Eva Liliane Ujeneza
Lecturer of mathematics at the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA)
And - Researcher at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (Ndifon's Lab)
Yes you can. You can be a scientist, you can be an engineer or a Mathematician. You can be anything you dreamt of and beyond.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
I am an infectious diseases modellers. I apply statistical and mathematical models to data to answer questions of public health interest. For instance, I am currently part of the COVID-19 Rwandan Task Force. My role within the team is to develop mathematical models for COVID-19 transmission and produce predictions that can inform policy-makers. Prior to the pandemic, my research focus was on developing a model that could mimic the long-term behaviour of the immune system of HIV-treated patients.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?
I loved mathematics from a tender age. Though I majored in Mathematics and Physics in high school, and later on in Applied Mathematic in undergraduate, I still had no idea what I will/could do once I graduate. Then I won a full scholarship to attend a postgraduate program in Mathematical Science, and oh boy, ..., then suddenly I was exposed to the large variety of fields I could join! Though I started with a MSc in Environmental and Geographical Sciences, where I studied the patterns of Southern African droughts, I knew that I had always wanted to make a concrete contribution to people's lives, thus I chose to pursue a PhD in Mathematics with application in epidemiology.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"
My PhD journey taught (and is still teaching me) that mistakes and rejections are part of the journey (perseverance); that the worse failure is to fail to even try (fear); seeking help when you need it is a sign of strength, not a weakness; and that believing in your own abilities and working consistently is more important than being smart.
WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?
I love teaching maths because I want to change the status quo of absent-minded genius mathematics lecturer and give to my student more than just the theory. I want them to understand where they maybe use if ever, the concepts I teach them. I want them to understand their implication in real-life and give them that extra motivation to "want" to study maths. I don't want them all to be genius and be able to understand it all without sweat. But I want them to know that with dedication and hard work, maths is actually accessible to all...
BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?
To all young women reading this today, I want to say this: Yes you can. You can be a scientist, you can be an engineer or a Mathematician. You can be anything you dreamt of and beyond. Believe in yourself, develop your potential, and find a good mentor. A good mentor can lift you up, help you make tough choices and even speak cold truth to you when you need to be called out.
INSPO / FUN FACT
“Don't let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It's your place in the world; it's your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live.” - Mae Jemison