Women in Biomaterials – Pulchérie Matsodoum Nguemté

Meet Pulchérie, our first guest of the year, whose work in STEM focuses on biomaterials. Biomaterials are natural or synthetic substances engineered to interact with biological systems for medical or therapeutic purposes. These materials are designed to be compatible with living tissues and organisms and are used in medical applications, such as implants, prosthetics, drug delivery systems, and diagnostic devices.

Hello Pulchérie, Happy New Year, and thank you for joining us today!
Hello Winnie, Happy New Year to you too. Thank you for having me.

Please introduce yourself to our audience, briefly
My name is Pulchérie Matsodoum Nguemté from Cameroon. I am the Key Stakeholder Manager in a start-up called Spartha Medical, which specializes in biomaterials. We develop customized formulations with antimicrobial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties. Our products and services cover several markets from medical to consumer. My role in the company is to ensure the growth of the business through several activities, from sales to corporate strategy through the management of clients, key partners, and projects.

In the meantime, I’m the president and founder of an association named She STEMin Africa which aims to overcome the socioprofessional barriers and uncertainties faced by African girls and women in STEM fields and careers.

It is wonderful to find the same passion in another person! Thank you for what you do, Pulcherie.

Please walk us through your journey into biomaterials – how did you end up in this field?
I come from the western region of Cameroon (Bamiléké), and I’m the 3rd of 8 children, mainly girls. I studied in Cameroon and obtained a Master’s degree in Plant Biotechnology. After being selected for a PhD, my thesis topic, which dealt with the clean-up of hydrocarbon-polluted soils, was funded by the Schlumberger Foundation (Faculty For The Future). This grant is awarded to women from developing countries enrolled in PhD or post-doctoral studies. I then pursued my thesis work in partnership with the University of Yaoundé I in Cameroon and the University of Strasbourg in France and defended my PhD thesis in Biotechnologies and Environment on May 20, 2019.

During my PhD studies, my ambition was already to contribute to the development of research professions and work on technology transfer. To achieve this, I pursued an MBA-like post-doctoral course at Strasbourg’s Faculty of Economics and Management. At the end of this, I obtained a position as a Business Developer in the company I’m currently working for.

Determined to tackle inequalities in the STEM fields and work towards a new vision of the socio-professional integration of women in developing African countries, and more specifically in Cameroon, I decided to create “She STEMin Africa” in October 2022.

What have been some of the most challenging moments along your journey in Biomaterials?
Generally speaking, I like challenges in life and I always try, as much as I can, to rise to the various challenges that come my way. My biggest challenge, which interfered with both my personal and professional life, was having to manage my motherhood while working on my thesis and living alone in a more or less unknown country, far from my family. Having gotten through this very difficult period without any major after-effects, I now feel that I’m capable of so much more, even if I don’t want it to happen again.

Tell us about your source of inspiration when faced with challenges
That’s a very simple question to answer if I refer to my biggest challenge. It was partly the reason I was faced with this challenge (my baby) that gave me the courage and strength to persevere. You wouldn’t understand it if you didn’t live it, but it was this responsibility to this little human being who was with me that motivated me every day to go on and on. I can’t thank my son enough, and of course, the Lord who made it all possible.

Let’s talk about your prestigious moments in this field of Biomaterials
The 1st big award was the Schlumberger scholarship I won during my PhD. It wasn’t easy to get this scholarship because the process is quite difficult, with several selection stages. So I’m very proud to have been one of the few Cameroonians (fewer than 10 in 2015) to win this scholarship. In addition, I managed to publish more than four articles as part of my PhD work, despite the difficulties I faced.

The 2nd achievement is being the first (men and women combined) to hold a PhD degree in my entire extended family. And I’m even prouder of myself because when I was young, nothing predestined me for this. I wasn’t the one anyone would have bet on for this achievement (laughs!!!). And that, in a way, is what defines me. I love challenges and I’m always determined to overcome them, including the ones I set myself.

The 3rd achievement I’m proud of came just after my PhD, when I found my way into my current activity, especially as it encompasses my previous skills. My job bridges the gap between research and business, which makes me a very complete person because I think it is important to valorize what people have spent many years building up.

And the 4th is my involvement in the empowerment of African girls and women in STEM through my association “She STEMin Africa”. I’m very proud to be useful to my young African sisters who need people like us to help them chart their path and have a better vision of their future with our experience and any other support.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
Outside of work, I’m an ordinary person. I spend most of my time with my little family. There are also activities that I am passionate about such as yoga, running, swimming, cinema, reading, etc. I also love to listen and dance to my favorite music, while singing of course.

What’s your favorite quote?
“God helps those who help themselves!”

I’m a Christian, and I know from my own life experience that having faith can have a very positive impact on a person’s life. However, this doesn’t exclude living the reality of the world around us. So, I advocate hard work, involvement, and investment. Especially by people with strong discipline and a deep respect for their principles.

What is your word of encouragement for a young African girl who would like to pursue a career in Biomaterials?
It’s always very important for young people to have a role model, someone who inspires them and whom they’d like to be like. So, I encourage all STEM girls to find that person. This will help them to identify better with society, have a solid reference point, and be able to move forward in the right direction.

Also, believe in yourself, never give up, work hard to achieve your goals/dreams, and keep moving forward. No matter what difficulties you encounter.

Thank you very much, Pulcherie! I appreciate you opening the year for us to greatness and teaching us about your world of biomaterials. We wish you all the best with She STEMin Africa

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