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Meet the Capture Your Research Contest Winner: Sharon Gubamwoyo

By Maisie Northing | Aug. 23, 2023  | Prize Researcher Experience

During each AuthorAID MOOC, participants submit their photos for our Capture Your Research Contest. After the recent Getting Started with Writing and Publishing Your Research course, the Top 10 entries were shortlisted, with the AuthorAID community then voting for the winner.

We are pleased to announce Sharon Gubamwoyo, from Uganda, as the winner! Below is her winning photo.

A person standing knee-deep in water in a wetland area, with tall grasses growing. The person stand next to a wooden, bridge-like structure that runs from the back to the front of the picture.
Sharon's winning photo!
Described as "Fieldwork: Innovating a walkway to sample greenhouse gases from a natural wetland"

We recently met with Sharon, on a Zoom call, to learn about her research, her career, the story behind her winning photo, and her involvement with AuthorAID. Keep reading for the full interview!

Could you tell us where you’re based and what your field of work is?

My name is Sharon Gubamwoyo. I am Ugandan and I am studying for my PhD in Austria, at BOKU University, the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences. I am a limnologist focusing on wetlands, greenhouse gas emissions from wetlands, lakes and river systems, and water and wastewater treatment.

Currently I am based in Kenya. Right now, I’m in Nairobi, but I do most of my work in the Taita Hills, Kenya, which is where I am doing my fieldwork and where I took the photo. In Kenya I am just here for my fieldwork, for at least one year, and then I’ll return to Austria for more work. When I’ve finished what I need to do, I’ll return to Uganda to serve my nation.

What inspired you to study this field, and can you tell us a bit about your career path so far?

My inspiration is in research, innovation and finding solutions to different challenges. So, this pushed me further to look at the environmental “kidneys” of the Earth, which are the wetlands, and the roles they play. They play so many roles that people have now started understanding in depth; however, some people have not known about their roles. So, this has inspired me to continue finding out more and more, and about the relations between these wetlands and the changing environment, people who destroy these wetlands, coupled with climate change or climate uncertainty. And so, what's the relation? Do we need these wetlands for climate change mitigation, or should we convert them to farmlands to better control food insecurity, so are they just a waste of time? I’ve looked up to some people who have done great things, and I’m like, "Yes, I think I can also do something, I can find out something that will actually help my community and my environment."

Prior to my PhD, I did a Master’s in Water and Wetlands Management from Loughborough University (UK), and a joint Master’s in Limnology and Wetlands Management from BOKU in Austria, Egerton in Kenya, and IHE Delft in the Netherlands. My Bachelor’s was in Environmental Science, Technology, and Management from Kyambogo University, Uganda. When you look at my background, it's water, wetlands, and management. You cannot separate these, because one leads to another, and one helps the other in that way.

Could you tell us about the story behind the photo you submitted?

The photo was taken after, I would call it a 'victory', of accomplishing the construction of this accessibility walkway into the natural wetland, so that we’re able to carry out different parameter analyses and pick different samples; samples of water, plants, and soil. My major interest is greenhouse gas emissions and uptake. When I first visited this natural wetland, it was flooded, and I found a man walking through it with water as high as his chest. I thought to myself, "Am I the one going to get into that water? How am I going to?" Then I thought, maybe I can sample not as far into the wetland, but that didn’t make sense as that is not representative of the wetland – I needed to go inside the wetland. I was puzzled as to what exactly to do. When I got home, I started battling with my thoughts, “This what you want, this is what you have been looking for”, because in the whole study area this is the only natural wetland that exists. All the other wetlands have been converted into farmlands while a few are being restored. I started reading some literature and talking to some friends and my supervisors about the challenge I had at hand. Some suggested that I could use a floater, or a boat, but obviously that disturbs the water during the sampling process. We thought through until we agreed that we could construct a walkway. I actually found out that some people had done something similar. I kept wondering how this would happen, and one of my research assistants, who is very, very helpful, said we can do this. He suggested some places where we could get some timber and a carpenter. We had to get waders and get into the water/wetland. It was very interesting, and it was really complicated, but at the end of the day we were really successful. I felt like, "Yes! We’ve made it!" For now, I have been sampling through the wetland and it clearly shows it’s really doing a great job of taking in greenhouse gases, so I am grateful that we accomplished it; it’s really very helpful.

What was it like constructing the walkway, how long did it take?

We used very strong wood and as we know, it starts weakening in water, so we had to install enforcements and room for re-enforcements as we go on with the study. On the first day, we did the carpentry work, putting the ladders together, and then on day two, we had to wake up very early and carry everything down and see how to start fixing them. We made ten-foot-long ladders which we set up at two different locations. It took the whole day to set up one site! Then we had to take another day to set up the other. We had to make sure it was firm. At the end of it, we were all seated on the walkway, very happy and proud of what we had accomplished. We could even jump on it! We were so happy. I will be using the walkways for at least a whole year.

