In October of 2014, I applied for the Society of Toxicology (SOT) International ToxScholar Outreach Grant, and despite the very short notice was approved to promote the discipline of toxicology on a trip to Nepal. Specifically, the grant was used toward two presentations at the National Symposium on Toxicology in Nepal, organized by the Department of Chemistry at Tribuhvan University and the National Society of Toxicology, Nepal (Nastox Nepal). Tribuhvan University is the central university in Nepal and has 148,141 students enrolled in its 60 constituent campuses across the country. My host in the Department of Chemistry was Professor Deepak Dhakal, who was selected as the SOT Global Senior Scholar this year. Pictured at the left are the faculty and organizers at the National Symposium of Toxicology and Dr. Dhakal is the first individual on the left.
During the Nastox Symposium, which was held on November 2, 2014, I presented on two topics. The first was a general description of the science of toxicology, including information related to graduate study and careers in the United States. The second presentation related to the evaluation of asbestos toxicity, including the various fiber characteristics that can impact potency and toxicity. Other presenters from the university faculty, government, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) also provided their perspectives on current issues related to regulatory toxicology and environmental health in Nepal.
My first contact with my host and the symposium organizers was at a welcome breakfast session, and after the symposium participants attended a dinner at a nearby café. In a very gracious gesture, the organizers presented me with traditional Nepalese gifts, including ceremonial scarves (khata). I am pictured at the right wearing a khata. Subsequent to the symposium I had further discussions with participants regarding potential collaboration with an NGO (Center for Public Health and Environment Development, CEPHED) in the country with interests in mercury and lead toxicity issues.
The visit underlined several issues related to science instruction in Nepal, particularly as to facilities and educational access for Nepalese students. This is not surprising as Nepal is considered to be one of the poorest countries in Asia. For example, course instruction is generally in English, as there are no university-level science books written in Nepalese. While many Nepalese people speak English, the lack of Nepalese language science texts is a barrier to learning for the general population. In addition, laboratory facilities often suffer from lack of funding. Advanced instruments are few and far between. Even with this relative lack of resources, I found the people of Nepal to be extremely welcoming and generous hosts. The organizers, faculty, and students at the Nastox Symposium also were very excited by the topic of toxicology and interested in applying the science to the environmental and public health issues facing their country.
I am deeply appreciative to both SOT and my employer, Gradient, for their support of this opportunity. For those who might be considering applying for a ToxScholar grant next year, I cannot overstate what a wonderful experience this was. In addition to the benefits of promoting the science of toxicology in underserved areas of the world, the interaction with scientists who are outside our general circles is an experience I will not soon forget. Pictured at the left, the speakers at the symposium are being introduced and Dr. Dhakal is pictured at the far left and I am seated next to him.
I would encourage those who are interested in the program to contact the SOT Staff Liaison Betty Eidemiller as early as possible with any questions so that their proposal has the best chance of succeeding. Applications for the 2015–2016 International ToxScholar Outreach Grants are due June 3, 2015.
Given the recent catastrophic earthquake in Nepal, please consider giving to one of the relief organizations currently working in the country. InterAction provides more information. Professor Dhakal has been in touch with me and other SOT contacts, and although he and his family are safe, he has stated the relief efforts are having significant difficulties.