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Ruth Nanjala, DPhil student in Molecular and Cellular Medicine funded by the Africa Oxford Initiative (AfOx) Kennedy Trust Prize Studentship, attended a reception at Buckingham Palace hosted by King Charles III and Queen Camilla to mark the 60th anniversary of Kenya’s independence. Ruth was invited in her capacity as student leader within the Oxford University Africa Society (AfriSoc).

Ruth Nanjala and Anne Makena stand together outside Buckingham Palace. Other members of the UK-Kenyan community are visible in the background.

On October 24th, some 400 members of the UK-Kenyan community were welcomed by King Charles and Queen Camilla at Buckingham Palace. The gathering marked the 60th anniversary of Kenyan independence, ahead of the King and Queen’s State Visit to Kenya.

Kennedy Institute DPhil student Ruth Nanjala was invited to the palace for her leadership role within the Oxford University Africa Society, AfriSoc. At the Palace, she met King Charles III and networked with members of the UK-Kenyan community across all sectors.

About her visit, Ruth said ‘I am honoured to have been part of the Kenyans invited to attend the reception at Buckingham Palace. I was deeply struck by the Kenyan individuals I encountered who are doing outstanding work both in the United Kingdom and in our homeland, Kenya. The opportunity to enter Buckingham Palace was a truly remarkable experience, particularly because my previous visits had been limited to the palace's perimeter. However, the pinnacle of my visit was the honour of meeting King Charles III.’

Ruth is the first recipient of the AfOx Kennedy Trust Prize Studentship, a scheme which every year supports an African student to study for a DPhil at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology. She studies variation within the Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) region of the genome – a major determinant of each person’s immune function and response to infection. ‘I am grateful for everyone that took a chance on me to be a trailblazer for the AfOx Kennedy trust scholarship’, said Ruth. ‘I am thankful for the incredible support I have received from my supervisors Dr. Yang Luo and Prof. John Todd, the Director of Graduate Studies Prof. Mark Coles, and the AfOx community led by Dr. Anne Makena and Prof. Kevin Marsh. In the last year, I have become more confident in my academic pursuit and now working towards making significant contribution in my field of study.’

Dr Anne Makena, Co-Director of AfOx, said: ‘I was delighted to see Ruth representing AfOx scholars and all African students in Oxford at the Buckingham Palace event. It is very inspiring to see the scholars shine academically and also take the opportunity to engage with matters concerning their countries and the continent during their time in Oxford. Ruth epitomises the commitment to Africa’s development that we see across the AfOx scholars program and we are honoured to be a part of their journey.’

Ruth leads the AfriSoc-AfOx mentorship scheme, which aims to increase the representation of African students pursuing postgraduate degrees at Oxford University by providing guidance and information on the application process and covering application fees. Applicants are matched to mentors in their relevant areas of interest, gaining more support. A recent webinar from the scheme can be found here.

‘I am often contacted by students interested in applying for postgraduate degrees at Ivy League Universities like the University of Oxford’ said Ruth. ‘Most of them have gone on to secure scholarships including the AfOx Kennedy Trust scholarship. My passion for mentorship and closing the gap in education inequality in science also led me to start a webinar series called ‘My Science Journey’ which provides a platform for scientists to connect and share their experiences while offering mentorship to upcoming scientists.’ Ruth’s webinar series can be found on X (formally known as Twitter) at @Journey2Science.

Dr Yang Luo, Group Lead in Data Science and Ruth’s DPhil Supervisor, said ‘Ruth has made remarkable progress in her first year as a DPhil student at Oxford. It’s wonderful to see her shine not only academically, but also in her engagement with the research community. She has been a strong advocate for equality and diversity in Human Genetic Research and has been actively promoting collaborative and training research frameworks for African researchers.’

Professor Mark Coles, Director of Graduate Studies, said ‘It has been fantastic to have Ruth as our inaugural Africa Oxford (AfOx) Kennedy Trust Prize Student focusing on genetics in human inflammatory disease. Her engagement with African researchers both in Oxford and across the African continent is impacting on the development of next generation of African scientists.’