Anything you’d like to add about the photo?

Yes, I would just like to appreciate the people who helped me construct it, because I couldn’t have done it alone. There was a lot of teamwork with my research assistants and everyone else that helped. I am grateful that we made it, and then here we are – who knew that the photo would be on AuthorAID and would actually win!

Sharon crouching on the wooden walkway above the water of the wetland.
Sharon using the walkway.

What are your long-term career goals?

I am doing my research in Kenya, but I am from Uganda, and Uganda has a large number of wetlands. So, I’m using this as a training and learning ground. This is going to help me to enhance and sharpen my research skills to solve different problems and challenges that we have back in Uganda. I’m using this time to learn and implement, but I also have to take this acquired knowledge back home. My big, long-term career goal is to continue as a researcher; to do more and find out so many things to help solve challenges.

Can you tell us about any successes in your career that you’re proud of?

Sharon: The successes have been quite many! I’m really grateful to God for how far he has brought me and how far I have come through this whole journey; for all the degrees that I have attained, the friends and networks I have made along the journey. It has really been something that I’ve looked back at and I am grateful; it has taken a huge team to get me where I am. I didn’t have the money to pay for my studies, so I am grateful to the funders. Another success that I have seen is some of the small interventions and innovations that I have been able to do at my workplace. For example, back in Uganda I worked at a water treatment plant. We used to buy drinking water from service providers, and we thought to ourselves, "Why don’t we make our own drinking water?" We set up a mini drinking treatment system to supply to ourselves. Currently we are able to take our own product of drinking water. My bosses were very helpful to see this come to pass. I felt that was a success and I was very proud of the team and everyone that made it happen. Another success was during COVID, when there was a wide cry for hand sanitiser. We had to continue to work, as you have to supply water at all times. As a lab we use a lot of sanitising liquids, so why not increase production, and help everyone to stay safe. It came to pass, and it meant we could continue to work and stay safe. The successes have come through research and trying out things. So that is why I say I like researching, trying and finding out things. Even through my research work, through my different studies, they came out a success and I am grateful for that.

Can you tell us about any challenges you have faced and how you overcame them?

Sharon: There are always challenges here and there in life that you face, and at times you feel like this will not work out. Some challenges have come from the negativity from people at the beginning of an intervention. But what happens after that, do you go home and sleep and let go of it, or do you get up on your feet and say, how do we get this done? In my Bachelor’s degree I had to do some experiments on how to treat water using local methods, like using plants or sand. As I had done the proposal and started collecting data, they told I couldn’t do it. I thought to myself, "I have come this far, how do I change things at this point?" My supervisor was kind enough to tell me to just go and do the fieldwork and start with the write-up already and leave out the proposal. I felt like I was broken but it became a steppingstone to my excellence, because I excelled in my thesis, and I was very glad that it turned out like that.

Another challenge was when I was starting an experiment for my Masters. I did a constructed wetland to treat the sludge or the waste from our water treatment plant. When I started it, everything was not working out and I didn’t know what to do. But I had to keep reading and trying to find out how everything works, until I found out that someone had done something similar but with wastewater, and they were actually located in Uganda. I looked for their phone number and contacted them. They were very, very helpful, and excited that I was doing something similar. They promised to come see and help. Dr. Najib fulfilled his promise and came through to help and guide me accordingly. I was overwhelmed and so grateful with the great humility he showed. The first time the experiment didn’t run as expected, and he told me, yes, it will take time, just one week, and the following week it will be up and running. The power of speaking out and the power of believing in yourself helped me to overcome these challenges. The determination and positive mindset were important, because if I had let go, if I had confined myself and hadn’t consulted anyone, I would have probably crumbled down and just said, I’m not graduating I’m done with this! Even now challenges keep coming but I try to keep a positive mindset, try to keep determined and have consultation from people. This is also coupled with prayer and direction from God, and just saying, "OK, how do I do this", and getting the right people to help, talking to them. This has really been helpful to solve the challenges, because sometimes you cannot do it by yourself.

What do you love most about being a researcher?

Sharon: What I love most is the journey it takes. When you’re starting the journey, at times you see yourself at a certain level, and then it does not work out exactly as you thought it would. But then at the end of it all, when you’re done, you look back and you’re like, wow, it’s good that this didn’t happen like that, because it turned out to actually be better. So, what I like about research is that some of the things that hit you at a certain point turn out to be helpful, some are obviously terrible and bad, but they help to sharpen you and make you better. The research journey is exciting and fun; you keep learning new things, you keep innovating and modifying things. Another intervention example was when I had to use a hospital giving set to sample gases from a floating chamber. I have learnt to use and utilise the things around me.

