I got to know Janet Nayebale through mutual connections on LinkedIn but later realised we are part of the Girls for Girls (G4G) team, Ugandan chapter. Her passion for the oil and gas industry is infectious. Here is our interview about her STEM experience:
Hi Janet, thanks you for joining us today. Welcome to Words That Count!
Hi Winnie, thank you for the opportunity and for the great work you are doing. If it is something I can offer young girls out there, I will put my shy nature aside and do it afraid, haha
Please tell us about yourself
I’m a Christian that longs to follow after Christ all my life, a daughter to an iconic mother and sister to a loving girl that together form a “God’s Army”. Not forgetting, an aspiring mother too, haha!
I dote on children, and spend a lot of my free time around these little Angels. To me, children are the expression of a love so pure and unfiltered.
For 2 years, I have been a mentor in G4G, a productive women space where we are nurturing girls for life.
Currently, I work as a Geologist/Technical Evaluation at the Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU). I hold a Bachelor’s degrees in Petroleum Geoscience and Production, and I’m currently finalizing a Postgraduate Diploma in Upstream Oil and Gas Management.
This is not something an ordinary Ugandan girl from some village would think of becoming while growing up. How did you get into this world of Geoscience?
Growing up, I must say I loved nature a lot! My life experiences also taught me to embrace challenges, but nature first, haha.
I was raised seeing mum struggle to pull resources to have us in school. For some reason this drew me to something challenging for a career. At first I wanted to be a doctor. I remember mum falling sick many times and all I wanted was to treat her to full recovery someday. However, the biology practical in my A’ level made me realise medicine wasn’t for me. Dissecting things freaked me out so much! Yes, I had failed my mum that way, but I had to find ways of managing her hospital bills. A key take home for girls is that sometimes things don’t work out as you want but you need to do your best in whatever life presents to you.
I finally settled for PCM (Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics) and changed my focus to the Engineering career path. My love for nature fascinated me to physical sciences. At that time, Uganda’s nascent oil and gas industry was all over the news.
To put myself in line for the oil jobs, I needed to pursue the new Geoscience course at Makerere University. Unfortunately, it was not yet under Government sponsorship. I took a leap of faith and applied for it under private sponsorship, well, knowing that “God’s Army” had no money! To cut the long story short, we later got a scholarship through the Muhairwe Education Trust Limited (METL), an opportunity I will live to cherish because it marked the beginning of my career. That’s how I joined the Geoscience world.
While at University, as STEM fellows will honestly tell you, it was mentally challenging and thought-provoking. To be honest, I did not expect too much Geography, but my love for nature had well prepared me in advance to tackle this challenge.
During my course, I was privileged to travel out of the country twice which even made the 4-year course shorter. I made many new friends from almost all walks of life that I hope to keep along my career life.
How did you transition into the work environment from school?
It wasn’t a straight path! First, I worked for 2 years with Das Handling Ltd at Entebbe International Airport, diligently supporting the Customer Care team. I channelled my savings in preparation to pursue a master’s degree in the UK. Unfortunately, most of the scholarships required at least 2 years’ experience in a relevant field. So I decided to start applying to different oil companies operating in Uganda. I lost count of the number of applications I made but I remember sending almost an application every month to my current workplace, haha.
In 2018, I got a 3 months opportunity to do a graduate internship program at PAU. This greatly helped me to acquire industrial experience that I needed to succeed in my application for a master’s programs in the UK . Fortunately the 3 months were extended for another 3 months. Later I was hired by Armour Energy Limited, an Australian oil company that had acquired an Exploration License in Uganda. My role as an Administrative Assistant gave me a good experience on geoscience aspects but most importantly, administrative skills that are much needed at any workplace. For two years I served diligently and eventually it opened doors for me to join rejoin PAU, where I work today.
My forever dream has been going to the UK for a masters in Reservoir Engineering and God’s ways are never man’s!
What has been your biggest challenge to this point in life.
In 2015, mum had an operation that left her unable to do even the smallest things she used to do. I was then in my final year at university and had to start supporting my family and struggling to make ends meet, financially! I wanted to give up! But Psalms 46:1 came to my mind and this helped me overcome all evil thought and reminded me that God is my ever present help in times of need. I also imagined mum, sister and thousands of other people whose lives would directly or indirectly depend on me. All these gave me the courage to never give up.
I am sure you taking care of your family was a big thing! What gave you hope during that time?
I acknowledge Jesus as my Lord, Saviour and Father. He had my back through every situation and kept me going in life.
Also seeing the sacrifices mum made for us, I had to do better and offer her a shoulder. My little sister too is another source of inspiration.
When in life have you felt most appreciated and recognised?
The day I won a METL scholarship! It was my major breakthrough. I felt my efforts were recognised.
At college, I took on the position of President for the American Association of Petroleum Geoscientists (AAPG) Makerere University students chapter. Our team contributions were recognised and I was honoured to represent my department for a 3 weeks field school in South Africa.
I also wrote a technical poster with a colleague about a software (Petrel) used in the oil and gas industry. Our poster was voted by the school as the best and I was selected to present it at the 7th East African Petroleum Conference and Exhibition. By His grace, I also emerged the best presenter amongst all East African Universities’ representatives.
Who is Janet outside work?
I am a Sunday-school teacher. I enjoy being around kids so much – it’s one thing I miss most during this lock down. I also enjoy swimming and agriculture.
What is your favourite quote?
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” ~ Phillipians 4:13
How would you encourage a young girl who wants to fit into STEM?
First I would say, become more knowledgeable or you could call it hard work. You will agree with me that the more knowledgeable you are, the more valuable you will become and more opportunities will present themselves to you. While at school, make sure you always understand your content and you will excel. For those with financial challenges, I would encourage them to press on and do their best. Whenever you do your best, the world/someone will be willing to give you a hand. Channel your energy into becoming more knowledgeable each day. I did this a lot, I acquired my first laptop in my third year after winning the AAPG Foundation’s L. Austin Weeks Undergraduate Grant program.
Secondly, Take on leadership roles in your community. Think how you could improve people’s lives within or outside STEM. You could do these in pursuit for; environment, energy, safety, technology, economics and humanity. The world heavily rewards leaders, let alone those who are trying to solve problems for mankind.
Thirdly, perfect your soft or interpersonal skills. I can assure you that soft skills may even be more important than the complex equations. Every time you speak confidently about something you are knowledgeable about, people are willing to listen to you, which eventually opens up new doors for you. How do you present your ideas? Do you listen to understand? Or how do you reject opinions with decency while practising emotional intelligence among your peers?
Fourthly, I understand STEM being majorly male dominated sometimes makes it tough for girls to fit in but it shouldn’t be. Take your time to learn how to deal with people of the opposite sex in STEM. Try to understand why and how they do the things they do and see how your ideas can fit in the success equation. Yalitza Aparicio once said “Just because you are a woman doesn’t mean you have to suffer more. We have to get that idea out of our heads.” In fact, I even enjoy tough discussions on technical evaluation and model validations with my male counterparts at work today.
Finally, we are all human beings, male or female gender has equal opportunity. We all need one another to thrive in life. Our STEM community needs to embrace the UN sustainable development Goal 5 as a pillar to achieving gender equality and empowering all girls.
Thank you Janet for getting very personal with us. This journey is a learning process for me with all you amazing women. Thank you for being part of this.