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My journey to an MSc: An academic story

John Bosco Keven is - a Senior Scientific Officer at the Entomology section in our Madang branch. This section studies insect vectors of human diseases in an effort to improve the health of Papua New Guineans and provide valuable data to the scientific community on tropical disease transmission. It works on projects related to the ecology, behavior, genetics and transmission potential of mosquito vectors in PNG.

John first joined IMR in 2008 under our GIDRTP Fogarty Graduate program as a honours student. He was one of five Honors students recruited that year. In April 2010, John, from Manus, graduated with a Bachelor in Science – Honors (first class) from the University of Papua New Guinea.

His honors project was the first to address physiological resistance to pyrethroid insecticides in mosquito vectors of malaria in PNG.

Later that year, John was invited to attend one of America’s biggest society meetings – The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene meeting – in Atlanta, Georgia, to discuss his honors research through seminar and poster presentations. The meeting was significant for him as he met extraordinary people that week, some of whom would later become mentors and certainly friends. A month after the meeting, he achieved another milestone in his career - his honors paper was published in the December 2010 issue of The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

John Bosco Keven



Dickson Kuvi
Training Coordinator

Masters on the Horizon

After successfully completing his Honors, his interest to continue on with a Masters program became obvious. He decided to apply through the same GIDRTP Fogarty Graduate Program as it also caters for Masters and PhD programs.

His enthusiasm fell short after the IMR Training committee failed to endorse his application. This did little to alter John’s ambition to pursue his Master’s so he decided to expand his scope and “to look abroad” for other training and scholarship opportunities. His dream was imminent when the US Embassy in Port Moresby invited applications for its 2011-2012 Fulbright International Scholarship’s – an opportunity worth trying.

The rest was history. In his own words, John retells his Master’s journey.

“When the US Embassy in Port Moresby officially invited applications for the US Fulbright International Scholarship, I took it as a chance to try. After a rigorous screening and interview process, I was awarded a two-year scholarship to do a Master of Science (MSc) program at any US university of my choice.”

“This news was well received and I got the support I needed from the IMR Training Committee.”
“By then I had established communications with Dr Edward Walker from Michigan State University (MSU) whom I met during the meeting in Atlanta so I did not have a problem finding a suitable university and an academic supervisor.”

John with Prof. Ned Walker from Michigan State University with John, Dr Lisa Reimer and Gussy Koimbu from the Entomology Lab enjoy kulau during a field visit.

Studying at Michigan State University

“By August 2011, I found myself exploring the beautiful campus of MSU and getting busy in Dr Walker’s Laboratory. Prior to my arrival at MSU, the GIDRTP Fogarty coordinators from Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in Cleveland had arranged with the Fulbright coordinators at the US Institute of International Education (IIE) to share my training expenses. I was very excited when I received the news because I did not expect that Fogarty was keen in supporting me. So my tuition, health insurance, and travel expenses were paid by Fulbright and my stipends and research expenses were paid by the Fogarty. This was quite an experience for me to be on dual foreign scholarships, and I am not sure if I can ever have this kind of opportunity again in the future.”

“I was admitted to the College of Natural Science as a medical entomology major and my program was administered through the Department of Entomology. However, I conducted my research in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics laboratory, where Dr Walker works. This interdepartmental arrangement gave me an additional opportunity to learn things from both fields – Medical Entomology and Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. It also allowed me to use research facilities in both departments. In addition, I routinely travelled to Dr Peter Zimmerman’s (my external supervisor) lab at CWRU to use their research facilities and also acquire trainings.”

John rehearsing for his Master's Thesis defence

Understanding mosquitoes biting habits

“My research project focused on the host-feeding ecology of mosquito vectors in disease endemic areas of PNG. Generally, it is common knowledge that vector-borne disease pathogens such as malaria parasites or chikungunya virus are transmitted by infected mosquitoes. Mosquitoes act as hosts to these parasites and virus. Despite numerous vertebrates that mosquitoes bite, some mosquito species seem to prefer humans more than the other animals. As a result this tendency to feed more on humans, also called anthropophagy is considered a key environmental factor which is contributing to disease transmission."

