Joan Msuya: Following Your Smile

Joan Msuya

They say that in order for one to be successful in each aspect of life, one of the key attributes is what you are doing and doing it whole heartedly. In other words, do something that will make you smile. This principle is also true academically, professionally and socially.

As a Msc. Student in Human Nutrition at The Ohio State University, I thank God for the opportunity of allowing me to follow my smile. I had the chance to expand my knowledge in Nutrition at Ohio State in the Department of Human Sciences, Human Nutrition. Through my course work, a lot of valuable knowledge was gained. For the first time in my life, I was able to clearly differentiate between Applied Sciences and Basic Sciences.

Differences were seen throughout the weekly seminar presentations I attended in my department. Each and every week, different topics were presented using different methodologies and statistical analyses, but what was common in all of them was that “the research was being presented to an audience.” Most of the presenters were professors from different departments who are engaged in nutrition related activities. It was such a wonderful experience and I was glad it put a smile on my face.

During my second semester, it was the graduate students who presented and other faculty and fellow graduate students who evaluated the student presenter. Wow, this was also an exciting thing! The evaluation criteria was based on what you liked the most about the presentation, what you liked the least about the presentation and what the speaker could improve upon in the future. From this experience some of the valuable lessons that I learned include: The audience likes to make a connection between themselves and the presenter and to hear a knowledgeable presenter who paraphrases the information on the slides while delivering a stimulating topic. This is very important for all presenters whether they are in an academic setting or with the general public. As a researcher you need to present your results to different audiences, so knowing your audience, knowing your materials, and maintaining a good contact with the audience will enhance the delivery of the results you seek.

Through my BSc. Human Nutrition from Sokoine University of Agriculture and my involvement in a number of research activities that target women and children, my smile also arise as I work with mothers and children in improving their nutritional status.  I am so interested in this particular group because investing in the future of young children is one of the most rewarding works that can be offered in order to ensure that they also have a smile on their faces.  But oftentimes, the future of young children is constantly threatened with under nutrition in many developing countries including Tanzania. Young children are left with permanent functional deficits such as stunting, impaired intellectual development, reduced economic productivity, and later on, low offspring birth weight.  It is true that, “nobody can save the entire world,” but developing and advancing research that can bring about solutions to some of the current problems in the world can be a way of saving the world from your own locality.  With this in mind, I, together with my advisor Dr. Sanja Ilic, and co-advisor Dr. Joyce Kinabo, have been working hand in hand to develop my research topic on Food Safety of Homemade Complimentary Foods in Tanzania.   

Since my research work will be based on microbiology, I had the chance of working in Dr. Ilic’s laboratory for the entire time at Ohio State. Food Microbiology was simply a course that I had started during my first year during my undergraduate degree. But now I had the chance of exploring it further and doing the actual analyses. With the mentorship of Dr. Ilic and my other lab mates, Victor Pool and Huayi Suo, I was able to improve my hands-on skills of microbiological assays.
From working with the lab team, I was able to realize the importance of teamwork.  An hour of hassle of finding something can be solved by just a single minute of asking someone to clarify a particular thing. So my lab time was extremely memorable and useful.  From this experience I will be able to do microbial analyses for coliforms, generic E. coli, Salmonella spp and Listeria monocytogenes on the homemade complimentary foods once I’m in Tanzania for my research.

And lastly, no one is an island. In order to smile you have to interact with other people. My stay at Ohio State was filled with a lot of funny activities which not only helped me relax after my classes, but even formed bonds with new people which will last for a lifetime. Each Friday evening, we met with other international students for dinner, interactions and Bible Discussion.  This was through the organization called Bridges International. With Bridges, I was able to attend a conference in Washington, D.C and we even made an “O-H-I-O” in front of the White House.  Watching football games, playing different indoor games, ice-skating, riding roller coasters at Cedar Point and Kings Island were all part of the exciting activities that made me smile.

So, no matter where you are, what you are doing, or what your life goals are, following your smile is definitely one of the best ways of experiencing the real “you” and achieving the best in different endeavors.

Joan is a graduate student sponsored by the Innovative Agricultural Research Initiative (iAGRI), a Feed the Future project in Tanzania funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and led by The Ohio State University. This major food security project seeks to prepare the next generation of agricultural scientists, leaders and food system institutions in Tanzania through graduate degree training, collaborative research, and human and institutional capacity development (HICD).