Mastercard Foundation Scholar profile for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science: Goldalyn K. Tanga, BSc. Epidemiology and Biostatistics

By Goldalyn K. Tanga and Brenda Odhiambo

As we mark the 9th International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we spoke with Goldalyn K. Tanga, a Mastercard Foundation Scholar and a first-year student in the BSc. Epidemiology and Biostatistics program at USIU-Africa. In this interview, she shares her academic journey, the inspirations behind her chosen field of study, and her vision of contributing to the community through her scientific endeavors.

Tell us about your academic journey so far and what sparked your interest in science.
My favorite subjects in primary school were Science and Mathematics. Basic as the concepts were at the time, I was still intrigued and fascinated by what I learnt. I enjoyed solving equations and deciphering the workings of things. After performing extremely well in in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination, I received the Margaret Kenyatta Award, a scholarship which enabled me to go to high school in one of the most prestigious international schools in Kenya, Brookhouse School, where I completed my IGCSE and A-level studies.

Throughout my studies at Brookhouse, my inclination towards the sciences didn’t falter. I found it thrilling that I could explore Biology, Physics and Chemistry individually, and to the extent that I did. It was no wonder that I chose Mathematics, Chemistry and Biology for my A-level course. My gravitation towards Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects stemmed from my inherent curiosity- I live for the eureka moments that I encountered ever so often in these classes. Hence, pursuing a STEM course was a no-brainer for me. Currently, I am in my third semester of my first year in university, undertaking a Bachelor of Science in Epidemiology and Biostatistics under the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at USIU-Africa.

Why did you choose Epidemiology and Biostatistics as your field of study? Are there any female scientists or researchers who inspire you? If so, why?

At the end of Year 10, I had the opportunity to take up work experience for a short period of time at the Nairobi Hospital courtesy of my high school. Initially, I did want to become a doctor. Around the same time, through an initiative by the school, I would visit the Kenyatta National Hospital periodically to spend time with the children in one of the orthopedic wards. My experience from both of these hospitals were extremely eye-opening and informed my decision to study Epidemiology and Biostatistics. I figured that I did not want to become a doctor. Instead, I wanted to work in public health and research to address the different issues in public health, such as equity, accessibility and quality in healthcare, implement sustainable solutions and, ultimately, prevent disease altogether. Pursuing my studies in the Epidemiology and Biostatistics program has been so fulfilling so far.

A remarkable woman I am delighted to have crossed paths with is Dr. Prabha Choksey of Dr. Choksey Albinism Foundation. As I am a person with albinism, you might guess the circumstances under which we met. Dr. Choksey is a renowned, award-winning ophthalmologist who has used her profession to provide free eye care as well as educational support to children with albinism through her foundation. She inspires me to excel in my education and make use of my knowledge and strengths to empower and uplift others in society. She is my constant reminder that at any given point in time, I have all it takes to make a difference, to strive for better and create change.

Balancing academic commitments with other aspects of life as a student can be challenging. How do you manage this balance, particularly in terms of involvement in extra-curricular activities and pursuing your personal interests?

I believe that I am constantly learning, from the courses I take each semester, to the commitments I make outside of class. Therefore, choosing what extracurricular activities and personal interests I partake in take the same deliberation as my classes would. Being intentional with what I commit my time to ensures that I am consistent in my endeavors outside of class. I also try as much as possible to take part in activities that genuinely interest me so that I am always willing to show up to learn as well as contribute. Working with mentors also ensures that I stay on track.

Participating in extra-curricular activities and other personal interests such as clubs, volunteer work, physical recreation and a number of hobbies has encouraged a lot of self-exploration and discovery. Because of this, I hold both my academics and involvements outside at similar, yet relatively high regard. That balance is maintained by prioritizing rest when I need to and incorporating activities that help me destress and unwind to avoid burnout.

What advice would you offer to young women and girls who are aspiring to build careers in science based on your own experiences and challenges?
Although I really enjoyed Biology in high school, I always dreaded a microscope. Not only am I short-sighted, but I also have nystagmus, which is simply constant rapid, involuntary eye movement. Working on a microscope was always challenging because I could never get my eyes to focus for extended periods of time, and I often missed little details on the sample images. Yet, throughout my A-level course, I emerged the best in my Biology class. I found it ironic because I often thought the microscope to be a scientist's most vital tool. How wrong I was! Science is such a broad field with a lot of areas that anyone can specialize in. There is no limit, and if there is, it is coming from you. Explore, discover your strengths and capitalize on them. Microscopy was just one topic, with only one practical question, there was no way it could have held me back when I did my best in all the other topics. Take it from me. Do not falter because of a setback in one area when there is so much more in store for you. I still dread microscopes, but I am good at a lot of other things.

How do you envision utilizing your degree to contribute to the community? What impact do you aspire to make in your chosen field or the broader scientific community?

Health is an immeasurable resource. Reproductive health is vital in any community ecosystem. Therefore, I aspire to propagate initiatives that promote community health through the education of girls and women on their health and well-being, while drawing inspiration from initiatives such as Beyond Zero. As a public health worker, I hope to get the opportunity to leverage health policies such that they promote the education of women and girls on their health as well as create accessibility to vital resources, addressing teenage pregnancies, period poverty and gender-specific illnesses. In the process, I hope to inspire and empower girls to be bold in their endeavors because being a girl is a superpower. I also aspire to further pursue Biostatistics, and fully immerse myself in scientific research. It is a dream of mine to open a research institution that caters to the creativity, devotion and enthusiasm of young scientists in Kenya by equipping them with the skills and resources to invent and innovate sustainably.

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