Ebola, Malnutrition and Careers in Science

Route 39 Fellow, Dr Alan Dangour, is a Reader in Food and Nutrition for Global Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) - the world’s leading research-focussed graduate school. He is also a Senior Research Fellow in agriculture and nutrition at the UK Department for International Development. Last week he led three sessions as part of the students’ Healthy Living Project.

Challenging Pre-conceptions

If the students thought that academics were old, fusty and difficult to understand, they had to think again! Dr Dangour is lively, funny and a great communicator. He told the students that he was pretty much ‘middling’ at school, and that his science teacher had told him he was no good. Just to prove him wrong, he went on to read Biochemistry at University, took a Masters degree in Nutrition and followed it up with a PhD!

Perseverance is the Key

Dr Dangour said that he loved his job, and that he’d got there through sheer hard work and perseverance. “Never be afraid to apply for anything because you think you’re not good enough,” he urged the students, “It’s all about hard work, and keeping going.”

STEM Ambassador

As a STEM Ambassador, Dr Dangour often works in schools encouraging students to consider careers in science. A show of hands from the Challenge group clearly indicated that around 50% of students would like to go to University, and 30% were considering a career in science. Dr Dangour chatted to students about the careers they were interested in, which included physics, meteorology, sports therapy, pharmacy, engineering and veterinary science. He explained much of science is a process of “detective work” and that it was “very exciting and rewarding”.

The Ethics of an Epidemic 

A small group of students also had the opportunity to listen to a talk from Dr Dangour on ‘Ebola’. Dr Dangour told the story of the discovery of Ebola in 1964, and how the Belgian doctor who helped in its discovery is now Director of the institute where he works. It was a fascinating talk and clearly illustrated many ethical and developmental issues associated with epidemics.

Feeding the World

The day ended with over 70 students listening to a thought-provoking talk on global nutrition. Dr Dangour illustrated the variety of food cultures across the world with a series of slides, talked about the effects of malnutrition on children, and explained how climate change will have an impact on global nutrition.

Although the sessions were packed with serious information, they were also peppered with entertaining anecdotes – from meeting David Cameron and Bill Gates, living in the Amazon, eating crocodile, avoiding snakes… and a riveting account of how he removed a parasitic flea that was growing in his foot!

Dr Dangour reported back, “I really enjoyed it and found the interactions with the students really invigorating. It was great fun to have the opportunity to meet all the students at Route 39 and I hope that I encouraged them actively to engage with STEM subjects”.