College of Medicine Associate Professor Linda Kalirani Phiri, has excelled in her career as a medical researcher. Inspired by her mother, at 34 years she has managed to accomplish what most people her age can only dream of. As she continues to explore higher highs, she spoke with Cheu Mita to discuss her life, love and career coupled with a new baby, in the fast lane.
What does it take for one to become an associate professor?
You need to publish about eight to 10 peer reviewed articles. You need to contribute significantly to the development of the curriculum. They look at the number of publications, amount of research funds brought into the college and research impact, teaching responsibilities and effectiveness, outreach programmes and other related achievements.
When did you become associate professor?
July 1st last year.
So what does this mean for you in the academic circles?
In the academic circles, it means I have one spot left to get to the top.Ã‚Â Assistant lecturer, lecturer, senior lecturer, associate professor, professor.Ã‚Â In academia, the ultimate goal is to become professor.
How far are you from becoming a professor?
You need four years as an associate professor.
When did you start teaching?
In 2007. I was one of the special cases as I started at the lecturer level and skipped one level and moved on to associate professor because of my achievements.
What achievements, please elaborate?
Research outputs, grants. Out of those, I managed to get two big grants, played a significant role in the development of the Research Support Centre and other activities.
Did you always stand out in school?
Yes. In primary school I was always in the top three in all exams. In secondary school, in Form Four, I was the top scorer in my district with 12 points at MSCE examinations. In college, I was the only girl on the DeanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s List in the science faculty. In College of Medicine, I got distinctions in surgery and paediatrics. I got scholarships for my masterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and PhD.
Who contributed to your success?
My mother;Ã‚Â Associate Professor Chrissie Chawanje Mughogho contributed to my success.
I always wanted to be like my mum. She was always an achiever and hardworking. She came from a poor background. She managed to go to college from a village where people only went as far as Standard 8. After that, she still pushed on and did her masterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s.Ã‚Â She got her PhD after we were all born and managed to become the first female vice-principal of the Polytechnic. Now she has this High Commissioner post.
Because my mother was a scientist, I was never daunted by science subjects because I had been exposed to science throughout my life.
She taught us that we can do it. It doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t matter if you are a girl, we are equal.
What is some of the research that you have worked on and what have you discovered?
Most of my work is on malaria and pregnancy. Recently, I was doing a survey to find out how effective Fansidar is in preventing malaria in pregnant women. They stopped using Fansidar in the rest of the population because it hadnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t been working and most of the studies were done with young children. But it is still used with pregnant women.
We found that the resistance is also there and eventually there will be need to change its use in pregnant women.
Why are you so fascinated in pregnancy and malaria?
Malaria is a real big problem in Malawi and one of the high risk groups is pregnant women. So itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s either children or pregnant women. I felt that dealing with the pregnant woman you are not only having impact on the woman but also the unborn baby.
What can you share with pregnant women in Malawi as regards to your research?
We are born in a country where malaria is endemic. We kind of get used to malaria. But you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to get infected with malaria during pregnancy because it can lead to several complications; having a low birth weight baby, the mother getting anaemia, it can even lead to severe disease and death. But it is preventable. One of the ways of preventing malaria is sleeping under a bed net. Women must visit the antenatal clinic to get their bed nets and sleep under them and take at least two doses of Fansidar to prevent malaria. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s easily preventable.
Did you always want to become a doctor?
Yes. Being raised in a single family, it was ingrained in me to go to school, get my masterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and later a PhD. It helps to grow up with a teacher in the house. You are always exposed to books and books and school related issues.
What did your mother do to grow a reading culture in you and your siblings?
She bought lots of exciting books. As young children, she would buy us books that were easy to read with tons of pictures. She was interested in what we were doing. Once you are done reading she would always ask you to review what you read.
What has been your highest and lowest moment in life?
My highest moment was when I had my baby Jayden. It used to be work, work and now thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Jayden. My lowest moment was after I had finished my internship. I was looking for a place to go and do my masterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and I kept being turned down. Just when I was at my lowest is when I heard I got accepted.
What are your plans for the future?
To finish and get to the professor level, do more research work and raise my baby.
What is your life philosophy and guiding principle?
I am a Christian and I am guided by Godly principles. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s my moral campus. I work hard and do my best while putting God first.
What are some of the things you absolutely love and cannot do without?
The internet: ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s mostly work related but whenever the Internet is down, so am I. I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t do without my family either, that includes, baby, husband, siblings and parents.
What is your take on key challenges facing Malawian women?
I still think itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a manÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s world. A woman has to work twice as hard to prove herself compared to a man. No matter how good you are, you still have to work double to earn respect. If only women could support each other.
What have you learnt from lifeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s journey?
DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t take life too seriously. Learn to laugh and smell the roses. I have been working too hard and missed so much and now I know the importance of relaxing.
Is there anything about you that people donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know?
I love to laugh regardless that I am a serious person.
Tell us about your family. How did you meet your husband?
My husband Lindani Phiri is an easy going person, too relaxed. We now have a one-year-old son Jayden. He continuously keeps me in check.
Summary of achievements
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢Attracted $3 million in research funds to the College of Medicine,
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢Acted as a reviewer in International journals such as The Lancet and International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢Set up Research Support Centre at the College of Medicine, now used as a model in Africa.