Justice Akwensi

I am Justice Akwensi, a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Chemistry at the University of Ghana, Legon. My research interest is in designing and synthesis of new and effective antimalarials to help improve the quality of life of people living in malaria-endemic communities and countries. I hold a Master’s degree in Chemistry from the University of Ghana during which I extracted and characterized active compounds from the stem back of palisota hirsuta, a herbal plant used primarily as an anti-inflammatory agent. I was introduced to the WCAIR by my principal supervisor to undergo training to help improve my skill set as a medicinal chemist. I arrived at the University of Dundee (UoD) in November 2022 for a nine-month internship at the WCAIR to receive cutting-edge research training in order to assist in creating the first drug discovery hub of its kind in the West African subregion.

Prior to coming to UoD, I had a 12-week pre-engagement online training session during which the core of medicinal chemistry was explained and taught with clarity. Those lessons explained why we do what we do and the intentionality and problem-solving that underpins each change made during a hit-to-lead campaign or a formal hit assessment. During my training and time at the WCAIR , I had the opportunity to use equipment and devices I had only read of in books. I had the opportunity to monitor my reactions with LCMS and make decisions based on data generated in real-time. I had the opportunity to improve my presentation and communication skills by participating in several seminars, workshops, symposiums, and meetings and in some cases presenting and getting feedbacks that were immeasurably helpful.

I had the opportunity to make decisions based on multiple parameters of compounds. I also got to learn how to service and use equipment such as the auto prep and freeze dryer. I was able to run a 96 well-plate chemistry on my project and use the results to quickly expand my SAR and make decisions on the way forward. It is worth noting that this was the first time this technology has been applied on a malaria phenotypic screening assay. I also learned the importance of writing detailed lab reports with the most seemingly unimportant detail for reproducibility. One thing I would like to implement in my lab back home upon return is the implementation of safety regulations and ensuring a safe working environment for all who work in the labs including supporting staff.

Beyond the science and the chemistry environment, I have made lifelong friends that made my stay even more fulfilling. From these friends, I learned different types of spoken English. I have met people from every continent of the globe with varying types of English and choices of English words. I also had the opportunity to participate in other student activities such as the doctoral thesis writing academy, social hour, and 3 minutes thesis competition during which I made it to the three finalists and won the people’s choice award of the competition. I used the opportunity to tour Scotland and UK for that matter. I visited St. Andrews and played golf on its famous golf courses. I also went to Aberdeen, Glasgow, London, Liverpool, Manchester, and several other towns and mountainous regions in the company of friends.

Although each day presented a different challenge, there was always an opportunity to learn something new from each problem solved. I have really enjoyed my placement at the DDU, and the skills and lessons learned will go a long way in sharpening in career. I would like to express my gratitude to all who made my stay successful including my trainers, lab mates and managers.