A day in the life of a wood scientist

 Marion Waithera Wambua, 25, is a wood scientist and a Quality Assurance officer at Marlow Link Timber Products Limited, Nakuru County.

Photo credit: pool

What you need to know:

  • Wood science is both a scientific and technical course that involves a lot of technical mapping and application of mathematics.


  • There is also mechanical engineering application with respect to wood preservation, biomass energy, a bit of paper production science, the basics of silvi-culture, not to mention forest management.


  • You also study wood workshop basics, and a bit of saw milling and furniture production, something that made our colleagues jokingly refer to us as “professional carpenters”. 

Marion Waithera Wambua, 25, is a wood scientist and quality assurance officer at Marlow Link Timber Products Limited, Nakuru. She graduated with a BSc in Wood Science from the University of Eldoret in 2018. When she started her course, she knew nothing about this career that she has now come to love and appreciate.

How and why did you choose wood science as a course?
It is interesting how I ended up in this career. My aim was to study nursing, but then I received an admission letter indicating that I had been selected to study this course. I had no idea what it entailed, same to many of my classmates. We learned about the details much later, through our lecturers.

At first, I agreed to take the course because I was intrigued by the mystery surrounding it. I was curious to learn what it was all about. I developed genuine interest when I went to the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI- Karura Forest) for my industrial attachment, where I met more mentors. Exposure to the research aspect of the course sparked new passion in me.

What does the course entail?
Wood science is both a scientific and technical course that involves a lot of technical mapping and application of mathematics. There is also mechanical engineering application with respect to wood preservation, biomass energy, a bit of paper production science, the basics of silvi-culture, not to mention forest management. You also study wood workshop basics, and a bit of saw milling and furniture production, something that made our colleagues jokingly refer to us as “professional carpenters”. 

 Marion Waithera Wambua, 25, is a wood scientist and a Quality Assurance officer at Marlow Link Timber Products Limited, Nakuru County.

Photo credit: pool

Which subjects do you need to excel in to study wood science? 
Mathematics, chemistry and physics are critical subjects. Since I have always performed well in mathematics, it was easy for me to appreciate the course. That said, wood science is not all about being book smart. It is a very practical course – from planting tree seedlings to operating a lathe machine or a circular saw in the wood workshop. Girls, be prepared to get your hands dirty! For us, long nails are certainly a luxury.

How do wood scientists contribute to the economy?
They support forest conservation through efficient processing of forest products, which minimises wastage in industrial manufacturing and construction processes. Efficient utilisation of any natural resource is vital for the protection of the ecosystem.

Which industries can a wood scientist work in?
The main ones are the wood preservation sector, bio-energy, furniture industry and research.

What does your quality assurance job entail?
My employer, Marlow link Timber Products (MLTP), is involved in the manufacturing and distribution of Solignum CCA C60, a wood preservative. My job is to ensure that the preservative meets set specifications before distributing it to the market. I carry out tests to ensure that our product conforms to the set standards.

Can a wood scientist be self-employed?
One can open their own workshop depending on their area of specialisation, be it furniture production, bioenergy or timber preservation. To be a consultant, like in many other fields, you need to present solutions to issues that touch people’s lives and they will look for you when they have challenges in the course of their work or lives.

What challenges do you face in your career?
At times, a wood scientist gets confused with a forester as the two work closely. When things go wrong in forestry, we are often held accountable as we are at the products end. Not many people understand our job.

As Kenyans, where do we get it wrong in the management of our forest cover?
The management of our forest resources needs to be improved. For example, what is the use of spending so much money planting trees only to let them age until they die and rot? Trees are of economic value and we should make good use of them. This calls for a disciplined wood management cycle among all stakeholders. If controlled logging and wood processing procedures are followed, we can minimise wastage.

Efficient wood management would also result in a richer environment, more affordable housing, more jobs in manufacturing, opportunities in bioenergy and a sustainable furniture production sector. Most of our water catchment areas are in forests, therefore, efficient wood management would result in availability of adequate water for domestic and agricultural uses to the population, which in turn would have a positive effect on our economy.

How can Kenya become a major wood exporter?
Planting more trees would be the starting point so that we meet and exceed our target forest cover. You cannot export what you do not have enough of. We should focus on increasing the tree cover in less populated regions such as arid and semi-arid areas (ASALS). Also, we should put extra effort to ensure that wood processing and preservation is efficient, to reduce wastage and increase the longevity of our wood products.

What are your career dreams?
I’d like to be a research consultant and publish my findings publicly.

Your advice to those eyeing a career in this field?  
Many young people think science courses only lead to careers in engineering and health sciences. However, there are a lot of untapped fields in this world. You just need to expand your mind. Most of our problems result from mismanagement of natural resources, global warming and poor lifestyle choices. For this, young people are better off immersing themselves in the study of natural sciences. If more young minds would look into solving problems related to the environment and our living conditions, we could be among the major exporters of knowledge in modern science.

What are your hobbies?
I enjoy biking and taking nature walks.

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