We make a stop at Ethiopia this week to speak with Dr. Woldegebriel Assefa Woldegerima, AIMS Cameroon Alumnus, 2014.
Q: Tell us about yourself and your time at AIMS
Assefa: I graduated with a four-year Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics Education from Bahir Dar University in Ethiopia. Then I got sponsored by the Ethiopian Ministry of Education (currently named Ethiopia Ministry of Science and Higher Education) to pursue my MSc in Mathematics at Addis Ababa University.
I heard about AIMS for the first time from my MSc thesis supervisor at Addis Ababa University, though I only applied two and a half years later. I did not know so much about the institute, and I also wanted to work to help my parents after finishing my MSc at Addis Ababa University.
While teaching mathematics courses, I wanted to show a visual demonstration and plots of some concepts so my students could understand the courses better. The quest led me to read in detail about AIMS on the internet. The information I read highlighted the teaching of programming languages at AIMS, which motivated me to apply. I was admitted to AIMS South Africa in 2012, but I could not reply to the acceptance email on time due to personal inconveniences and lost the chance. A year later, I joined AIMS Cameroon.
My stay at AIMS was full of surprises, great experiences, memories, as well as stressful and sleepless nights, but they were worth it. My AIMS Cameroon experience has been my most valuable. They include the opportunity to live and share with students from different African countries and cultures, values, and academic backgrounds. Accomplishing complex tasks within a short period, either as individuals or in a group, was also learnt.
Most importantly, my stay in AIMS as a student and then as a tutor helped me understand how mathematics can be applied to model, study, investigate and predict our real-world problems in health, climate change, engineering, etc.
In addition to this, being in AIMS taught me how to fight and win personal difficulties, including adapting to different temperatures, cultures, individual behaviours, and challenges.
Q: Tell us about the impact AIMS has had on you.
Assefa: In general, my time at AIMS enriched my life in many ways. It provided me with a platform where I could learn valuable knowledge and skills, which I used to diversify my study and research in a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research group.
AIMS impacted me to change my research career from pure mathematics to applied mathematics (mathematical biology and data sciences). The different levels of academic educational training and skills I got from AIMS, especially in terms of scientific computing programming, applying mathematical tools, techniques, theories to model and analyze real-world phenomena, scientific research writing, effective communication skills, etc. helped me to diversify my research skills and become more performant on the global landscape.
Q: Which of the SDGs is most important/relevant to you? How do you plan on addressing it in your work?
Assefa: My research work lies on the SDG 3 (Good health and well-being),
Currently, as a Postdoctoral fellow, I am working on mathematical and statistical modelling and analyzing novel Transmission-Blocking Interventions (TBIs), especially on Transmission-Blocking antimalarial Drugs (TBDs) and Transmission-Blocking Vaccines (TBVs).
This is in line with several scientists’ new research and innovation efforts towards global malaria control and elimination. For example, for the case of TBDs, our work includes mathematically assessing the Pharmacodynamics (PD) & Pharmacokinetics (PK) properties of such new TBDs; studying the impact of such TBDs on malaria transmission, including the efficacy of such drugs, slackness rate, treatment coverage rate, data visualization and fitting to such models, and then prediction and recommendation to health researchers, and decision-makers, etc.
I am also involved in other collaborative researches on another infectious disease modelling such as COVID-19, Cholera, TB, and Hepatitis.
New mathematical models have the potential to radically alter drug and vaccine development and regulatory decision-making processes and lead to more affordable and more effective drug therapy and vaccine development and deployment. So, in my future research career, I am interested in performing collaborations in a wide range of mathematical sciences applications, especially in health-related problems. In the long term, I see myself working on expanding my expertise in data science and machine learning (ML) to model and solve real-world systems, particularly in the biological phenomenon and climate.
Q: How is your current work contributing to the development of the continent?
Assefa: Africa is the most affected continent in terms of emerging diseases, which indirectly affects its economic status, increases poverty, and reduces quality education, especially for children under ten years. So my research contributes to solving multi-type Africa health and health-related problems.
Currently, I am a Postdoc Research Fellow at the DST/NRF SARChI Chair in Mathematical Models and Methods in Biosciences and Bioengineering at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. I joined this Postdoc research after completing a PhD in August 2018 at the University of Buea with a co-supervision from the USA. As part of my PhD, I also have travelled to the USA as a Pre-doctoral Research Associate for three months. Recently, I was selected to be part of a short-term mentorship program in the One Health Cluster UNICEF project. All these and other achievements are due to the training and skills I got from AIMS.
Q: What’s your message to current AIMS students and young people across the continent?
Assefa: Put maximum effort to use the most from AIMS. Try to challenge your self to learn or try new courses and problems.
Life is about transitions or change; each transition comes with fear, hindrances, obstacles and excitement. But remember, there is always a solution to any problem.
I would like to mention one of my favourite mathematics quotes known as Plato’s geometry of God:
“Biologists think they are biochemists,
Biochemists think they are Physical Chemists,
Physical Chemists think they are Physicists,
Physicists think they are Gods,
And God thinks he is a Mathematician.”