I hated Chemistry. Scratch that. I still hate Chemistry. The very moment Chemistry was introduced to me, several years back, I instantly knew we were not meant for each other. I just couldn’t feel its vibe. Maybe it didn’t work on its first impression well enough, or maybe we were just cut from different cloths. And yet it was a compulsory subject. A necessary evil. Not even a change of teachers and consistent joint exams back in High School could make a difference to my brain. I never got around to understanding why I had to balance equations, or comprehending the Mole Concept. The laboratory experiments were the worst. They were never loyal to the son of Belleh. When other students were getting green or pink solutions, I would either be getting a ‘hard-earned’ blue or colourless solution. It was mostly colourless. Then came the deliberately torturous calculations. Torturous because they would tell you ‘calculate the RAM’ and then in the next question ask ‘based on your answer in (a) above’. How now? I have no answer in (a) for Chrissake! Once in a while a concerned friend or teacher would tell me that it was just my attitude, that Chem was not thaaat hard. The truth is, I just think the part of my brain that was meant to accommodate Chemistry either neglected that responsibility, or got better things to do. Anyway, the struggle was real.
Perhaps by now you’re wondering why I’m lamenting over my ex (Chemistry). Oh, yes, Chemistry is an ex I would never dream of getting back with. I remember swearing that I would even shift from my dream course of Journalism if I found Chemistry as one of the core units in University. Matter of fact I always believed that I would never need Chemistry in my life, or in my Journalism career for that matter. Well, till today. Because today I get to write about an accomplished Chemist. A Chemist who is making significant impact on humanity. A Chemist who ensures that the health and well-being of even the likes of us who loath Chemistry, is kept safe. Ladies and gentlemen, Jared Nyang’au, an Analytical Chemist by profession, based at the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), who graces our ‘Alumni of the Week’ segment this week.
Jared Nyang’au graduated from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in 2013, with a First Class Honours in Bachelors of Analytical and Environmental Chemistry. His current job designation at KEPHIS involves among other things, the analysis of fertilizers to monitor quality, soil analysis for fertility evaluation, water analysis for irrigation suitability, and the analysis of pesticide residuals in foods. I had the privilege of engaging Jared on his career journey, the current industry opportunities as regards Analytical Chemistry, and the role JKUAT has played in shaping him as well as what he’s doing to give back to the community.
Briefly describe your career journey from your graduation to your current position.
Before my graduation, I was privileged to get an opportunity to do my internship at the University of Hamburg ,Germany ,Chemistry Department. This was through The International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience (IAESTE) JKUAT chapter, through ALISO-JKUAT between March and May 2013. This equipped me with a lot of skills and exposed me to state of the art analytical equipment.
Upon graduation, I landed my first Job at Cosmos pharmaceuticals limited where I worked as a quality control chemist from June 2013 to March 2014. In April 2014, I joined KEPHIS as an Analytical chemist where I have been working to date.
Apart from the academic provision, what role has JKUAT played in your career development?
JKUAT has good, friendly teaching staff who always assure you on the benefit of the course you pursue at the University. I would like to thank all the faculty members at Chemistry Department especially Prof. Gachanja and Prof. Gatebe who always mentored me and always linked our theoretical work to real life situation at industry level. Also while at JKUAT, I was an active member of the Society of Chemists (SOC), an association which brings together all students who do Chemistry related courses, where I served as an organizing secretary in 2010/2011 and 2011/2012 academic years. This really improved my organizational skills.
Do you think studying at JKUAT has made you uniquely equipped and qualified to handle various jobs and initiatives? If yes, kindly elaborate.
JKUAT Chemistry Department is equipped with wide range of analytical equipment, which gives students hands-on-experience. Having gone through the same system, I acquired both qualitative and quantitative analytical skills which made me competent and ready for the job market.
What are your most treasured memories of JKUAT while you were a student?
My most memorable day is when I was awarded a BABAROA award when I least expected it, back in 2011. I had gone to the main Notice Board to check the exam timetable, only to find students checking some other list of the students to be awarded on academic excellence, I remember I noticed the name of my former high school mate, on calling to congratulate him, my classmate draw my attention only to realize I was among them in that list, I got so excited and I thank God for that. Other treasured moments are struggling in the mess queue to get chapos which was my favorite food in campus.
In your current position and all other initiatives you have handled before, what keeps you going and what has been your work/life philosophy or principle?
My philosophy has always been to work smart, competently and professionally in duties always assigned to me regardless of the situation and time.
What are your career plans going forward? Any anticipated change or advancements?
As a way of giving back to society, I started a program of rewarding best pupils in my local primary school where I schooled. Am planning to start a mentoring program to encourage young people from my village.
In career advancement, I’m currently pursuing my M.Sc. Degree in Analytical Chemistry and Environmental chemistry on part time basis from JKUAT.
If you were to go back in time and become an undergraduate student at JKUAT again, what would you do differently?
Mmmh, I would try to improve on my social life, since those times I used to spend most of my time in the library even on Fridays.
What’s your word of advice to the current and prospective JKUAT students taking the course you studied at the University?
My advice to current and prospective students is to be pro-active, look for many places to do attachments before you clear fourth year, do a lot of networking with former students in the department and always be close to your lecturers, they can link you to an opportunity. What has gotten me this far is mainly productive networking.
Would you recommend to someone the course you studied at the University? Kindly explain.
I could strongly recommend anyone who want to pursue Analytical chemistry course to consider JKUAT as the first choice. It’s undoubtedly one of the department with best facilities to train Analytical Chemistry in Kenya and with the latest acquisition of LC-MS/MS, it makes it one of the centers of excellence in Africa in training Analytical Chemists.
How would you describe the current Analytical Chemistry job market landscape? What are some of the opportunities and challenges?
The analytical chemistry job is very competitive, it doesn’t matter whether you have first class or pass, What matters most is what you can do and others can’t do. They are so many opportunities existing especially in government institutions, research institutions, pharmaceutical manufacturing industries, processing industries, academia among others. However as per expectation of many graduates, it’s not easy to be recruited as a fresh graduate, hence they need to prepare to work as interns first or offer to work voluntarily so as to acquire adequate experience first.
Are there any improvements or changes you think should be effected in JKUAT as pertains the course you studied?
Nothing much really, but maybe with emerging new technologies like Nanotechnology, it will be appropriate for the department to consider introducing in future, some extra units to cover this area. Additionally I would like the University to commercialize some of the undergraduate projects undertaken by students since they can impact on the economy of the country in one way or another and also create employment opportunities to many youths.
Now, this is just between me and you. You see, it might have proved impossible to me back in the days, but today, Chemistry gets to pay my bills. Who is laughing now? Someone give a high five to karma for me. No? Okay. I will be sleeping better tonight knowing Chemistry, despite proving absolutely unlovable, has contributed towards my income. In more serious matters however, the B.Sc. Analytical Chemistry course is offered in JKUAT’s College of Pure and Applied Sciences, at the School of Physical Sciences, Department of Chemistry.
Meanwhile, are you an alumnus/alumna of the University or know anyone who is? Get in touch with us and let us tell your story! Just click this link.