Kelebogile Phatsimo Baliki comes from Botswana. She is a Data Analyst intern at Okavango Diamond Company and also a part-time tutor of Mathematics, Statistics, and Accounting. Kelebogile has a Bachelors’ Degree in Applied Sciences (Mathematics and Statistics) from the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST), and she is also an alumna of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS-SA) – Next Einstein Initiative (AIMS-NEI), where she earned her Master’s degree in Mathematical Sciences at AIMS South Africa. Moreover, she also holds a Certificate in Business Management through the AIMS and ESMT Berlin Industry Immersion Program (AIMS-ESMT IIP) at AIMS South Africa. She is also passionate about helping young people to believe in themselves and their capabilities, especially those in STEM-related fields.
Why did you get into STEM?
From a young age, my mother used to crosscheck all my assignments, especially Mathematics — examining my work until grade 5, when “alphabets,” as she called them, were introduced in Mathematics. She would often say to me ‘when they introduce x’s and y’s, that is where my knowledge of Math ends’. This still did not deter her from checking my work and asking me to explain the concept. My mother knew I needed to do well in all my Science subjects to make my dream, of becoming a Medical Doctor, come true. Although I loved all my Sciences, Mathematics, in particular, I never imagined myself as a Mathematician as there was this perception that if you did Mathematics then you are only destined to be a teacher. There is nothing wrong with being a teacher, in fact, teaching is a great profession and I strongly believe that teachers are the builders of tomorrow’s leaders.
When I got to the university, the more I learnt about the applications of Mathematics and the vast opportunities it offered, the more I wanted to explore this path with purpose and intent of being an agent of change through Mathematics. Therefore, when I had to choose my majors, I chose Mathematics and Statistics.
What do you consider your greatest achievements?
Honestly, graduating from my Master’s is at the top of my list. I faced many challenges while in South Africa. At one point, I had to go back to my home country, Botswana. No matter how much I tried to distract myself, I could not shake off the overwhelming pressure and it felt as though my world was coming to an end, but I persevered and grew from that experience.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them?
In a field that is mostly dominated by men, for the most part, I felt like I was not good enough, that somehow maybe I made a mistake by venturing into this field. It is through my interactions with fellow women in Mathematics like Dr Rejoyce Gavhi-Molefe and Dr Dephney Mathebula that I got to regain my confidence and to believe in my capabilities. Throughout my journey, up to now, I have also come to realize that, it is not so much about the other person and what they believe but it is about your ‘why’ that should drive you forward.
Another challenge I came across was the issue of unemployment; it is not so much an issue of not being qualified, but the main reason tends to be the issue of “with your degree, we do not know where to place you” or “what does a Math person do besides teaching?” narratives that exist in the country. Through all these barriers, I still applied to industries to get experience, and for the most part of 2019, I was tutoring. I was learning to create my own employment and yet still yearned to work in a different industry where I could apply the skill set I obtained from studying Mathematics. The AIMS-ESMT IIP is a great initiative and I believe it helped me acquire soft skills needed to work in industry, which are helping me in my current job. Furthermore, it has also inspired me to venture into business, with details to be revealed at a later stage.
What is your advice to budding women in STEM?
Never give up on your journey, it gets challenging along the way, but challenges are there to make us grow. Reach out to fellow people in the field, and know that your voice as a young woman also matters greatly, your dreams are more than valid and it is time you made an impact!