Empowering young scientists
My name is Sofiat Olaosebikan and I am from Nigeria. I am currently a third year PhD candidate in Computing Science, working on how we can use mathematical algorithms to find solutions to matching problems.
My ambition was born out of a strong desire to give back to the community by empowering young scientists in Africa with computer programming skills, which, unfortunately, they are currently lacking and free access is not widely available.
I completed my undergraduate studies in Pure Mathematics from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. During this time, I was always drawn to the applied aspect of Mathematics – specifically, how scientific computing can be used as a tool to solve real-world problems. However, I had no mentor that could point me in the right direction, and none of my lecturers at the time had the expertise to harness this passion of mine. My luck turned around in 2014 when I got selected for a fully funded masters programme at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS). It was during my time at AIMS that I got exposed to computer programming. I saw scientific research from a completely new perspective. I felt empowered!
Unfortunately, initiatives like AIMS are very few and highly competitive, and this leaves many young scientists that are even smarter than I am lagging behind. What this translates to is that they will not be equipped to fully explore their creativity, and they will not be able to drive innovative research. It was particularly saddening when a group of lecturers at my alma mater in Nigeria offered to pay me money in exchange for me to teach them how to code. All of these are what led to my ambition – PWSAfrica – an initiative focused on empowering young scientists in Africa with computer programming skills, in a context that will help them bridge the gap between their pre-existing theoretical knowledge and real-world scientific problems. Consequently, they can grow to become innovative thinkers who will push Africa forward on the frontiers of science and technology. Interestingly, I am a good example of one such African scientist who was empowered!
At present, the School of Computing Science supports PWSAfrica as part of its international outreach. Over July and August 2018, I led a team of computer scientists (which includes Benjamin Bumpus, Fatma Elsafoury, Fionnuala Johnson, and Tom Wallis) from the University of Glasgow to the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, to run PWSAfrica’s inaugural event. The two-week long workshop was certainly successful. We trained over 100 undergraduate and postgraduate students from various STEM departments on the basics of Python programming. In all, we considered PWSAfrica 2018 to be a roaring success; for the students' experience, and their voracious appetite for learning; for the team’s incredible journey, and the knowledge we impacted.
We are very proud of what we’ve achieved, and we’re excited about making even more impact! For 2019, we will be running our second workshop at the University of Rwanda, Kigali. You can stay up-to-date with our activities on Twitter @PWSAfrica.