The Ted Talk Questionnaire: This Egyptian Mycologist is Trying to Stop Devastating Fungal Infections

This August, Arusha, Tanzania will be the setting of TEDGlobal 2017 Conference where 21 innovators will come to spread worthy ideas. 10 are from Africa. As part of our focus on African Futures, this month we wrote to this year’s African Fellows to ask them questions about themselves and their work. TED recently announced that applications to be a 2018 TED Fellow are now open.

Find out more information about the program and how to apply, here.

Our seventh interview is with French-Egyptian mycologist, Mennat El Ghalid. She talks to us about the process of drafting her Ted Talk and the nonprofit organization she co-founded which promotes science education.

Was it difficult coming up with the concept for your talk/project?

Yes, it was quite a challenge. I first centered my talk on the importance of science education since I have recently co-founded ConScience, a nonprofit organization aiming to promote science education. However, after discussion with the TED Fellows team, we agreed that it is more impactful to present my research on fungi, and more particularly on fungal infections. The second difficulty was to cover both my former and recent research projects in four minutes, which is a very short time, especially since I have recently switched to a completely different topic. I previously studied phytopathogenic fungi for almost six years and I am currently working with human fungal pathogen. I am excited to present the outcome!

At what point did you finally say: “yes—i feel good about what i am about to present?”
It was a long process of writing and re-writing, and I first felt satisfied when I could gather together all the ideas that I wanted to share in four minutes. Most importantly, I was glad to be able to describe my scientific work with simple but accurate words to keep the essence of the story. It was a good learning experience that I will certainly use for science education.

What would you want it to be?

I want my talk to be informative. I want to highlight the harmful impact of some fungal diseases on our environment and health and to provide examples of the research focuses and approaches that we use to find novel diagnostic, preventive and therapeutic strategies to combat those devastating infections.

What made you passionate about your subject?

Over the years, many people have asked me the same question. It is really difficult for me to tell you why I particularly like mycology among the others biology disciplines I have studied. I chose this branch as a specialization during my Masters degree among immunology, virology or bacteriology because of the resources and educational support provided by my university. However, what I really enjoy is research—the process of identifying a problem and deploying all the necessary resources to solve it.

To the next generation of intellectuals who are reading about you and inspired by you right now—what would you say?

I want to tell them six words: purpose, research, hypothesis, experiment, analysis and conclusion. These are the steps of the scientific method: State your problem, search about your topic, predict the outcome of the problem, develop a procedure to test your hypothesis, record the results of your experiment and finally compare the hypothesis to the experiment’s conclusion. I’ve learned that it is a very efficient and fruitful method to tackle and solve problems, even ones in daily life.

Personally, what does it mean to you to be selected as a TED Fellow?

It is very gratifying to find out that such an organization – which presents speeches from many world-renowned experts – is interested in my profile and work and chose me to be part of their network. Being a TED Fellow definitely gives one more visibility and allows me to connect with amazing people worldwide with extremely different backgrounds and expertise who are willing to help directly or through collaborations and partnerships.

Where do you hope to go to from here?

Apart from my research project, my next move will be to promote ConScience, which aims to foster science education, but also, to develop people’s self-awareness and world awareness through effective, exciting and transparent learning promoting curiosity and critical thinking.

Check out the rest of our interviews with this year’s TED Fellows here.

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