We’re taking time to get to know the members of the GSA’s Early Career Scientist Committees. Join us to learn more about our early career scientist advocates.
Sharifu Kiragga Tusuubira
Policy and Advocacy Subcommittee
University of Kansas
Research interest :
I am a third-year PhD candidate in the Ecology and Evolutionary biology program in the Kelly Lab. Our laboratory uses yellow monkey flower, a model organism, to answer the question, “Why is everyone different from everyone else?” Most of the traits that make us different are influenced by both genes and environment (e.g. eye color in humans) in which there is a significant amount of variation, but we are yet to understand why it exists. Model organisms like yellow monkey flower can provide an avenue for us to study complex trait variation which could lead to better understanding of our own genetic susceptibility to diseases.
My PhD work focuses on understanding the genomic basis of mating system evolution in yellow monkeyflower, by exploring the transition to self-fertilization using experimental evolution and quantitative trait loci mapping. Self-fertilization in plants involves the transfer of pollen from the anthers to the stigma of the same flower.
As a PhD-trained scientist, you have many career options. What interests you the most?
Living with a rare disease (sickle cell disease), I have always been fascinated with science and its potential to improve the quality of life for people living with rare diseases. This became my motivation when I went into biomedical science as an undergraduate. During my undergraduate studies, I got involved in agribusiness, moving on to later co-found a nonprofit, Building Rural African Industries Network (BRAIN). BRAIN was focused on supporting smallholder farmers to access markets for their produce. This helped me get firsthand business experience. After two years with BRAIN, I was asked to lead and initiate the Uganda Sickle Cell Rescue Foundation (USCRF), a nonprofit focused on promoting sickle cell awareness and advocacy. At USCRF, I started a community outreach program where we would host undergraduate students for a service-learning experience. This later expanded into building collaborations for research. This motivated me to join graduate school and develop expertise in population genomics.
With these experiences, I am now interested in working at the intersection of science and business where I can apply my genomics expertise in founding a startup or in supporting other scientists who start businesses as a venture capitalist. I am passionate about commercializing research to empower communities while building local economies.
In addition to your research, how do you want to advance the scientific enterprise?
From my nonprofit experiences, I have been able to appreciate the impact of policy on the outcomes of community programs. In a similar manner, policy affects the research that we do and how its outcomes are implemented. As scientists, we are in a position to shape and guide policy discussions. However, we are not doing enough to promote science and evidence-based practices, as demonstrated by the rise of pseudoscience. The pandemic has clearly demonstrated how the public engages with science and pseudoscience. I am passionate about raising awareness about the value and relevance of science and research, highlighting its benefits/importance to society. In addition, we need to make genetic sciences more inclusive and accessible to people from all geographies. I am therefore passionate about promoting science especially in resource-limited settings where students don’t get to engage with science until later in their education journeys.
As a leader within the Genetics Society of America, what do you hope to accomplish?
As a member of the policy and advocacy committee, I am interested in bolstering my expertise in science policy formulation. I would like to create a space for inclusive policy dialogue that helps early career scientists learn how the policy process works. As an international student, I would like to utilize participation on the committee as an avenue to network while building a community of practice passionate about science policy. I am also interested in genetics policy, especially the discussion around equitable access to novel therapeutics like gene therapy. Overall, I would like to work with the Policy and Advocacy subcommittee and ECLP at large to learn how to engage, educate, and interest policymakers in basic genetics research and its significance.
Previous leadership experience
- Student Officer, Parenteral Drug Association global pharmaceutical students network ( 2021-present)
- Co-president, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology graduate students organization (2021–present)
- Member, Graduate Student Advisory Board, University of Kansas (2020–present)
- Co-founder and Director East Africa, Pan African Sickle Cell Federation International (2017–2019)
- Former Executive Director, Uganda Sickle Cell Rescue Foundation (2013–2019)
- Co-founder, Sickle Cell Network Uganda (2011)
- Co-founder and Program Director, Building African Rural Industries Network (2010–2012)