Miriam is a Kenyan doctoral student in Population Studies at the University of Nairobi. She is also a Statistics and Applied Mathematics lecturer at Mount Kenya University as well as a consultant in Statistics and Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E). She is very passionate about ending gender-based violence and both her masters and doctoral research are focused in that area through using statistics to get a solution to this issue. Miriam enjoys mentoring young people on life-related issues apart from encouraging them to soldier on in STEM.
Why did you get into STEM?
Since childhood, numbers were my thing. I found them easy to work with and understand. I was the meticulous child while doing my chores, executing everything in an orderly manner. It made a lot of sense because I would be able to cover everything living nothing untouched. Well, on the naughty side, if sent to the market I would make sure I balance my money math so that I could get some coins for my sweet tooth and still bring home my mum’s exact change having bought everything in her list in the required quantities as well as satisfying my guilty pleasure (I hope she never sees this, but yeah I am guilty of that).
I was so in love with numbers that in Grade 8, my math teacher would summon me if I didn’t give him a marking scheme in any of the tests we did. I found it as an encouragement to be the best and maintain it. For sure I did maintain it because I ended up scoring a perfect A in mathematics for my national primary exam (Kenya Certificate of Primary Education).
I continued with the same spirit in high school and ended up making my mathematics teacher proud. After writing Paper I and Paper II in my secondary school national exam (Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education), my mathematics teacher called me to the staff-room to ask what grade I would get? Without blinking, I told him, “a straight-A”. Guess what? That is exactly what I got for mathematics.
Looking back, it bothered me that through primary and high school I only had male teachers in mathematics and sciences. So, when I joined Egerton University for my Bachelors, I ended up pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics. That meant for the first and second year, I had to do mathematics and two more sciences which were chemistry and physics.
However much I qualified to be a chemistry major as per the cut off mark, it was an easy choice for me to do mathematics because I didn’t struggle with it and where I did, I opted to ask questions till I understood as well as have group discussions. The same situation happened on campus. Most of my lecturers were male and it sure made me uneasy because some of them tended to be sadists making things seem hard unnecessarily.
Immediately after finishing my bachelors, I knew that I wanted to progress with statistics and thus I joined the University of Nairobi for my Master’s degree in Social Statistics. Being the youngest in the class it worked to my advantage because I got so much advice from the rest of my classmates on my career options. At the same time, I got my first job as a data analyst which was exciting since I was able to practice what I was learning.
That drove me to think of a project related to social issues as well as make use of my analytical skills. I ended up working on the prevalence of gender-based violence in Kenya, which is a subject that I am very passionate about. With time when I graduated with my masters, and after a lot of soul searching, I realized I needed to give back in the education sector. My model was and still is, to help my students to change their attitude towards mathematics by making it make sense to them through something they can associate with. I believe in being part of the solution and not the problem.
What do you consider your greatest achievements?
What I would consider being my greatest achievement so far, not limited to the many that are waiting to come is being a mother. It is a humbling thing to have other human beings to care for as well as be a professional, a student and wife at the same time. The balance has to be well calculated so that you don’t lose yourself while wearing the many hats. I have learned to keep myself grounded and intentional in everything I do.
Getting through my masters was not a walk in the park, I had to delay my graduation in order to look for work and amass over 400,000 Kenya Shillings to clear my school fees and be able to graduate. That for me was a big achievement considering I was 25 years at the time. This I cannot take credit for, because God enabled me. For sure, if it was not Him it would be a different story altogether.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them?
All through, I have worked with more men than women. In most instances, the men want to throw a sexist word here or there which I find disgusting and disrespectful for sure. To overcome this, I have embraced professionalism in all my undertakings and drawn clear boundaries on how I want to associate with other people and especially my male colleagues.
What is your advice to budding women in STEM?
The one thing that I know that works is women supporting and championing each other. If you find yourself in a male-dominated field, please put on your pants too and work twice as hard to be the best, not arrogantly but in humility.
In this microwave era where everything is instant, I would advise all our young women to appreciate the process because it builds your character and gives you leverage in terms of the experience you get along the way. The process makes you whole and solidifies your brand.