Prof. Mabel Imbuga
Professor of Biochemistry at JKUAT
“Women always have to have something extra... above the gentlemen,” the immediate former Vice Chair of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, or JKUAT, Professor Mabel Imbuga, shares. She approaches life with a fierce determination to better herself professionally, never quite allowing for any amount of hubris that may impede her ability to stretch herself and grow in a new role or impart her wisdom to other women in science.
When she was first offered the position of Deputy Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs at JKUAT, after focusing on Biochemistry throughout her academic journey, Professor Imbuga decided to go back to school to earn a Masters in Business Administration. This was to allow her to accept the next step of the Vice Chancellor position.
She believes that every woman in science should be as equipped as possible. “The value of mentorship is just to let the women know that they can make it,” she explains. Having examples for young female students in science bolsters their confidence and therefore increases their chances for attempting to go further in their career. “We should not downgrade ourselves because we are women. We know that we can have it all and succeed in our careers and families as well,” she encourages. Professor Imbuga has three pieces of advice that she often gives to young women: to have high integrity, to remain focused on their aspirations and to work hard towards achieving them. These characteristics are ones that can fuel a woman to succeed.
Realising how few women stood beside her in academia encouraged Professor Imbuga, with a few friends from across the continent, started the African Women in Science and Engineering, an organization that serves women scientists and engineers, through chapters in various African countries. The initiative has seen many women succeed in academia and research and also had a mentorship program that allowed university students to go to high schools and mentor female students to improve performance in mathematics and the sciences. What Professor Imbuga found was that in the process of mentoring, the university students were also learning important life lessons.
A disturbing trend that had been observed, for example, was how long it took female researchers to publish their work in contrast to male researchers. The lack of confidence in their work and seeking a level of perfection was hindering their progress. Professor Imbuga believes that an important aspect of capacity building with women scholars is to ensure that there are positions for them to rise to. This can be as simple as encouraging women to apply for more grants and awards, something that she says is not very proactively encouraged in Kenya, introducing them to important networks, or simply advising women to go into higher positions of leadership.
But Professor Imbuga is not only vested in seeing women rise to the top of their fields, but all academicians. During her tenure as Vice Chancellor at JKUAT, she is proud of the fact that 11 of staff her staff ascended to Vice Chancellor within their various departments; four of whom were women. For her, mentorship is an important aspect of creating the next generation of capable leaders who can then be empowered to pay it forward.