An Interview with Benjamin Akera

I was interviewed by, A non profit teaching skills in scientific writing

Assumed Audience: You’re curious about my early experience in scientific writing

originally published at

Our latest blog post features Benjamin Akera from Uganda. Ben is currently a researcher in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Humanity group at the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA) in Canada. He is broadly interested in the use of AI for social good. We talked to Ben about his interest in Scientific Writing and research.

Ben, what do you like most about scientific writing?

Scientific writing gives me a way to document and communicate my ideas, activities and findings with the broader scientific community. It also helps me gain a better understanding of a scientific domain through reading related work while performing literature reviews.

That’s interesting. Is there anything you dislike about scientific writing?

I don’t have a least favorite aspect of scientific writing. However, the anxiety after submitting a paper to a journal or conference is sometimes intense.

That’s the academic process  —  sometimes your papers are accepted and sometimes they are rejected. What was the most recent paper that you published?

Recently, our work at the AI lab of Makerere University got accepted into the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition Conference (CVPR). It describes a method using Deep Learning to automate the ways of detecting and scoring cassava root necrosis caused by the cassava brown streak virus. In this work, we use semantic segmentation - a computer vision algorithm that uses deep convolutional neural networks to identify patterns of lesions infected with the brown streak disease on a cassava root. We then use this model to automate the process by which root necrosis is scored in the field. With these techniques, crop breeders are able to quickly collect consistent data to breed cassava varieties more resistant to the cassava brown streak disease.

What was your experience during the review process? Were the comments easy to understand?

My overall experience during the review process was positive. Yes, the comments and reviews were easy to understand.

How many rounds of revision did you go through?

We had to revise the paper twice.

Where do you find help while writing?

I usually seek help from colleagues and mentors. However, most times, literature reviews help me better understand the writing style used in a particular scientific domain and similar patterns among authors in the same field doing related work. For fundamental writing techniques, I have found the book, The Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr[[The Elements of Style is an American English writing style guide in numerous editions. The original was composed by William Strunk Jr. in 1918, and published by Harcourt in 1920. It was names by Time in 2011 as one of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923.::rmn]]. particularly useful. It has always given me a better grasp of proper writing skills. It clearly spells out the rules of English grammar and provides examples to explain each guideline.

What is the one advice you would give to someone working on a paper for the first time?

I would advise them to take it slow and realize that scientific writing is just another way to communicate your findings and ideas to the world and to future generations. So all they have to do is start. To quote Maya Angelou: There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Thank you for sharing your experience with Rethé. I look forward to reading your papers.