But when there is a decline in their level of tendency to bite humans, their ability to transmit human diseases also decreases. “Based on this information, my Master’s project was focused on investigating the host-feeding ecology of mosquito vectors in disease endemic areas of PNG.” The main objective of the study was to determine the relative anthropophagy of female members of the Anopheles punctulatus mosquito species by comparing their relative human blood index (HBI). HBI is the ratio of the number of mosquitoes that feed on human blood to the total number of blood-fed mosquitoes.

After collecting blood-fed mosquitoes from various sites in Madang province, laboratory-applied methods were use to further identify which vertebrate (humans or others), the mosquito fed from.

“Through these methods, my study revealed that humans and domestic pigs were the most common and often the only hosts that the Anopheles mosquitoes fed on even though other potential hosts were present in abundance.” The study further revealed that mosquito species Anopheles punctulatus s.s and An. koliensis had a greater tendency of feeding on humans compared to species An. farauti s.s, An. longirostris and An. farauti No.4, whilst An. bancrofti fed mostly on pigs. “The implications of these findings for malaria transmission in PNG are discussed in detail in my thesis ‘The host-feeding ecology of mosquito vectors in the Anopheles punctulatus (Diptera: Culicidae) species complex in a malaria endemic province of Papua New Guinea’.” This thesis was published by ProQuest UMI Thesis and Dissertations Publishing and can be accessed on this website http://gradworks.umi.com/15/45/1545976.html.

“I am currently preparing a manuscript for publication of this work in a peer-reviewed journal. In 2012, half-way through my Master’s program, I submitted an application to the School of Natural science for a PhD program through the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics.” “Not only was I admitted to begin in August 2013, the university offered to fully cover the expenses for the first year of my PhD program. This was another exciting situation to experience."

“Unfortunately, the IMR training committee turned down my request to continue into a PhD program due to the Institute’s Training Policy which required a staff member to serve at least two years before pursuing further studies. So I agreed and returned to PNG after successfully defending my master’s thesis in August 2013 and was officially awarded an MSc degree on 13 December 2013. I am still passionate to pursue a PhD.”

“I am now a senior scientific officer in the Entomology section of the Vector Borne Disease Unit at our branch in Madang. I play a major role in coordinating and supervising the ICEMR transmission studies and also participate in other projects in our section. Apart from my main responsibilities, I spend a great deal of time and effort developing and running in-house capacity training programs for the technical and scientific staffs in our section. This is a responsibility I feel obliged to do.”

John working in the Entomology Laboratory

Experiences and lessons learnt

“The experiences and insights I gained from my two years in the US have changed my world view forever. I prefer not to discuss it here for to do so would require a separate article. When my colleagues here at IMR ask me what I admire about US institutions that I would like to see in PNG Institutions, my response is ‘quality’ and ‘efficiency’, and at IMR, these two need major improvements at all levels.”

“When asked what challenges I faced in my studies, my response is coping with the high academic standard and expectations. When asked what one must keep in mind when, pursuing such academic endeavors, I respond by quoting Albert Einstein, ‘great spirits will often encounter violent opposition from weak minds’.”

“Someone once asked me what was the most fun thing I did during my time in the US that I can still remember, well I can still remember standing at the base of the newly built World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, New York city, and recalling the event I saw on TV on September 11, 2001 that shocked the entire world.”

“To me success is a result of passion and commitment to one’s vision but also the ability to allow and appreciate the contribution and positive influence of people in your life.”

“I would like to acknowledge the IMR Director and training committee for approving my MSc training and for supporting me while on training, the Fulbright coordinators at the US Embassy in Port Moresby and IIE in the US for their support, Fogarty coordinators at CWRU for their administrative support, administrative staff at the graduate office in the MSU Entomology Department.”

“I would also like to extend my gratitude to field and scientific staffs of the entomology section at IMR for assisting with my field sampling back in 2012. This include Dr Lisa Reimer (former head of entomology) for the basic training I received in preparation for my MSc training, Dr Zimmerman for using his research facilities and introducing me to Dr Walker, Dr Walker for hosting me in his laboratory and most importantly my family for putting up with my absence during the two years.”

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John and Prof. Walker enjoying a baseball match

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