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It’s rewarding our group won first prize–scientist who represented Nigeria at Lindau event

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 RMtimesng—Aderonke Sakpere is one of three young scientists/economists from Nigeria selected to participate in the 70th Anniversary of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, which foster the exchange among scientists of different generations.

She participated in the Lindau Online Science Days, LINOSD that pulled 40 Nobel Laureates and more than a thousand young scientists from different parts of the world.

Sakpere, a lecturer in the Department of Computer Science, University of Ibadan was the Centre Head/Instructor National Institute of Information Technology, NIIT.

She is also the convener Tech Girls’ club.

 In this interview with a Daily Trust Bureau Chief Rakiya A.Muhammad who was one of the journalists accredited to cover the event, Aderonke Sakpere, who holds a PhD in Computer Science from the University of Cape in South Africa, speaks on various issues.

EXCERPTS:

The annual gathering of Nobel Laureates at Lindau in Germany provides an opportunity exclusively to outstanding young scientists to participate, how do you feel being one of three Nigerians selected?

I feel proud and humbled. Proud to know that I am being recognized. Humbling to see that I am 1 out of 3 Nigerians in a crowd of over 1000. I use this medium to appreciate Heidelberg Laureate Forum, for nominating me, and the University of Ibadan, for supporting my application.

An event like Lindau brings a lot of  Nobel Laureates from different parts of the world together and gives you an opportunity to meet them, learn from them, interact with them and even dine with them. Listening to these great minds and trail-blazers has a way of boosting one’s confidence, especially when they tell you about their little beginnings and struggles. It makes you realize that they are also humans and you can achieve the same feat and even more. In addition, interacting with other young ones (like me) from all over the world helps you get new perspectives and grow your mind too. So yes, Lindau programme is a very good one. I highly recommend it.

What did you bring to the Lindau Online Science Days (LINOSD) event as a computer scientist?

I took part in the Science challenge. During the challenge, my team focused on developing a multidisciplinary and global mentoring system. As a computer scientist, one of my interests is in Human-Computer Interaction. So I contributed to the design of survey form in such a way that people can understand it, while also ensuring it can be statistically computed. I was also able to pick up bugs/problems to improve our presentation flow. Lastly, I applied problem-solving skills in computing to approach tasks assigned to me. It was rewarding when our group won the first prize.

 LINOSD covered urgent questions on the corona pandemic, climate change problem and global scientific practice, please share your thoughts on these?

The Corona pandemic is a subject of interest to me and I have at least 5 different researches and proposals I am doing on it. My husband even teased me and called me ‘corona researcher’ 😂😂. Through these studies, I have seen that in as much as there is a global approach to solving the Pandemic, there is also the need for country/location-specific solution. This is important because different countries have various setup and structure, so what works perfectly for country A might not work perfectly for country B. However, in implementing all of these, each country needs to take the standard/global scientific guidelines and safety measures into consideration. The same approaches will be appropriate for studies related to climate change and global scientific practices in general.

As a former Centre Head/Instructor of the National Institute of Information Technology, what were your contributions to the organisation and how do you think it could be used to transform ICT in Nigeria?

My experience at NIIT is an exciting and funny one. I was just a little over 21 and I just completed my NYSC, as well as running my master’s programme. I remember one of my students had to confess after we became a bit close. According to him, he deliberately asked me different questions in class just to test my knowledge and I guess because he felt I was too young. Thanks to diligence, I did not fall into his trap. I also had other testimonials from my students who attested to enjoying my class. In a nutshell, I will say my contribution was explaining complex concepts of computing in a simple way that improved others professionally. I also counselled students on choosing the right path in the field of computing.

NIIT is an IT educational college. Having such colleges in Nigeria surely can bring a lot of transformation and difference. The world is now run by IT and we cannot over-emphasize the revolution it brings.

Tell us about Anonymous Data Streams in Electronic Crime Reporting

I had my PhD at the University of Cape Town and my thesis focused on the anonymization of streaming crime data. The solution approach is three-pronged. First, a mobile application to facilitate crime reporting in a usable, secure and privacy-preserving manner was developed. This was built on in the second step to propose a streaming data anonymization algorithm, which analyses reported data, based on occurrence rate rather than at a pre-set time on a static repository. Finally, in the third step, privacy preferences was used in creating anonymized datasets.

What’s most challenging about your job?

As a lecturer, we are mostly evaluated based on our research output. So the most challenging part of my job is coming up with an innovative solution, while also striving to fulfil teaching obligations.

What is most rewarding?

Most rewarding is when you are being recognized for your impact and contribution, just like the Lindau Online Science Day Events, and when those recognitions come with perks like paid conference trips and research funding.

You are the convener of Tech Girls’ club – what informed this and how is it faring?

When I was in University of Cape Town (UCT), I got involved in a lot of activities including Women in Computer Science (WICS) club. At a time, I was vice president of the WICS club. The experiences at WICS UCT left an impression on me. So it was easy to start a similar initiative on my return to Nigeria. I will say the club is faring well even though there is still room for improvement. The club is just about 1 year old and we have been able to achieve some major milestones. One is having one of the IT managers from MTN to speak at our inaugural ceremony, with MTN giving us freebies. Another laudable one is our on-going collaboration with Success Waymarks Foundation and Comercio cloud computing limited.

What are the criteria for membership and how has been the response of girls towards the club?

The club is domiciled in the Department of Computer Science, University of Ibadan. So by default, any female student of the department could be a member. Because it is an extra-curricular activity that will improve their skills, being a member is optional. In our inaugural event, which was limited to girls in the department, we had over 30 of them in attendance. I will say their responses, particularly 4 of them that I closely work with to organize programmes, is very encouraging. In addition, support from some other girls that graduated from the department is also encouraging.

How would you describe the contributions of female computer scientists to development? Are you satisfied with it?

Women have contributed significantly to the field of computer science both in Nigeria and abroad. For instance, the just-retired Professor Adenike Osofisan is a notable Nigerian figure in Computer Science. Grace Hopper, now of blessed memory, is another one whose work still speaks after she is no more. While their contributions, as well as others’, are impressive and affecting women positively, I am not satisfied. This is not because women in Computer Science are not good enough, but because there is no much societal support for them.

What is your dream/goal?

My goal is to be world-class academia with an impactful contribution to science and technology.

 A brief on your family and how you juggle work and family life

I am blessed with a husband who understands the nature of my work, which makes family life easy for me. He also has a PhD in Computer Science and Engineering, with a background in Electrical Engineering.

Is there any other thing you would like to share with us?

I would like to say people should not be passive about life or opportunities. We need to be intentional and aggressive. Life does not happen by chance. We need to have plans/goals and back them up with actions. Last year, I set a goal that I would submit at least 3 applications monthly for international opportunities. Application to attend Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings (Online Science Days) was one of the many applications I submitted last year. I got many negative responses for some other applications I made but did not allow it to deter me from continuing to seek other opportunities. I still applied for Lindau in October 2019 and yes I was selected to attend the meeting in 2020.

I will also like to say people should embrace multidisciplinary collaboration. There is no need looking down on any discipline. In my little research experience, I have seen how working with people from diverse fields such as Economics, Engineering, Medicine and many others have widened my horizon. When we collaborate, the impact is more and the proffered solution is robust.

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