve my ideas. Concomitantly, I enjoy public engagement through presentations.
What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?
The biggest challenge I anticipate is gaining a foothold in what I perceive as a more competitive and restrictive academic environment. I also feel that I do not know enough about interesting alternative career paths in post-secondary education that are not research-based, like administration and instruction. Importantly, I anticipate hurdles in these pursuits being international (Ugandan) since this has historically affected opportunities for me to acquire funding and support.
How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?
My program offers a lot of opportunities for me to learn about careers in research in academia and industry through seminars and career fairs. However, I believe that more could be done to provide information about non-research careers and non-domestic circumstances.
What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?
The networks that I established during my undergraduate degree have provided me mentorship and support through the decisions that have brought me to graduate school. This moment is an amalgamation of all the conversations I have had with my supervisors, mentors, and friends. Fundamentally, the “eternal” motivation that undergirds my work is my mother; she set an incredible example of commitment to preserving human life as a lifetime healthcare professional.
What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?
I have slow-burning but incessant interest in science fiction and horror mostly through TV shows and movies, but also through video games and novels. Since coming to UBC, I have also imbued my free time with more music: salsa dancing and recently, playing acoustic guitar.
What advice do you have for new graduate students?
Be kind to yourself and take your new journey one step at a time. Focus on being better than you were the previous day. More importantly, recognize that graduate school is enriched with unique perspectives and experiences–there is always going to be a lot to learn from the next graduate student.