Emmie and I connected through LinkedIn after her feature on Forbes was shared by our mutual connections. Trust me you will admire her work in Science Communication and the way she encourages young African girls to pursue STEM careers. Here is our interview about Emmie’s STEM journey:
Hi Emmie, thank you for joining us on this episode of Words That Count
Hi, Winnie! Thank you for inviting me; I am happy to be here.
Kindly introduce yourself to the audience
My name is Emmie Chiyindiko from Zimbabwe. I am currently a Ph.D. student in Chemistry at the University of Free State, a Mathematics Lecturer at the Central University of Technology, Free State, and an award-winning Science Communicator. When I am not hovering over experiments, I am a speaker and event facilitator in STEM community engagement programs for organizations like the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA). I am also a higher education researcher with a special focus on gifted learners.
How did you join this world of STEM?
I have always been inquisitive. I was the kid who drove their parents crazy with question after question. They were more than thrilled to ship me off to school because for a chunk of the day at least I would be my teacher’s problem. From as far back as I can remember, I have always been a seeker, wanting to know how everything works and why. Chemistry at its core is a study of everything. After all, atoms and chemical compounds make up everything (including us). I get to formalize my innate curiosity in postgraduate research. It is poking and prying with a purpose.
How do you combine being a Chemistry Researcher and Mathematics Lecturer? Where is the intersection?
I will say that STEM subjects are branched and related. Early scientists did not always differentiate between Physics and Chemistry for example. I thrive in any of the STEM subjects but chose to specialise in Chemistry.
What has been your biggest challenge along this STEM journey?
Representation. Women are highly under-represented in positions of authority, such as policy making and tenured faculty positions, this is reflected in STEM cohorts and organisations as well political spaces.
Racial and sexist macro-aggressions are also rampant in the sciences, and these macro-aggressions, whether intentional or unintentional, expose hidden biases and prejudices that generally make women (especially African women) feel undermined.
What inspires you to move forward amidst these challenges?
I am genuinely curious and excited to see how far I can go in my career and how high I can reach. My mother is the wisest and most intelligent woman that I know but she never made it into formal high school education. In her family, boys took precedence over girls in the education budget. My grandfather’s only expectation from her daughters was to be able to read and write a letter and then you would get pulled out of school. She has gone on to be as successful as she could get in a sexist, capitalist, and patriarchal world. I always wonder which sector she would be dominating if she was just given a chance. Because of her, I will climb as high as I can.
Tell us about your achievements, awards, and prestigious moments of recognition
Dreams come true, and sometimes things happen that you never had the foresight to dream at just 27. That’s how I felt when I saw my face beaming from my first Forbes Science article. This followed a cascade of more articles like The Sunday Times, News24, Zimbabwean magazines, and the press. The extent to which I have managed to amplify the idea of women in science is something I am extremely proud of. I was named the national winner and best science communicator in the FameLab 2018 competition.
It was prestigious for me to represent South Africa in the international finals on an all-expense-paid trip to Cheltenham, UK. I have received many accolades in my field, including winning our institutional three-minute thesis competition (3MT) and best conference posters but FameLab is my favorite. I got to travel, meet national finalists from all over the world and build long-lasting professional relationships.
Most recently, I facilitated the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) provincial science debate competition with over 20 high schools. I hosted a training workshop on building self-confidence, public speaking, and effective debating on science-related topics. The competition also provided me an opportunity to meet exceptional students who are passionate about science who I now mentor. I have continued to correspond with these students and positively influence their engagement with science and academia, as one of the youngest lecturers at a university.
I also had the opportunity to give a keynote speech at the Free State Career expo hosted by the Deputy Minister of the Department of Public Works in South Africa where I addressed over 1000 students. My talk aimed at encouraging young scholars especially girls to pursue science careers, offset the shortages in the workforce, and play our role in the global advancement of science and technology.
Congratulations, Emmie! I believe there’s more to come; this is just the beginning.
What does Emmie enjoy doing outside work?
I’m the woman who dances in front of the mirror to whatever genre I’m feeling that day with no care in the world. Another thing I enjoy doing is staying in the sun a little too long because it feels nice on my skin. I occasionally do yoga outside, another excuse to stay in the sun haha.
My other fun thing is watching documentaries and political satire, plus anything Marvel studios decides to share with its loyal viewership. My favourite literacy genre is black women; I listen to intelligent and well-informed black women speak on podcasts and in their best-selling audiobooks.
Ask me again in a few months and I would have moved on to wherever my heart leads but I remain steadfast in the religion that is, amazing black women.
What’s your favourite quote?
“Live inwards out” ~ Unknown
What’s your word of encouragement for a young African girl in STEM?
The world is waiting for what YOU have to offer. Only you and your set of skills and unique view of the world can deliver it. There is space for everyone in this field, especially YOU.
You will strive and succeed. You will find yourself in rooms with smart, highly qualified, and enigmatic people, remember, you deserve to be there. Breathe, relax, network. You have a lot to offer.
When faced with a tough life/career decision, do not run polls but instead search within you. Trust your intuition. You cannot ask people for directions to places they have never been – your vision and dreams.
Mistakes are not career or life-defining, they are learning curves that you rise from with more self-awareness and confidence. Never downplay your achievements and when you feel like you’re doing a lot, do a little more.
Wow! Such strong words of encouragement! Thank you, Emmie, for sparing time to speak with me. I have learned a lot and take this opportunity to congratulate you on how far you have come. Cheers to more wins!