One of the most interesting things about these interviews is the introduction to non-traditional STEM career paths that women are taking. Here’s an aspiring Maxillofacial Surgeon;
Hi Jane! It’s wonderful to have you here with us today. I was very excited when Chilala recommended you for the interview
Hi Winnie, thank you for this opportunity; it is greatly humbling!
Kindly give our audience a brief introduction about yourself
My name is Jane Nsonga from Zambia, currently working as a Dental Surgeon at Livingstone central hospital in Zambia. I am the only girl in a family of 4 children and the second born. I was born in the Western province of Zambia in 1994. My parents work for the government; mum is a teacher and dad is a clinical officer.
How has your STEM journey from childhood been like?
I started school in 2000, and my school experience was very exciting. I started my primary in the Western province then we moved to the Eastern province where I continued my primary school. My secondary school was at Katete boarding secondary school (2007 to 2011). I had my tertiary education at Copperbelt University, from 2013 to 2019, and graduated in 2020. My future aspirations are to further my studies and become a Maxillofacial Surgeon and help bridge the gap in my country as we have few specialists in dentistry.
Let’s talk about some of the challenges you have faced along your journey
Hmm… challenges. Let me detail the challenges I have faced beginning with my time in Junior High School. This school was not of my liking, I had misgivings about my development as a student and an individual. Small and naive as I was, I felt strongly that the school made the student and this notion affected my self-esteem. My mother, who followed my education with keen interest, realised my uneasiness with the school and encouraged me that “it wasn’t about the school, it was about the student in the school.” Her words gave me comfort and the energy to continue at that school and give my best.
Surprisingly, I attended Senior high school in the same school, and this time I decided to involve myself more in the school; so I joined the volleyball team. The sports idea was going well until I broke my finger during one practice session. The pain was so bad I feared I would lose that finger forever. I moved out of sports into a group that required less of my physical abilities.
I scanned through and discovered the Jets Club which was a science club that encouraged students to be innovative. The senior students in the club mistook this culture of innovation to mean that every student was supposed to invent something new. They intimidated us with their cooked-up theories of not being a member if you couldn’t invent so I felt inadequate and left the club.
However, in grade 11 I found impetus and joined again, this time with a renewed sense of hope, drive, and focus. I had read a lot and discovered a project that appealed to me, one that I could pursue and complete. Through my project, I studied nurturing of proteins using pineapples because pineapples were believed to have enzymes that help in breaking down protein.
I finished my project and prepared a presentation for it at the District level competition. Sadly, the requirement was that each group submitted only one presentation and because my friend eagerly wanted to present hers, I gave in and allowed her to present her project.
As time went on, I was selected to participate in the math Olympiad. However, my physics lecturer at the time felt that it would serve me better to join the physics Olympiad instead. My time in that group turned out to be fruitful as I scooped the first prize in a local tournament and second place in a Quiz competition later on.
I was also invited to another tournament that was organised for all missionary schools at the Magwero school for the blind. This tournament was organised under the auspices of the Reformed Church in Zambia and involved up to nine different missionary schools. There were memorable occasions during this quiz, for example, in the early stages of the quiz we were the only school with zero points along with the contestants from the School for the Blind. However, by the end of the competition, we had tied at first place with one other school and we went at it till the tie was broken and we had won.
From this moment on, I felt this strong sense of self-confidence and self-belief. I approached my Olympiad with much more experience and accompanying gusto and in 2011 I was selected to participate in the FAWEZA (Forum for African Women Educationalists of Zambia) SMT Tele Quiz in Lusaka. This meant I had been selected to represent not only the school but the whole province at the National Level. I had to forgo the National Jets Fair which was happening at the same time. Unfortunately, because I was ill-prepared and lacking in experience I was unable to go very far and was eliminated in the 12th round.
After this, there were no major events till our final examination in grade 12. For the first time in the history of the school, I recorded a 6-point result. I was crowned the best student that year. This result, outstanding as it was, confused me about which program to go for in the university. Growing up, I was always torn between Accountancy and Nursing and vaguely settled on Nursing.
My parents and a few family members advised me to have a look at medicine; maybe it would interest me. In the first year of medical school, I recorded poor grades in the Natural Science courses. As a result, I was welcomed at the career guidance and counseling unit to discuss my performance. There, I found that there were two streams students could join in the medical school; General Medicine and Dental Surgery. After much research and proper guidance, I decided to opt for Dental Surgery against the wishes of my parents.
In the beginning, it was rough and tough; I found myself struggling. I struggled partly because it was absolutely new to me and partly due to my parents’ unending criticisms. They would rather I pursued General Medicine. I was relentless in my pursuit though! From the third year till the final year, I consistently scooped the best student award.
What have been your most prestigious moments while on this journey?
During my education ladder, I had a few hiccups! However, I thankfully started working in 2020 and joined the resident doctors association. Here I serve as a committee member of public health. I also had the privilege to be a part-time inspector for the health professions council of Zambia.
How do you spend your spare time?
I like visiting new places, hoping to go international, I like learning new dishes.
What is favourite quote?
“The only time you look down on yourself is when you want to admire your shoes” ~ Anonymous
How would you encourage a young girl in STEM?
I would like to encourage every woman that is in STEM that the potential in a woman is unbelievable and needs to be exercised.
Thank you, Jane, for opening my eyes to the possibilities of a new career path in Maxillofacial Surgery. We wish you the very best ahead.