Investing Mycetoma Infections – Hyam O. A. Ali

There’s a lot one can do for a career in the field of Biology. Hyam combines that with technology to study Mycetoma infections;

Hello Hyam, thanks for joining us today. It’s wonderful to speak with you after such a long time
Hi Winnie, thanks for reaching out, and thanks to Riham for the recommendation.

Who is Hyam, to our audience?
My name is Hyam Omar Abbass Ali from Sudan. I am currently a Ph.D. student in a joint program between the Mycetoma Research Center (MRC), at the University of Khartoum in Sudan, INSERM lab at the University of Tours in France, and IDP lab at the University of Orleans in France. I am working on developing an automated diagnostic method for a neglected tropical disease called Mycetoma. Using pathological microscopic images and artificial intelligence methods, we investigate Mycetoma infections in tissue images.

Also, I am working as a full-time Lecturer at the University of Khartoum, under the Faculty of Mathematical Sciences.

Wow! This is a new word to me! Tell us how you started working on this. Did you know anything about it from childhood?
As a child with a naive understanding of career choices, I wanted to study engineering. Despite my interest in the medical field, I wouldn’t say I liked Biology. The plan was to study medical equipment engineering, so I could apply engineering to medical studies. I was so naive, haha.

In secondary school, I heard about a mathematical sciences school and its curriculum of basic science courses that prepare students to pursue careers in different domains. So, I enrolled in the faculty of mathematical sciences with majors in mathematics and computer sciences. My conviction was to never build a career in academia.

After graduation, I completed my national services as a teaching assistant at the department of mathematics. I enjoyed my time tutoring students and discussing different topics. The experience was very satisfying and informative, and I learned that I should not make up my mind on anything without experiencing it. So, I applied for a permanent position at the department of mathematics, University of Khartoum.

In the meantime, I got an opportunity to complete my master’s degree at the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), Ghana. There, I saw the reason that pushed me to study mathematical sciences and I learned how to utilize mathematical and computation skills to tackle real-life problems. After my return to Sudan, I joined the Mycetoma Research Centre (MRC) as a research assistant besides my teaching position. Later, I started my Ph.D. studies in a joint project between France and MRC.

You have walked a career journey that one would call straight. What challenges have you faced along the way?
Losing my father was a great challenge and a huge loss! I lost the motive to continue. He was my support system, advisor, and mentor. I used to look at all the problems that I faced throughout my life as major problems but I did not know this one would come and beat me. From that moment, my life changed a lot and I started to look at things differently. Yes, I can be frustrated or depressed but I always remind myself that if I survived losing my father, then I can survive anything else. Any problem, no matter how big, it can be fixed even if solving it looks complex.

Another challenge is adapting to new environments and learning how to work with people from different backgrounds and domains. During my studies at AIMS, I saw how people were knowledgeable and I was amazed by their skills. I doubted myself and started believing that I wasn’t going to make it. However, I challenged myself to study and learn even if I fail at least I tried. So I enrolled in some classes whose basic requirements I did not know. Although I barely passed these classes, I never regret attending them. One thing I know is that you can always achieve what you want, just work hard and give your best.

Also, my work experience at the MRC was very challenging because I was the first and only researcher from a non-biological background. It was a bit difficult to understand what other people were talking about. But after a while, we managed to work together and collaborate on different research.

The part of losing your loved one is very devastating! Our condolences. How have you been able to push forward beyond this and other challenges?
Since my childhood, my father and sister used to tell me stories about successful people. I was inspired by the stories of how they started and where they ended up. My father always told me that, being educated with many degrees does not necessarily mean you are a good figure or person. Your personality, attitude, and how your entourages benefit from your knowledge are what matter. With knowledge, nations live and improve. This is why I am always motivated to learn and make progress.

And of course, my greatest adventure at AIMS Ghana for my master’s studies inspired me to continue making progress. During my stay there, I got to know how mathematics could be the backbone for different disciplines in biology, economics, and many others. I understood the significance of networking with scientists from various domains and interests. Investing their knowledge to come out with magnificent ideas and solutions for real-life concerns amazed me. I was honored to meet brilliant scientists from the African continent with great potential and mindsets. Since then I made up my mind to continue making progress.

Let’s talk about your prestigious achievements and awards as a Mycetoma researcher
My greatest achievement was receiving the Young Talents Award from UNESCO and the L’Oréal Foundation for Women in Science Sub-Sahara Africa program, in 2021. Also, I got a grant from the European Mathematical Society. The French embassy in Sudan granted me a scholarship to pursue my Ph.D. studies. Also, the Sudanese Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research selected me among the top 20 young researchers for innovative research competitions by the

I also received the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) scholarship to do my master’s degree in Mathematical Sciences. AIMS was the beginning of my journey into the research world. So, I always believe the award was not the scholarship itself, but it is the skills, knowledge, and connections I gained and it shape my life after AIMS.

Besides my academic achievements, I was selected as the First speaker at Toastmaster Club for public speaking in AIMS, Ghana. As a non-native English speaker, this award was a great success for me. Because of this, I gained confidence that I can speak out my thoughts no matter whom I am talking to and they will be delivered properly. Also, I was honored to be featured by “Le monde” in a special issue about science in Africa and to share my story as a representative of African women scientists.

Who is Hyam besides investigating Mycetoma infections?
Hyam is a talkative person lol, I enjoy chatting on whatever subject and meeting new people. I like outdoor adventures and activities. Listening to music and dancing please me it is my way of relieving stress.

What is your favorite quote?
“It is never wrong to do the right thing” ~ Mark Twain

What is your word of encouragement for a young girl who wants to investigate Mycetoma infections?
Look around you for mentors who can guide you to shape your dreams and put you on the proper track. Do not be afraid to go after your passion even if it takes a lot of time and energy. It is okay to fail and never doubt yourself or your skills. Comparing your steps with others can drag you back. Every one of us has his/her ways of doing things, although it is still great to learn from others. Give yourself the space to innovate and keep your mind open to any new ideas. Every great idea starts with a curious query.

Thank you very much, Hyam, for sparing time to speak with me about Mycetoma infections. I know you are extremely busy but had time for me. Thanks very much.

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