Tina has been my friend since high school. She was my mentor and the first friend I had when I joined my A’Level. I followed her guidance and footsteps all through university until now. She is like a sister to me. It gives me so much pride to share her STEM story with the rest of the world.
Hi Tina, welcome to this episode of Words That Count. We are glad to have you with us today.
Hi Winnie, thank you for inviting me.
Briefly introduce yourself please
My name is Sanyu Christine Nannyonga, a Ugandan who has grown up, lived and worked here. I am a Biostatistician with a Master’s Degree in Public Health and Bachelor of Science Degree (Statistics, Mathematics). I currently do freelancing field and research work with different organisations, and are open to take on any positions in my field of expertise.
How did you become a Biostatistician?
Right from childhood, I always saw myself as a scientist. Never did I mention a career path not science related! I would tell my family that I was either going to become a doctor or an engineer. Most of them would smile at me because most of the Ugandan pupils usually have the same dream; to either become doctors, engineers, pilots or lawyers.
I was lucky to have a father who believed education for the girl child was key; he was very supportive of my scientific and mathematical abilities right from a young age. He made sure he always helped me with my assignments and actually spent more time helping me learn more and more science and mathematics principles. He always said they had to be on my fingertips! My Mathematics grades always outscored the rest of the subjects and he always told me, “You are a good mathematician; you are going to be a mathematician in future.” Truth was, I was good at maths but I didn’t know whether it had a good future career.
At the end of my Primary Education, I emerged one of the best pupils in that school; I actually had a Distinction one in Mathematics. My father took me to his former school, one of the best schools in the country that actually only admitted “cream” students; a male dominated school at that time. We were only 9 girls in a stream of 30 boys, but he still believed I could make it with such competition. Well, he was right, I made it still with a Distinction in Mathematics at the end of my O’level. Unfortunately, I was admitted to do Arts subjects for A’level in this school i.e History, Economics, Literature and Divinity. At this point I was faced with a very tough decision, I loved this school and it was famous. I felt like I couldn’t make it elsewhere.
I took a courageous decision, with my dad of course, to change schools and actually take on sciences with Mathematics as part of my subjects. I did Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Fine Art. My grade in Physics was better than that of Biology and at this point the dream to become a doctor was off my list and I had two options either Engineering or Mathematics. At the end of A’level, still Mathematics emerged my best subject. I still remember my friend Asaba Doreen and I were the best in the Science class and in Mathematics as well in the UACE exams in that school.
I was offered government sponsorship for my Bachelor’s degree at Makerere University, one of the best Universities in Uganda and East Africa. I was still faced with a decision either to do Bachelor of Science in Engineering on Private sponsorship or Bachelor of Science (Statistics, Economics, Mathematics) on government sponsorship. I felt I could excel on either side, I couldn’t make a choice. It’s at this time that my father reminded me of my journey and indeed it was clear that taking on the Mathematics career was the best for me.
I graduated with a Bachelor of Science Honours Degree (Statistics, Mathematics) and became a Statistician, joining the research field. I had a lot of experience in Health Statistics and in due course I enrolled for a Master of Public Health sponsored by the organization I was working for and this is how I ended up becoming a Biostatistician. Oh yes, I am a Statistician but also a doctor of the environment (Public heath)!
My experience as a woman in science has been good and as I keep advancing I become a role model to the students especially the girls. I have had an opportunity to offer career guidance to students especially the girls under the MAPRONANO project on gender mainstreaming in sciences and career guidance. I have greatly encouraged the girls that they have the power to go forward in their lives and can take on a successful path. They now know that what a man can do, a woman can do better.
What is your biggest source of inspiration along this journey?
What I’ve found inspiring in life is that if you believe that “you can” indeed “you can!” I’ve trained myself to always ask, “What is best for me?” The answer to this question helps me move on. My O’level Head Teacher told me that the reason I had been given Arts at A’level was because he felt I couldn’t do Sciences. I went to another top school for admission and the Head teacher there said that by the time my former school gave me Arts they must be knowing I do them better and that was his focus of not giving me placement. These two statements from respected mentors in Education really hurt me. Were their statements really justifiable?
How about the challenges?
The challenge I’ve faced mainly is fighting the negative voices from some respected mentors so that they do not affect me. Overcoming their statements and proving them wrong requires hard work.
Please share with us some of your prestigious moments of recognition and achievements
I trained teachers from two rural schools in Isingiro district on how to use ICT in education. By the end of the training, 70% were comfortable using ICT.
I carried out gender mainstreaming in sciences and career guidance in different schools and regions in Uganda.
Because of my flexibility at work, I was recognised for holding various impactful positions at my former work place; I proudly managed university exams for 5 years, I was the Head of Biostatistics and Epidemiology Department for 2 years, I was Head of Research – students’ research and university projects – for 2 years,
What do you enjoy doing outside work?
Outside work, I love to listen to slow jams, do counselling, encourage young boys and girls, participate in church activities and lastly I love baking.
What is your favourite quote?
“If I can take it, I can make it.” ~ Louis Zamperini
What is your word of encouragement for a young girl in STEM?
I would love to encourage a girl who is at a verge of letting go of the science career path, or is discouraged in the path, that you can make it. The power to go forward in your life is in your hands, you can choose success or failure at any level of your journey of life. Personally, I encourage you to take on the route to success and always be proud of what you become after taking on the STEM path.
Thank you for appreciating and respecting what I am doing, irrespective of the fact that you have known me for this long! Thank you for sharing your story and giving me the honours to write it.