Dante R. Santiago, associate professor at Jimma University in Ethiopia, serves as a mentor to his graduate and postgraduate students who are on to some ground-breaking and potentially life-saving discoveries

By: Joy Rojas |

Global Pinoy had the chance to interview through e-mail Dante R. Santiago, a Filipino scientist in Ethiopia.

He studied at the University of the Philippines, is married and has two daughters.

Excerpts from the interview:

Global Pinoy (GP): Was being a scientist a dream since childhood? Did a particular event happen that made you want to be a scientist? 

I became a scientist due to circumstance. I wanted to be a medical doctor in order to follow the footsteps of my older cousins (a doctor, a dietitian and a nurse). Also my aunt on my father’s side planned to put up a hospital so I thought that I could take part in it.

However, when I entered University of the Philippines in Diliman (premed courses were offered there at that time, 1970s), I realized that our finances could not support a medical curriculum which would last for nine years, at least.

So I shifted to BS Hygiene (now BS Public Health), the closest curriculum to medical laboratory technology thinking that if I pass the medical technology board and become a licensed practitioner I could still fit into my aunt’s planned hospital.

Time passed and plans changed. My older cousins all immigrated to the US and the planned hospital evaporated. Nevertheless, I pursued my hygiene course since it was too late to change it. In my junior year, I was fascinated with microbiology, the world of bacteria, molds and viruses (not the computer variety).

Microbiology really became my passion so much so that I decided to specialize in this field of study. So I took up MS in Microbioloy at UP Los Baños. At Los Baños, I also encountered the world of insects and since insects do get infected by microbes, I pursued my doctorate in Entomology (study of insects), specialized in Insect Pathology, the field representing the marriage between microbiology and entomology. Although I am an insect specialist now, I did not forsake my first passion—microbiology.

GP: How would you describe yourself as a scientist? Do you get lost in your work? What are some funny or not-so-funny incidences in your life with regard to your work? 

I am a focused person. When I decide to pursue an interest, my attention is almost fully directed to that endeavor. My wife complained about it because of my tendency to forget many responsibilities.

When we were building our house at Bay (next town to Los Baños), Laguna, my attention was divided between my work and checking on the progress of the house construction. Because of this I forgot to pick up my daughter Guia from nursery school one morning.

Fortunately, my laboratory attendant passed by the school, saw Guia and brought her to our house. When I came home that day, my wife asked me where my daughter was. I was horrified I forgot all about my daughter because my attention was on something less important than her.

GP: What is a typical day for you?

Here in Jimma, Ethiopia, I go to the university campus every day except Saturday and Sunday. The campus is just a 10-minute walk from my house. When I have class, I lecture in the morning and hold laboratory sessions in the afternoon. In most days, I spend my morning there doing

e-mails, reading online news (Inquirer, BBC, CNN and Al-Jazeera) and advising students.

In the afternoon, I just stay in my house, reading books. In the evening, I watch videos that I downloaded from the Internet or given by friends. I prefer videos with moral themes.

Continue reading on Philippine Daily Inquirer
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