Did you think interest in Mathematics meant teaching? It’s time to change that mindset. Martha has used her passion to venture into Stochastic and Financial Mathematics;
Hi Martha, I am very excited to have you with us today. Thank you very much for accepting to join us
Hi Winnie, thank you too for hosting me.
Briefly introduce yourself to our audience, please
My name is Martha Nansubuga from Uganda, currently based in Berlin, Germany. I am doing my Ph.D. in Mathematics, specializing in Financial and Stochastic Mathematics, at the Humboldt University of Berlin under the umbrella of Berlin Mathematical School (BMS). BMS mainly comprises 3 universities plus other “smaller” universities and bodies under Berlin.
Wow! I know how hectic it is to join BMS! It is a very competitive “school”. You are very bright, haha
Yes, I agree with that; it is very competitive, haha. You just have to trust yourself, do the interviews, know your content, and what you want.
Stochastic and Financial Mathematics is not so obvious for an African child; how did you join it?
I am my mother’s firstborn child (I am always very specific about that, haha). After my primary, I moved to Kitante Hill School for my O’Level, before joining Kyambogo College School. I then moved to Makerere University for a Bsc in Education, specializing in Mathematics.
Coming from a Physics, Chemistry, and Biology background, my mom really wanted me to go into the medical field. However, my passion was always in Mathematics. It was either being a Mathematics Teacher or working in a bank – still with numbers.
During my third year, I started understanding why we need Mathematics. We started doing courses in Epidemiology, Number Theory, and others in the application side of Mathematics. This was an eye-opener for me. It made me enjoy Mathematics even more.
After my undergraduate degree, I was told about the NoMa (Norwegian Masters) program in Tanzania, with the University of Dar es Salaam. At the same time, I was hearing about the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) program in South Africa. I chose NoMa because Tanzania was close to home and I didn’t want to be far away from my mom.
The teaching structure through NoMa deepened my love for Financial Mathematics and broadened my understanding of the field. I realized that there was more to Financial Mathematics than just being a teller. It was then that I met most of the strong relationships I have up to date, in the Financial field.
After my master’s degree, I applied to tutor at AIMS in Tanzania for 2 years. From there, I moved to Germany, where I am right now.
I see how you have been able to join your long-life passion for Accounting with Financial Mathematics. Has anything been a challenge for you while doing that?
I am laughing because challenges are part of life! Mine have come in different categories.
When I was in form 2, I had a group of friends with whom we used to do everything. At the end of term, I was mentioned among the first five but all my friends were among the last people. My class teacher had a word with us, which somehow felt like she was pinning me for performing well and leaving my friends behind. The following term, I changed my circles and started hanging out more with boys.
This went on with my A’Level; I intentionally applied to Kyambogo College because there were more boys than girls. I still found myself more comfortable hanging around boys in my science class, since we were few girls in there. The first stages were a challenge but once I settled in, I have never found it hard to deal with boys. I had to learn how to walk as fast as them, and almost do everything on the same level because we were competing for everything in that school.
Hanging around boys for a long time made me realize that everyone is unique in their own way but we are generally all the same. These people also have challenges like us women! The only difference is a lack of confidence and thinking we don’t have enough knowledge to speak up.
Other than that, I have honestly not faced any challenges that are specific to my gender and race.
What’s this constant source of inspiration that helps you push forward when things feel hectic?
First of all, I am a Christian – I talk to God every time, every day. This gives me so much comfort in finding solutions for whatever challenges I might be facing at that point. I always take challenges as opportunities for me to learn something.
I would also thank my mom who was my best support system. She believed in me and always reminded me that I can do anything I want.
I have been lucky to not be pressured into anything but I personally set goals to never disappoint my teachers – especially my math teachers. I am that person who puts in my all whenever I am entrusted with a task.
Another thing that keeps me going is the constant reminder I set for the things I have achieved in life. I am alive, I have gone to school, I have this wonderful opportunity,…you know! Things like that keep me grateful and in anticipation of more.
One thing I have learned in life is to not cling to things that failed unless I am using them as a learning curve or stepping stone for something better. Otherwise, I leave them in the past and move ahead.
How difficult has it been for you to achieve the amazing things you have in life? Do you think this difficulty has been because you are an African woman?
I might not be able to tell if what I have or have not achieved had anything to do with gender or ethnicity! Yes, I have received some awards although I have not fully achieved what I want.
I won the NoMa scholarship that I mentioned earlier, it was merit. During my master’s program, I got an award as the best female performing student. I guess this was given to me because I am a woman, haha. But I also got the best overall student for the entire program.
There was a CIMPA grant for a conference that I applied for and got. My other pride is in the BMS scholarship that I have currently – it was merit, haha.
Talking about how hard it was to get all these; for NoMA, I just wrote my motivation letter and applied with my grades. As the best student, I was very motivated and devoted most of my time to my studies.
For the BMS scholarship, things were different, haha. I applied, then had an interview. I didn’t know what to expect from an academic interview. It was a content-related interview. I picked something important out of that – it’s not about excelling at everything you are asked, but showing them that even for what you don’t know, you are willing to learn.
I also wrote a proposal to the Norwegian program for a project about gender sensitization in Uganda. It was about the university and school-going students. My aim was to motivate the students and their teachers because I believe good teachers produce good students.
What do you enjoy doing outside serious work?
I love cooking, haha. Meditation also takes a big part of my time. If I don’t do it in the morning then definitely in the evening before sleeping. I also like dancing – not a good dancer but I enjoy having my music on, haha. It’s called creating my own happiness. My other thing is a Bible group for discussions and teachings. I also enjoy being in a quiet moment. Lastly, when I am stressed, I like window shopping. I don’t get tired of looking at beautiful things inside shops.
Do you have a favourite quote?
I don’t remember who exactly said this but I know it was a lecturer at AIMS. “Understand small things deeply”. My other quote is, “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” ~ Winston Churchill. The last one is, “I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy” ~ Marie Curie.
What is your encouragement for a young girl who is passionate about STEM?
It’s good you have mentioned passion; for you to do anything, you need to be passionate about it. If the person is already passionate then I can say the biggest keys to success are perseverance and a growth mindset. It’s okay not to know everything, this will encourage you to continue growing.
Always find people that can support you, especially in your challenging times. I wish everyone can find at least one person who can support them. Embrace your uniqueness and use that to bring out the strength in you as you stay committed to what you want.
One last thing, be your own cheerleader first then attract more people to cheer you on. Believe in yourself.
I want to thank you Martha for sharing part of yourself with the world. Thank you for trusting us with your journey. We wish you the very best on your Ph.D. journey in Financial Mathematics.