Sharon sitting on the ground in a field, holding up and looking at a sampling tube, with a box-like piece of equipment in front of her.
Sharon at work.

Have you got anything exciting coming up this year that you’re working on?

Sharon: The main source of this interview was that I took the AuthorAID course Getting Started with Writing and Publishing Your Research. I’m looking forward to publishing my first fully reviewed journal paper with myself being the first author. This course came in handy, and I was so grateful. There are ups and downs and there are times when I am writing that I think I’m done here, or nothing is working out, but I keep pushing. I am positive that I can pull this off and see it come to pass. That is my main thing this year and the exciting thing I’m looking forward to.

What do you enjoy doing outside of your work?

Sharon: I like watching and playing basketball, travelling, and catching up with friends. Basically, if I’m not doing work I either want to go and play basketball, or I want to travel, maybe catch a movie, or catch up with friends. Those are the times that I have for relaxing and refreshing.

When did you first learn about AuthorAID and what AuthorAID activities have you participated in? Has anything stood out for you?

Sharon: I first learnt about AuthorAID from a friend. They were talking about AuthorAID, so I had to look it up, and thought it looked interesting. Then I received an invitation email for the course, and thought, wow, this is timely, this is what I needed. It was the course Getting Started with Writing and Publishing Your Research. I was excited and I registered immediately. That’s the first time I really got to know more about AuthorAID. I read some of the things that they do – really inspiring. Other things I have participated in are a few webinars, like the systematic reviews that just took place recently. I am also in the process of getting a mentor through AuthorAID. What has stood out for me is the support that AuthorAID gives; that wealth of information that they are willing to give out to everyone. It is really, really, really good, informative and amazing.

Sharon kneeling down in tall reeds and plants, with a box-like piece of equipment on the ground in front of her.
Sharon at work.

Is there anything you can think of that you wish AuthorAID could provide that it currently doesn’t, and why?

Sharon: The first thing I thought about was statistics from AuthorAID, but then they provided links and sources where we can learn about statistics, and there is an upcoming webinar on correcting myths and misconceptions in statistics. So really, for now, I haven’t found one!

If you could give early career researchers like yourself any advice, what would it be?

Sharon: So, for my fellow researchers, I would advise them to continue being determined, stay positive, have a positive mindset, even when things just don’t seem to be working out. Just keep pushing on, give yourself time to breathe and think. Do not abandon things and say, "No, I’m done". Every stride matters – you don’t need to do everything at once. Like I told you for the wetland, I just went back home and thought about it and said we have to do this, and finally it came to pass. It’s important to always find your passion. Find what you love – don’t do something because someone said you should do it. At least you should have 70% or 80% of your heart in it. If you’re being forced to do it, it’s going to be a burden to you. If you have 70% to 80%, it is good enough and the rest will fall into place, and you’ll find more and more interesting things. The little challenges you’ll face will just be a stepping stone to your next level, to your next challenge, to your next achievement. So, you need to keep pushing on, and do not keep to yourself. You need to stay with people and do a lot of teamwork. You need to talk to people to find out what they’re doing and how they can help you in certain ways. So, it is very important to keep sharing, have a positive mindset, and do what you like.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Sharon: Yes, I would just like to appreciate AuthorAID for the great work that they continue to do and the services they offer, the webinars they host, and they are actually free. And the information; the wealth of information they make available. There are so many things I learnt through this course, so I’m grateful for the work that they are doing. I’m also grateful for the opportunity of the interview that I am having right now. It is not something I would take for granted. So yes, I’d like to encourage everyone who will be reading this, to just visit all the AuthorAID social media handles for the wealth of information, and you never know, something will be helpful to you in one way or another. I would also like to appreciate all those who took the time to vote for the photo! I am really grateful because we are all busy, but they took their time to vote. And for all those who also submitted their photos, they were great and don’t be discouraged or dismayed. Your work is great and keep doing what you need to do. Keep positive and keep going on. I would like to appreciate those who helped me do the work behind the scenes of the photo and those who took the photos.

We really enjoyed speaking with Sharon, and thank her for her time. We wish her all the best in her future studies and endeavours.

Sharon has provided social media links in case you would like to connect with her:

ORCID: https://orcid.org/0009-0003-5487-7342

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/sharon-gubamwoyo-b06391118

X (Formerly Twitter): @Gubamwoyo 

Thank you to the AuthorAID community for voting in this Capture Your Research Contest, and we look forward to sharing the next one with you!

Keep an eye on this page https://www.authoraid.info/en/e-learning/ for upcoming courses, or participate in one of our self-study courses.

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