How HLF changed my life: Omowunmi Isafiade

BLOG: Heidelberg Laureate Forum

Laureates of mathematics and computer science meet the next generation
Heidelberg Laureate Forum

The COVID-19 pandemic forces us all to pause, reflect, and adapt. While the 8th Heidelberg Laureate Forum has been postponed to September 2021, this year’s Virtual HLF will take place from Monday, September 21 until Friday, September 25, 2020. Its motto: Traversing Separation.

An excellent opportunity to review seven successful years of HLF and to follow-up on some alumni and their path since then.

Who are you, where are you from and what is your scientific background?

Photo courtesy of Omowunmi Isafiade

I am a highly motivated young researcher with over 8 years’ experience in teaching, learning, and research in higher education. I received both MSc and PhD degrees in Computer Science from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and another master’s level (PGDip) degree in Mathematical Sciences from the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), South Africa. I enjoy doing research as it gives me the opportunity to engage in life-long learning and bring solutions to some of the challenges faced in resource-constrained settings. Hence, my passion for research in Computer Science has evolved over the years. My research interests include data-driven decision support, immersive technology for development, computational intelligence, and machine learning applications, as well as public safety in (emerging) smart cities, among others. I am also passionate about improving the welfare of students, especially by encouraging the less privileged, including female students, to major and excel in the (Computer Science) STEM discipline. Hence, I am consistently involved in the advancement of women in the STEM field by participating in various initiatives to support the cause.

In which year did you attend the HLF and what were you doing back then?
I attended HLF in 2015 while I was a PhD student.

What inspired you most during the HLF?
The Laureates, week-long interaction with young bright minds, and the famous historical sites such as Heidelberg Castle.

Photo courtesy of Omowunmi Isafiade

What is your best memory you have from your stay in Heidelberg?
The unique terrain, the market square, one-on-one chat with the Laureates, such as Leslie Lamport, and our visit to the castle, among others, were amazing and great!

What has happened in your life since then and in which position are you currently working?
There has been a positive transformation. I completed my Doctoral study and eventually got a job as a full time academic at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa, which I am still currently doing.

Which advice would you give the next generation of Young Researchers?
My advice for the next generation of Young Researchers is as follows: Have an inquisitive mind, interact and network with the young bright minds and Laureates. Be open to opportunities and have fun! It’s a great experience for one’s career and personal experience.

Omowunmi Isafiade on her HLF experience.

How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your professional and private life?
The pandemic has affected everyone in one way or the other. However, it is a time that calls for a reflection on how we live our lives on a daily basis, in order to achieve a work-life balance.

What is the most valuable lesson the pandemic taught you so far?
It taught me that we need to be more flexible and proactive in our approach to life and work, not being reactive. More importantly, the prevailing circumstance has further created the need for more research to strengthen science capacity and support the under-resourced communities, particularly the vulnerable rural communities and urban dwellers with limited job opportunities.

With initiatives like Women in CS, you have been encouraging women to pursue a career in computer science. Do you think the field is less men-dominated today than it used to be?
It appears that we are still far from it. While there has been some notable awareness, where stories validating women’s under-representation and experience are coming to light, that’s just a first step. It is widely recognized that women are still under-represented across the STEM discipline and leadership positions. Part of the key challenges is limited or lack of mentoring and career development opportunities. Hence, there is a need for more support in terms of mentoring and policies that encourages more women in the STEM discipline at large, in order to change the demographic.


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Jens-Steffen Scherer is a neuroscientist, science communicator, and moderator. Besides pursuing his Ph.D. at the University of Oldenburg, he works for the National Institute for Science Communication (NaWik) and the Südwestrundfunk (SWR). In 2018 Jens-Steffen won the 8th Science Slam of Oldenburg. LinkedIn

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