Female mathematicians are inspiring young people across Africa to pursue careers in unconventional fields and leading the pack is Angela Tabiri, a quantum algebra researcher at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in Ghana.
As a PhD student at Glasgow University in the UK in 2018, Angela launched Femafricmaths, a network of African female mathematicians sharing their stories through video interviews. The goal is to assist young girls in pursuing careers in mathematics and related fields.
Angela graduated from the University of Ghana with degrees in economics and mathematics. She said that when her mentor told her of an opportunity to study for a master’s degree at The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), her life changed.
AIMS are a pan-African network of Centres of Excellence for post-graduate training in mathematical sciences, research and public engagement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). AIMS enable talented African students to become innovators to drive the continent’s scientific, educational and economic industries. With a 24-hour learning environment, the organisation uses the expertise and knowledge of renowned global lecturers.
Angela applied to the University of Glasgow for a doctoral degree and with funding from the Schlumberger Foundation, which provides funding for women in STEM from low-income countries to study at leading universities around the world, spread her mathematical wings. The Foundation is looking for female leaders with academic excellence and a commitment to promoting women in STEM in their home countries.
It was in Glasgow that Tabiri realised the power of social media to showcase and to promote her research online, showing that there is more to maths than it merely being “difficult.”
“I started the Femafricmaths initiative because I didn’t see many mathematicians that were people of colour, and particularly women. It is not a usual option for most girls in Africa, which is why Femafricmaths is an ideal network of African female mathematicians to promote the study of maths at schools.
Upon her returned to Ghana after successfully completing her PhD in the UK, Angela took up a postdoctoral position at AIMS, realising that being the only female in a team, called for being extra tough. While male scientists were addressed as doctor, Angela, despite her doctoral degree, was called madame. She told the Voice of Africa that her colleagues made comments about her starting a family. She also found that cultural pressure still existed with opinions about why she was competing in a space reserved for men while she should be in the kitchen at home.
Her advice is that women should find their voice as many would always find ways to bully you or look down on you. Find your niche and speak up, develop yourself in those areas where you can excel. Never allow anyone to downplay your abilities on the basis of gender, let your success speak for you.
Staying motivated is not easy, but Angela told herself that her research will enable technology to be built 100 years from now. She also teaches pure maths to anyone wishing to become an engineer or computer scientist.
“Maths research is hard. You have to be patient and determined to keep coming back to the same problem and trying it in different ways. The answer might not come to you for years. But, when you finally have a discovery and something eventually works the feeling makes it all worthwhile.