This week from Cameroon, Dr. Nourridine Siewe takes us on a reflective tour of his time at AIMS South Africa.
Q: Tell us about yourself and your time at AIMS
Nourridine: I was already what some might call “advanced” before AIMS. I was privileged to have completed a BSc and an MSc in mathematics from the University of Buea, Cameroon. I also authored a research article published in a major, and still celebrated today, scientific journal; the paper’s contents were deriving directly from my Master’s thesis at the University of Buea. Your question allows me to greet and thank all my professors at the University of Buea, especially Dr. Gideon Ngwa.
I think and always talk of my time at AIMS with emotion, humility and respect. I am closing my eyes right now and see myself sitting in the auditorium while the lecture on graph theory is going on, and I am already so exhausted that I’m looking forward to lunchtime.
I am setting my clock back to my time at AIMS and see my classmates, who became my friends and somewhat a part of my family.
I recall our graduation ceremony and the honour I was given to deliver the graduation speech on behalf of my class. I still remember these words I said on that day, words that resonate today and drive me everywhere I go, always to remember where I come from. An excerpt of my speech was: “In our African context, AIMS is the place of excellence where a young scientist finds everything they need: the mentorship, the exposure, the financial assistance, and the scientific ethics to become leaders that shape the world and train future leaders.”
My class at AIMS South Africa ’12 was the last cohort to be awarded a Postgraduate Diploma since AIMS had transitioned to awarding a Master’s degree. I recall that some of my classmates felt as if they had joined AIMS one year too early.
One of the best memories I keep of my time at AIMS goes as follows: some of us had admissions into local and foreign universities by the time of our graduation, and others needed some partial funding by AIMS to be able to land somewhere. As students, we had a meeting from which we had decided that the funds allocated by AIMS to pay for our plane tickets be used to sponsor our classmates who were in a limbo situation. Consequently, most of us ended up travelling to various cities in South Africa by bus so that we could all be “saved”. That was pure solidarity, and I can never forget it.
Q: Tell us about the impact AIMS has had on you.
Nourridine: AIMS has given me the exposure, the boost I needed to conquer the world. While at AIMS, I got admitted into the PhD program at Howard University, and since then, I have always strived to do ten times more than any standard effort. Any AIMS alum will surely confess that the AIMS course is like no other course in the world, and surviving such a course would skill anyone with supernatural powers that allow working at least 20 hours per day (I am not exaggerating). My computational skills tripled at AIMS. One other aspect I should mention here is that the fun I used to have before AIMS had double while at AIMS. Any of my classmates will understand and testify to these words [^_^]. Indeed, the mentoring path AIMS has provided me, and keeps providing me, is invaluable. Thank you, AIMS.
Q: Which of the SDGs is most important/relevant to you? How do you plan on addressing it in your work?
Nourridine: I find myself deeply invested and active in the “Good Health and Well-Being” for all goal. As an active researcher in mathematical biology, I have been privileged to work with world-leading researchers in the field of oncology (treatment of cancers), epidemiology, and immunology. In oncology, we work to improve the efficacy of existing drugs and therapies for cancers and propose new experimental treatment protocols. Besides working on cancer, emerging and re-emerging diseases have always been a burden to humankind. The current COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that we can never claim to be too prepared, as even the most advanced sanitation systems in the world have suffered. As a mathematician, I can and have developed and proposed strategies to curb transmission by managing human movements across countries’ borders and investigating the role of self-medication in the course of a pandemic.
I am also interested in the “Quality Education” for all goal; this is natural since I am a professor, and I train students daily to become better teachers for the world and beyond.
Indeed, each of the SDG’s has potential, and I believe that every one of us does a little bit, every day, to achieve these goals. We may do it consciously or not; the most important is to be good citizens of the world, accept and respect each other, and plan to leave a better world for the next generations. I strive to do these all the time and wish others commit to the same and more.
Q: How is your current work contributing to the development of the continent?
Nourridine: Mathematics is universal and knows no borders. A disease such as malaria remains endemic in Africa, while other parts of the world have conquered and eradicated it. Africa is the continent with the highest agricultural potential, yet children still die of hunger while food is being wasted in other parts of the world. The list of problems with seemingly trivial and straightforward solutions goes on. Mathematical techniques have been used and are still being used to tackle these issues. Propositions are being made daily, and we hope that these prediction models will be used to resolve African problems from a typical African perspective. Policymakers will have to listen to scientific facts and predictions at some point if they genuinely have the development of Africa at heart; when that time comes, I will be more than happy to give my little share of the cake.
In the meantime, I enjoy travelling around the world and gaining from people’s experiences and sharing my own experience when possible. I have initiated a video series, Web Of Science, where I meet and have a recorded conversation with inspiring scientists. The topics for these conversations are diverse and focus mainly on one’s self-growth and scientific elevation.
I share here with you a few links for your interest:
Prof. Abdul-Aziz Yakubu: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXee9pt0uVY
Prof. Gustavi de Souza: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nbLfecn5bg&t=111s
Q: What’s your message to current AIMS students and young people across the continent?
Nourridine: I will share what I consider to be the best professional advice I have received in my career. Always look at the bigger picture, meaning that the best is always to come, and I should work towards achieving it. The advice was given to me in a context where I felt that the fruits of my work should always come immediately after effort. At times I used to be so proud of myself that I lacked patience and humility. Then someone who understood that my attitude was common in people of my age at the time advised me to learn how to be patient while still working hard. He added that no hard work was in vain.