Climbing Mountains – Dr. Riham Kamal Ibrahim Ahmed


Riham and I met as students at AIMS in Ghana. Here is our interview about her scientific journey:

Hello Riham, thanks for joining us today!
Hi Winnie, thanks for inviting me.

What is your full name?
I am called Riham Kamal Ibrahim Ahmed. You can call me Riham because the other names are from my lineage; Kamal – my father, Ibrahim – my grandfather, and Ahmed – my great grandfather. That’s the culture in Sudan. You can’t fail to know who your relative is, lol!

Wow! I like that. It keeps the family tree going!

Riham, what do you do currently?
I am currently a lecturer of applied mathematics, in the department of applied mathematics, at the University of Khartoum, Sudan. I mainly teach courses like differential equations, simulation and modelling. I prepare lecture notes, set exams for the courses I teach, and supervise at least 2 students from 5th year projects. I also prepare course notes for master students and suggest some new courses for bachelor and master students to be taught at the department. My most enjoyable task is when I get to teach some programming languages like python and help undergraduate students to use and develop open operating systems like Ubuntu.

Please take us through how you ended up where you are
When I looked at this, I realised that I had never asked myself this question before. It’s important to look back at your life and analyse what you have gone through. It helps in deciding the way forward. My journey of life has been up and down. Life hasn’t always been nice to me, specially since I’m from a developing country. I’m grateful I had the strength to deal with the hardships.

I performed well in school studies and had an assumption that getting a fully funded PhD position will be an easy task too. Little did I know that scoring well in school has a very small little connection with receiving a PhD position with full scholarship. I contacted 18 professors in different universities around the world and I had been accepted for some positions but without funding. So the most enjoyable moment was when I read the acceptance letter from OWSD (organisation of women in science for the developing world) to do my PhD at the University of Cape Town.

Life isn’t easy but we can face it if we work hard enough and believe in ourselves. As a woman it was hard for my family to allow me to travel and stay alone for a long time (4 years) but it was a big chance for me to learn how to get through life’s obstacles, to stand alone, and to have faith in myself.

After I started my PhD studies, I had an opportunity to grow professionally and be trained by my supervisor “Thomas Franz”. I owe him a lot!

What have been some of your turning points along this journey?
I was amazed at how other people work really hard to face research life in specific alongside life challenges in general. I enjoyed climbing the mountain through a quote I have found helpful; “I’m never really satisfied with anything because the world is ever-changing. If you keep climbing up, then you see another, higher mountain. You climb up that peak and see another. I will pass away eventually because that is life. But I am climbing mountains because I enjoy the process of climbing a mountain”.

I faced a challenge of loneliness and low motivation while pursuing my PhD studies. What made it worse was the thought that no one could understand my feelings because I was working on the project alone! Being in contact with other PhD students made me realise that they were in the same situation like me. The biggest challenge I have ever found is time management. I had always thought that doing many things was better than doing a few things well. Then I realized how much I had lost because of inappropriate prioritising. My best solution was to activate calender tasks to help me stay organised and meet deadlines. It took 2 years for the perception to be shattered as I saw my other colleagues who worked less than me, yet had undergone a holistic growth in their studies.

As I moved to a new country, it was difficult to get family support and to balance between research and other life activities. Doing activities other than research with colleagues was nearly impossible. Also, English isn’t my mother tongue so communication with other people, and expressing myself well weren’t an easy task.

You are a very good definition of climbing mountains, Riham. Many would have given up at that point.

What do you enjoy doing outside work?
I enjoy doing activities with friends, especially old friends. I also enjoy going to cinemas to watch new films and movies. Further, I enjoy reading novels.

What has been your biggest achievement in life?
Finishing my PhD is my biggest achievement and I’m proud of myself.

Any last words for young girls in STEM please?
Today, I remember to be comfortable with surprises whenever they throw themselves up and am quite flexible to learn new things and have my notions proved wrong. Don’t wait for the future to come, be your future.

Thank you for your time Riham and we wish you all the best with your future endeavours.


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