Simon Adebola writes about his experience of a Masters in Space degree
My interest in International Space University (ISU) was sparked by a discussion with Idowu Ogunade (MSS 07). I needed postgraduate training in the area of geo-information and healthcare and she told me that ISU would be a good choice. It took some convincing but she eventually got me to apply. Her words were clear, “ISU will give you what you want out of it”. I knew I had found a Masters programme that would stretch me and still prove that the more willing I was to be stretched the greater the barriers we could break together. I had a medical background, having lived and practiced as a doctor in Nigeria. I had also begun research in ICT and health but later decided to focus on geoinformatics because of its unique but largely unexplored potential.
I am grateful for ISU’s financial support for students from developing countries, without which I would not have taken up the programme at Strasbourg. I had so much to learn on arrival but the staff and my classmates were very supportive. Settling into the city was a bit challenging for a number of reasons and even though I spoke some French, I had a lot more to learn in order to find my way around. My classmates were a special bunch. We were about 45 students representing 25 different nationalities. My classmates also taught me that to exist on the planet you had to be on Facebook, and so I joined. It was a fun mix of cultures, diverse academic and professional backgrounds, and a palpable excitement about our being in ISU. Those days, it was usual to get emails from former contacts, almost on a daily basis, asking if one had lost his mind by taking up space studies. I eventually had to start a blog (http://iinitiative.wordpress.com/) and Facebook group (i initiative) to help raise awareness on the needs and benefits of African involvement in space matters.
There was so much to learn at ISU but the reason why we had to deal with that much was made clear to me during a workshop in which Prof Tolyarenko while explaining orbital dynamics to me chipped in this statement, “it is possible for people to sit in the same room, speak the same language (English) but still not understand each other”. I felt at home at ISU, even though I was somewhat new to the space sector, the Masters had a very good life science component taught by experts in the field- a very inspiring corps. The ISU Masters program was one that struck me as being very practical, quite broad, and yet covered much of what one needed to think innovatively and bring seemingly abstract concepts to reality. Much effort must have gone into developing such a “gold standard”. In effect one could have a novel creative idea, cost it using parametric methods, get other smart brains on board, distil it into a concrete business plan, sell it to willing venture capitalists, deploy and manage the program, bank the profits, and follow an exit strategy. It was that simple!
ISU also taught me that you could take on any challenge, even if you had only heard about it for the first time that morning, and strive to be an expert by nightfall.
And there were many nights at ISU where you had to deal with totally new subject matter. This process not only hardened you but also left you with enough redundancy to cope with the harsh environment of the professional world. ISU graduates meet the space industry’s needs better than any other. Thankfully, I got better with the courses as we progressed and the team activities taught me invaluable lessons. Prof. Peeters was my academic supervisor and his thoroughness rubbed off on me. We worked on “Emergency medicine for suborbital flights” and also on space applications for public health and disaster management. I have had the opportunity of publishing some of this work and presenting them at conferences, and I still work in these areas with the overarching theme of strengthening healthcare systems to deal with the challenges of global health security. I believe that technologies are an essential part of these efforts and space technologies certainly do have a lot to offer. My interdisciplinary training in ISU thus equipped me better than anywhere else to handle this interface between health, technology, business, and policy.
My internship was at the UNITAR Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT) located on the CERN site in Geneva, Switzerland. I gained a lot of hands-on experience and was later employed as a consultant to execute one of the projects I took up while there. This was a European Space Agency (GIS) sponsored project on GIS support for HIV/AIDS in Africa. Following that I consulted for the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) on eHealth for developing countries. Subsequently I moved on to the World Health Organisation where I worked for short periods with the International Health Regulations (IHR) Coordination, Climate Change and Health, and Influenza A H1N1 Response units. All these required dealing with global health issues by defining requirements and then developing operational ways of applying different technologies. It is clear that there is a need for people who have skills in integrating and applying technologies operationally in public health. This need is particularly acute in developing countries and communities adapting to the negative effects of globalization, climate change, rapid urbanization, and epidemics.
In seeking to promote an agenda for change in healthcare globally, an indispensable building block for evidence-based and informed decision and policy making are Health Information Systems (HIS). I currently work with the Health Metrics Network (HMN) in the WHO to develop tools and support countries in strengthening their HIS. The HIS can then drive qualitative research; enable the accurate combination of health and environmental data to yield geostatistical models for disease prediction and public health planning; support the integration of ICTs and mobile technologies into health systems in an operational way (eHealth and mHealth); and promote the resilience of health systems against disasters, emergencies and environmental hazards. None of these tasks is easy but I have learned enough from ISU to know that no matter how varied the professional space and diverse the academic cultures, these differences can be overcome and our common goals can then be achieved.