Livestock story-telling at ILRI—Part 2: Ekta Patel, Maasai ‘Fly Girl’

Ekta Patel (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

The 2019 institutional program meeting of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which was held under a large tent on ILRI’s handsome Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, campus last Sep, tried out something new. Nine staff members were asked to present a brief personal story to the 200 ILRI staff assembled about how they were helping ILRI to achieve one of its five ‘critical success factors’: (1) get the science right, (2) influence decision-makers, (3) grow capacity, (4) secure sustainable and appropriate funding and (5) ensure ILRI is fit for purpose.

This was Ekta Patel’s story.

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My name is Ekta Patel. I’m communications manager for ILRI’s Bioscience Directorate.

I’m an unusual species. I come from an Indian background, but while most Indians in East Africa go into business, I had a passion for molecular biology and became a scientist. For nearly ten years, I worked in the lab. Like many of you here today, I would get excited when I went to check if there was a band on my gel or if I had managed to get my cells infected.

While creating bacterial mutants to better understand drug resistance, I couldn’t sleep at night I was so excited to get into the lab the next day to check if my transfections had worked. Years passed this way!

Then one day my supervisor, Phil Toye, asked me to join some vets in the field to deliver the vaccine we had made here at ILRI for the cattle disease known as East Coast fever. This prospect did not excite me; what was a molecular biologist going to do in the field? Honestly, I thought, I belong in the lab, with my pipettes where I had convinced myself that I might make magic happen.

But I went. And nothing has been the same since. . . .