Just Do not Underestimate the Underdog in your Institution



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Just Do not Underestimate the Underdog in your Institution”-Dr. Alex Coutinho


Director, Infectious Diseases Institute

Preserving institutional memory is a key element of a learning organization. One of the many ways of preserving this memory is sharing events where people regarded as rich in experience and knowledge can share with others.

Dr. Alex Coutinho; a renown researcher and practitioner in the area of infectious diseases including HIV, TB and malaria, is looked up to by many young professionals as a role model.

Using the book of David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell, Dr. Coutihno delivered an inspirational talk that left many in his audience feeling much better than when they entered the Davis Lecture Theatre, where the after-work talk was held.

In his talk, Dr. Coutinho advised his audience to, 1) always read widely (away from trashy newspapers), 2) broadening one’s thinking, and 3) being respectful.

He also advised against necessarily toeing the line, “people who disrupt conventional thinking are today’s innovators. Keep up with disruptive technology for it can completely change the way we live life”, he emphasized.




Dr. Coutinho demonstrating the concept on unconventional thinking using four half-full buckets of sand, stones, gravel and water. While majority thought adding up everything would come to two full buckets, at the end of the demonstration there was one full bucket

Dr. Coutinho demonstrating the concept on unconventional thinking using four half-full buckets of sand, stones, gravel and water. While majority thought adding up everything would come to two full buckets, at the end of the demonstration there was one full bucket

Going back to the biblical story of David and Goliath, he cautioned against underestimating one’s potential. “Don’t underestimate the underdog; they historically perform better”.

Speaking to a hugely attentive audience of students and staff, he said the book author Malcolm Gladwell, makes a controversial assertion that many children disadvantaged early in life, especially where parents die before the age of ten; they become high achievers. He said although this assertion rhymes well with his own life (never was able to meet his father), it has raised criticism all over the world. However, in some cases when a parent or parents die, it is a stimulant for hard work and success.

Dr. Coutinho was also quick to add that being disadvantaged in many times a state of mind. “We often believe we are disadvantaged because of one reason or another. If you truly believe you are disadvantaged, you may get truly uninspired and fail to be successful in life”, he counselled.



Some of his concluding remarks were on how people can make themselves better at what they do. “One of the biggest gifts is to be curious, which is an important characteristic for a researcher. If you are not curious you will not learn; a day wasted is when you have not learnt anything new. Don’t punish children for being curious. Sadly, in Uganda’s school curriculum, there is no room for curiosity”, he said.

Turning to himself, he said some of the personal characteristics that have contributed to being where he is now include stubbornness (not backing away from problems), being respectful (which has enabled him listen to all opinions from all nature of people), team building (rarely do individuals build their success single-handedly), being able to learn envisioning (allowing him to see years ahead, inspiring others (being a cheer-leader, screaming ‘well done’).




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