Professor Richard Kiprono Mibey
Professor Richard Kiprono Mibey is a Kenyan academic, research scientist and university administrator. Mibey served as the Vice-Chancellor of Moi University, the second university to be established in Kenya between 2006 and 2016. He is a Professor of Mycology with over 35 years teaching and scholarly experience. He has extensive knowledge and experience in the higher education system having grown from a graduate assistant, research assistant, lecturer, senior lecturer, associate professor, professor, department chairman, dean, campus principal as well as deputy vice-chancellor.
Among other contributions to science, he has discovered more than 120 species of fungi, made major input to the discovery of environmentally friendly fungi for bio-control of the obnoxious water hyacinth weed in Lake Victoria has contributed to the preservation of rare and highly specialized micro-fungi of Kenyan plants.
He is also a world authority on Fungal Taxonomy and Biodiversity Conservation. He has received a number of fellowships: DAAD Senior research Fellow; Darwin Fellow in April 1994 – April 1995, UNESCO Fellowship
He is a member of the British Mycological Society, Committee on biodiversity and Conservation, International Association for Plant Taxonomy and World Innovation Foundation.
He has published over 50 publications and conference papers.
TCC Africa: Tell me about your research career
I am fortunate as my research career has been very successful from the start when I was funded by the Deans Committee at the University of Nairobi in 1997.
TCC Africa: What are the highs and lows of your academic and research history?
I would say one of the best highs was when I got an opportunity to go to Germany as a senior research fellow through an offer by the German Education Exchange Service D.A.A.D. This was after publishing research work I had going on at Shimba hills reserve where I had collected some samples based on my study interest.
When In Germany I was given samples collected in the 14th and 15th century that had been in the research lab to identify based on what I had been previously working on in Africa. While working on this collection, I sought advice from a professor from the University of Zurich and we talked about the similarities and differences of the collections I was observing in Kenya and Germany. He concluded that what I had, had to be new and to be sure gave me three books. Two of these were from published London researchers and the other his own.
This was a highlight in my research career as I came to the realization that even I could contribute something new to my area of research. Through this process I was able to identify new species in fungi.
Shortly after my fellowship visit in Germany, between 1994-1995, I got a highly sought after Darwin fellowship offered by the UK’s Ministry of Environment in honor of Charles Darwin.
The fellowship had five (5) participants, each from South America, Vietnam, Eastern Europe, India and Africa where I happened to be selected.
We were given the opportunity to do some research in our own areas of interest and the best researcher given was 48,000 British Pounds which I won. When I got back to Nairobi, I started a program that enabled us to buy microscopes and even a vehicle for the Department of Zoology to use for research purposes.
I consider this very successful but what made me happier was that while I was in London I was able to correct scientific mistakes that had been made for about 80 years. I began to rename organisms that were wrongly named and published in the dictionary of fungi. I currently have 5 terminologies in the Dictionary of the Fungi credited to my name which is a notable feature.
For this and more achievements, I'm happy for the opportunity given to me by the University to venture into this research.
When I joined the University of Nairobi - School of biological sciences- the only person teaching my subject was a British lecturer who would come for one semester from London and leave. This meant that the University could not offer post - graduate studies in that field. I decided to start MSc and PhD programs in my areas of studies and got my networks from the UK to assist me in developing these programs then jointly supervise students who could now pursue their studies locally as opposed to going abroad to further their studies.
Within a few years we were able to train researchers employed by Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and also produce assistant lecturers that dispersed to other universities in Kenya who at the time did not have specialist.
From there our graduates went into various research institutions and one even started the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS).
Our aim to provide an alternative to studying abroad was fulfilled through our program that trained not only local but students from other African countries.
TCC- Africa: What about the lows
Once as I was concluding my research work in the laboratory at Chiromo campus, the union organized a strike and forced everyone to vacate the premises I included. This strike delayed aspects of my funded research, which, led to a major setback to the funders and I.
The other low point I experienced as a Vice Chancellor was being ambushed by the university committee at a meeting that I had set up to discuss the sustainability of existing and alternative sources of income generating units. Our parallel degree programs was generating as much as 51% of total income in comparison to the 49% budget allocation we received from the government.
I wished to discuss the way forward incase these venues we depended on for income generation proved insufficient after a time.
Unfortunately, I did not get to start the discussions on this as the meeting was hijacked by the Deans pushing their grievances forward and refusing to proceed unless their demands were heard.
TCC Africa: Lessons learnt from the challenges you have faced
I have learnt to be patient and give people a chance. If there is something they are going through I have to be patient and find ways of assisting them reach where they were planning to go.
I tell my students "Don't sleep because the sun has gone down, sleep because you have accomplished some of the objectives of the day if not all."
TCC AFRICA: Share with us your experience as Vice Chancellor of Moi University. The good and bad and what you learnt from it.
This was the highest position I held in my career which I considered an opportunity to help others achieve their career goals from the administrative staff to the lecturers. Science has taught me to be patient in managing my expectations. Nothing comes when you expect it and at the time you expect it, one has to put in the work and time and wait for the results. As a Vice Chancellor at Moi University, I was able to give people a chance to develop their careers.
We started with a student population of 9000 and by the time I was leaving we had over 55,000 in the academic community. We opened several campuses, which, later expanded into 8 universities.
I was also able to revive Rivertex, a textile factory that had collapsed and lay dormant for ten years. I did this because I realized there was an opportunity to have Rivertex revived as a research, training and income generating industry. Previously, textile engineering students had to go to neighboring countries for industrial attachment while our own was idle.
I am happy to see through that effort Rivertex is one the leading textile factories in the continent.
One of the other things that I have been happy to achieve was the introduction of the Aerospace and Aviation Degree Program in collaboration with Oklahoma State University. They assisted me in bringing books required for the pilot training programme and also Identify places we could buy aircraft at affordable prices and with this we established the school of aviation.
This is something I'm really proud of even though the intake was not as expected. I hope in the future people will realize its importance as the only aviation program in Africa to offer a flying license and a degree. Most private institutions offer the flying license alone while we offer the B.Sc. degree.
TCC Africa: What does the future hold and what opportunities arise from the trends in your research lifecycle?
The future is bright where research activities are concerned as I’m now concentrating on patenting and commercializing what I do.
I would also like to encourage students who are pursuing their undergraduate and post graduate studies to go beyond just doing research. They should also patent and commercialize their work.
Lastly, this is a time to be more innovative due to the challenges that we have globally. I think it’s about time we shift from publishing to innovation and commercialization.
By TCC Africa and University of Nairobi Team