Djeneba is an Independent Consultant in Biostatistics (Statistics applied to life sciences), graduated from Paris Descartes University in France, with over 8 years of experience, focused on health and education. She is also an Alumni of the Mandela Washington Fellowship program, Public Management track, Arizona State University. In the health sector, she provides evidence-based results for research. She collaborates with physicians and public health specialists at the Senegal Ministry of Health, the Belgian Development Agency, some public Hospitals, some private organizations, NGOs. She has also worked on the Malaria of the Newborn in Benin, for the French National Institute of Sustainable Development in Cotonou, Benin and Paris, France. In education, she has trained and mentored students and professionals in biostatistics for over 9 years. Aware of young students’ difficulties in sciences in Senegal, she is working on how to improve their performances in STEM, especially girls.
Why did you get into STEM?
My father is a Mathematician and he is my mentor and my inspiration. I grew up in an environment where science was present and related to real life. Games, books, riddles were around sciences, strategy and problem-solving. This, mixed with my natural curiosity, led to an early passion for STEM. The anecdote is that I had this obsession with radios, always opening them to understand how things were working inside, I wanted to be an astronaut, and I wanted to work in health but not as a Doctor. My favourite word is LOGICAL. Science is just logic and obviously and I naturally chose a STEM career.
What do you consider your greatest achievements?
As a consultant, every time I have to work on a project from the beginning to the end I feel it as a great achievement. The exciting part is that I can explore many areas, work in a multidisciplinary team, hire my proper team to achieve tasks in short deadlines. The less exciting part is that I am constantly under pressure, deadlines are very short in comparison to the quantity of work, and the results must be accurate and reliable. However when I achieve all of this, present the results to the concerned team, see my results and my name in an official publication and I am contacted again by the same organization, or I am recommended to another one that needs the same services, I feel proud and I find the motivation to go further.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them?
When I was younger, I never thought that being a girl in STEM could be as challenging, as I was just following a passion. In high school, I started to be among the rare girls in the scientific area. The more I was advancing in grade, the more I was losing my girl comrades who were finding things difficult and impossible. I also realised that the future will not be easy when discouraging words started to be recurrent. But it gave me the strength to do more than the best and not stay behind. I wanted to demonstrate that women could achieve brilliant studies in STEM. I wanted to break stereotypes. When things were difficult, I had the voice of my father encouraging me and telling me that I could achieve whatever I wanted and there was no field of study only reserved for men. Through the time, I have gotten used to being the “only among”. In my work as a consultant and a trainer, I interact with men mostly. Some are curious, some encourage me, and others are suspicious. Professionally, I don’t try to prove anything. I just let the facts talk. If you have the right skills, and you are good at what you do, you’ll inspire confidence and nobody will say that you are in the wrong place.
What is your advice to budding women in STEM?
Nothing is easy in life. When you choose a path, follow it, stay true to your values, assume your passion, and accept to break gender stereotypes. When you start losing motivation, find deep inside you this voice telling you that you can achieve what you are doing. Remember that through these 4 letters, “STEM”, you will contribute to research, development, economy, and innovation.
Research studies have shown that girls also lack role models and mentors, and that increases their fear in science. I encourage women in science to tell their story, support and mentor girls in science in their neighbourhood, create a community around women in STEM, and organize funny and interactive activities.