My Journey to a Phd in Mathematics- Angela Tabiri

My name is Angela Tabiri and I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Mathematics at the University of Glasgow.

How it all began?

First of all, I am a child of God who He has blessed with a talent in mathematics. I am an assertive lady who is passionate about mathematics. My passion for maths and skills in maths communication have improved over the years due to the opportunities I have been blessed with and the experienced mentors I have come into contact with.

This passion for maths is translated into the volunteering activities I undertake to teach junior secondary school students maths when I am on vacation from school. Family support has been instrumental since my family has always encouraged me on this journey with maths and they cheer me on each time I pass a milestone in my academic career.

I was a business student at Accra Girls Secondary School(AGISS) before proceeding to University of Ghana(UG) to study for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics and Economics. After working as a tutor during my national service at the Department of Mathematics, UG, I was retained as a tutor for another year. Subsequently, I enrolled in the master’s degree program at African Institute for Mathematical Sciences(AIMS)-Ghana.

Sustaining the Passion-The role of mentors and lecturers

Studying mathematics has always been thrilling but I did not envisage myself to be studying for a Ph.D. in mathematics. Throughout my primary and secondary education, I always liked solving mathematics questions. My personal favorites then were differentiation and integration. I was blessed to have had a very good mathematics teacher at AGISS called Mr. Kyei Baffour. He taught mathematics lessons so well and encouraged us to solve a lot of questions. This further deepened my love for mathematics.

So in choosing my subjects at the University of Ghana, mathematics featured strongly and I even contemplated studying it as a major.

Throughout my four year studies at the Department of Mathematics, UG, I was inspired by these lecturers: Dr. Margaret McIntyre, Dr. Adu Gyamfi, the late Prof Acheampong, Mr. Jackson, Dr. Prince Osei and Mr. Thomas Katsekpor to mention a few. These mentors encouraged me to apply for the Master’s program being offered at AIMS-Ghana. At AIMS-Ghana, we had a wonderful opportunity to be taught by lecturers from top universities around the world.

It was at AIMS-Ghana that I met my current supervisor, Prof Ulrich Kraehmer who was then at the University of Glasgow but has currently moved to TU Dresden. He was very passionate about mathematics to the extent that I got infected with his passion as well. It was at that time that I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in mathematics. However, since I had done a combined major at my undergraduate level, I still needed to take more mathematics lessons so as to get a solid foundation before starting the Ph.D. So in September 2014, I started the one-year postgraduate diploma in mathematics scholarship program at ICTP, Trieste. This course was a pre-PhD course which strengthened my background to enable me to study for a Ph.D. From ICTP, I moved to the University of Glasgow to study for a Ph.D.  I must add that this Ph.D. journey has been a terrific one of learning new things within and outside mathematics. It is a privilege for me to learn from my experienced supervisors namely Prof Kenneth Brown and Prof Ulrich Kraehmer. These supervisors are greatly influencing my love for maths.

Getting into the Ph.D. Program

Obtaining funding for PhD studies in the United Kingdom (UK) for non-UK/EU residents is usually challenging and so it came as a surprise to Prof Kraehmer ( my supervisor) when in November 2014 he found a student from Kenya who had just started her Ph.D. work here at the School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Glasgow. Through further interactions, he learned that she had obtained funding from the Schlumberger Foundation. My supervisor quickly informed me about this and we put in an application in November 2014 for the Schlumberger Foundation Faculty for the Future Fellowship. By the grace of God, I was awarded this prestigious fellowship and I commenced my studies at the University of Glasgow in October 2015. I chose to study in the UK because my supervisor Prof Kraehmer agreed to work with me there.

Overcoming the Challenges

Getting to fully understand the project for my Ph.D. was quite challenging. It took me months of asking my supervisors lots of questions and reading a lot to understand the questions we are seeking to answer. Once I understood the questions, I had to spend time trying different approaches to solve these questions. There were times when I thought I had the right answer only for my supervisors to find punch holes in my answer.

It can be sometimes frustrating when this happens but I have learned to persevere. There is also the tendency to feel discouraged when progress on the project is slow but my supervisors always remind me to be patient and focus on understanding the concepts as opposed to finishing tasks very quickly.

Future Plans

After my Ph.D. studies, I intend to return to Ghana to teach and do research in mathematics at a university. With the support of colleagues, I hope to influence the way the subject is taught in schools by helping students to understand concepts in mathematics and drawing their attention to how useful mathematics is in everyday life.




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