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Focusing on Ethiopian identity

By Tadhg Caffrey, on 5 May 2017

In this guest blog, Dr Saioa Lopez, research associate at the UCL Genetics Institute writes about her experience following her success at Focus on the Positive in 2017 in the Trinity Community Centre. Saioa is just back from Ethiopia, where the benefit of her project was felt…

When I heard about the “Focus on the positive” initiative it didn’t take me long to realise what an exciting opportunity it was. Not only would it allow me to engage the public in my research, something I consider of the utmost importance, but it would also give me the chance to win a prize to develop a project.

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Publications funded by the project, ready to go

My research focuses on studying the genetic diversity and ancestry of different Ethiopian groups. In general, there is a regrettable lack of written history about the origins of Ethiopian peoples, and most of their beliefs are often based on oral traditions passed along generations. Using genetic data we have investigated the origins of these populations, migrations and admixture with other groups. But in addition to publish these results in a scientific journal, we also wanted to provide the Ethiopian people with detailed insights about their origins and inter-relatedness, supplementing existing historical accounts and providing them with a better understanding of their genetic identity.

My postdoctoral supervisor, Dr. Garrett Hellenthal, and I had planned a trip to Ethiopia to disseminate the results of this project to both academics and non-academic people by giving talks at different universities across the country and other public venues. However, as language could be a barrier for these people, in particular among non-academics, we thought that bringing a printed booklet summarising the results of the project could be an effective solution to this issue. So I decided to take part into Focus on the positive, as the money received from this initiative could help with the printing expenses.

The whole experience was great. The event took part at the Trinity Community Centre, where we had to give a speech and answer the questions from a lay audience, who then voted for their favourite project. After a fun evening, I was delighted to learn that I had won a runner-prize of £1000. This money allowed us to print and bring 500 copies of the booklet in our trip to Ethiopia. These booklets were distributed among the people in all venues and universities that we visited, and we also left some copies in other locations like public libraries and some airports. The booklets were a total success (the only negative point is that they were not enough to satisfy the high demand!), as they allowed people to follow and understand the main points of the talks. People were very grateful and we received excellent feedback about them. Everyone seemed keen to learn and hear our results.

We, as scientists, have to make sure that our findings reach the public. In this particular case, we had studied the origins of Ethiopian peoples and we felt that it was essential to transmit the results to these people. And in a country like Ethiopia, under development, with very limited access to scientific journals or databases, going there ourselves to give talks and distribute the booklets was possibly the best option to make sure that this happened. We are very grateful for the UCL Public Unit for this opportunity and for the audience for contributing to and supporting this project.

 

Saoia at a conference in Ethiopia presenting this work

Saoia at a conference in Ethiopia presenting this work

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