Building Scientists For Bangladesh

Microbiologist Senjuti Saha and her team are empowering the next generation of scientists and community leaders in Bangladesh.

Asian Scientist Magazine (Dec. 06, 2023) —In envisioning a Bangladesh where fewer child deaths and disabilities are caused by preventable diseases, the Child Health Research Foundation (CHRF) believes in empowering young individuals to pursue their calling in science and rise as local heroes in their communities.

Funding challenges have held back countries in the Global South to both train and retain skilled researchers who can address regional needs. In a similar discouraging trend in Bangladesh, where disease burden runs high, the country has been experiencing a substantial decline in STEM enrollment, particularly among female students.

CHRF launched Building Scientists for Bangladesh (BSB) in 2022 to turn things around. Asian Scientist Magazine spoke to Dr. Senjuti Saha, Director of CHRF and her team members about the program and its core mission to expand access and exposure to STEM education and training across the nation.

In 2020, after leading a team of scientists to successfully sequence the complete SARS-CoV-2 genome at CHRF’s genomic sequencing facility in Dhaka, Saha found her inbox flooded with messages. Many students were eager to learn about pursuing a career in microbiology, while parents sought guidance on helping their daughters become a scientist like her.

As a daughter to microbiologist parents, Saha could recall countless afternoons spent in their laboratory after school, tinkering with microscopes and trying out her own experiments. She felt compelled to address the lack of widespread exposure to STEM education and careers among Bangladeshis.

“If my parents had opened the doors to their labs for me when I was a child, why wouldn’t I extend the same invitation to CHRF labs for the next generation of scientists?” said Saha.

Stream 1: Bringing Science to People

The first stream of the BSB program aims to introduce science to students in remote and under-resourced communities around the country by arranging science camps and interactive sessions with scientists. Saha believes that equitable access to the practice and benefits of science could allow more youth to see themselves as scientists helping their communities.

Performing easy-to-do experiments designed to answer questions like ‘What causes diseases?’ and ‘Why do I look like my parents?’ helps students see science as more relatable to their daily lives, not only bound by the spines of their textbooks. Importantly, the program helps young girls in rural communities. “We encourage girls to ask questions, generate evidence, and to use that to make their own decisions—much like how a scientist would,” shared Saha.

Stream 2: Bringing People to Science

CHRF provides their state-of-the-art research facility in Dhaka as a space for high school students who are still exploring their future career paths, to delve into the world of science. Cohorts in BSB’s stream 2 programs can get involved after school and summer vacation science camps or sign up for a variety of fun and hands-on laboratory training programs. For example in a game called ‘Infectious Disease Detectives’ participants receive daily clues to solve the ‘the mystery of a sick child’ using microbiology and biochemistry laboratory techniques.

Stream 3: Developing Skills for University Students

In Bangladesh, while students enrolled in STEM degrees are provided with theoretical knowledge on important scientific techniques, not all universities have the resources to provide hands-on training. The third stream of BSB cohorts can choose to receive intensive training on laboratory techniques and data analysis specialized in genomics, microbiology, or biochemistry.

Leveraging their clinical research, diagnostic, and genomics expertise, CHRF is committed to building scientific capacity within Bangladesh and promoting equitable global research landscapes. CHRF collaborates with both public and private universities to not only deliver practical training but also to establish a genomic research infrastructure in the country.

Catalyzing Change

Today, BSB receives an overwhelming volume of applicants for their programs. Students share that they are grateful for the opportunity to look into the lives of scientists. They especially appreciate the BSB trainers for being patient and supportive in creating an environment where students feel encouraged to ask questions.

“Many students arrive here feeling perplexed, unsure of how to invest their time and efforts in skill development. By the time they complete their training, they not only leave with a clearer vision but also emerge as better scientific thinkers and communicators,” said Adittya Arefin, Senior Training Officer at CHRF.

Saha highlighted that BSB is not about transforming every trainee into a scientist. Instead, the aim is to empower those who require the support to see themselves becoming scientists.

“A country does not need as many scientists as medical doctors. We just need a few passionate and dedicated individuals who will bring about great discoveries and societal change through their research,” said Saha.

Nazifa Tabassum, BSB group leader and microbiologist at CHRF, shared the institute strongly advocates for collaboration among individuals with diverse areas of STEM expertise.

“BSB serves to make science more visible, so people can appreciate the contributions of scientists. This is crucial, as these individuals may become our future policymakers,” added Tabassum.

Saha shared her future plans for BSB. She is keen to build multidisciplinary programs to encourage collaborative scientific cultures. Her team is working on establishing a larger research institute to accommodate the growing number of applicants they receive. Furthermore, BSB hopes to build entrepreneurs among scientists, supporting sustainable research and facilitating the growth of innovative startups.

“We are just getting started.” Saha said enthusiastically.

Source: Child Health Research Foundation; Image: Child Health Research Foundation


Nishat is a science journalist. She graduated with an MSc in Biomedical Science from Monash University where she worked with a cellular model of Parkinson’s Disease. Nishat loves lending her voice to bring science closer to society.

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