This week, we journey into the life of Nono Saha Cyrille Merleau, AIMS Ghana 2018 alumnus. Nono is currently a PhD student at the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences.
Q: Tell us about yourself and your motivation for choosing AIMS.
Cyrille: I am from Cameroon, and my background is in Computer Science. I completed my Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics and Computer Science at the University of Ngaoundéré, Cameroon. I also obtained a Master’s Degree in the same university, majoring in Computer Science in 2015. I spent a few months working as a software engineer in local enterprises and as a freelancer before starting a PhD in Mathematics and Computer Science. After spending a year and a half on my PhD, I heard about AIMS, and I applied for the Structured Master’s program.
Q: How would you describe your time at AIMS?
Cyrille: I chose AIMS Ghana. I wanted to improve my English language skills. I was sure of receiving worldwide opportunities once I became fluent in English. I also wanted to enhance my knowledge in applied mathematics because my background was primarily theoretical.
The first impressive experience I had was the selection process itself. My advisor refused to recommend me because he felt I was not serious with the application. After all, I had left it dormant for a long time. AIMS notified me about my incomplete application, and it was not going to be taken into account during the selection process, but surprisingly I was selected. That proved to me that AIMS was the place to be. However, once at AIMS, I was utterly lost because of my poor English; I could not understand people, even communication with the lecturers was difficult, and then I thought, wow, maybe I made the wrong choice to be here.
I thought of leaving and going back home, but with my English lecturer, roommate, and friends’ support, I overcame my language limitations after the four first months. I appreciate AIMS Ghana for providing us with the right environment (especially the roommate system that generally consists of native English speakers and non-native ones) to support English language learning. I also enjoyed meeting students from many other African countries. AIMS’ friendly environment allows students and lecturers to be in constant interactions, and that is how opportunities for future work collaboration started.
There were a few challenging times, frustrations about academic challenges and wishing we received more praise for our successes, but not enough to distract me from the primary goal.
I have mostly good memories from AIMS, meeting good people from Rwanda, Tanzania, Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria. Every three weeks, new lecturers from Germany, the USA, Canada, England, Italy, the great environment, the beach, and the sound of the waves every morning. I have a lot of good memories, and I miss all the moments at AIMS.
Q: Tell us about the impact AIMS has had on you.
Cyrille: AIMS completely changed my mindset. Before coming to AIMS, I thought of travelling abroad and, later on, giving back to Cameroon. After AIMS, all my projects were no longer only limited to Cameroon; they have been extended to Africa in general. I have trusted friends from all over the continent; there are many open doors for collaborations in the future. I dream we will all come together one day for the same goal: the development of Africa through science and new technology.
Secondly, AIMS gave me the foundation in English to continue my studies. I also had exciting courses like Bio-Maths and Particle Physics when it comes to soft skills. Before joining AIMS Ghana, I was a software engineer in JAVA, and I never used Python before. My first journey with the Python programming language started at AIMS, and now all the computer programs I develop for my research are mostly done in Python. I am grateful for that.
Q: What would you describe as your post-AIMS success story?
Cyrille: Honestly, I would not say I am successful yet. As long as I am not yet contributing to the development of Africa, there is no success story to tell. However, right after AIMS, I got an opportunity to pursue my PhD in Evolutionary Computation at the Max Planck Institute of Mathematics in the Sciences (Leipzig, Germany). So that is a successful step to my dream. I have always dreamed of an Africa with independent scientific and political institutions, with industries, technologies and infrastructures made by Africans. I am still on my way to this success, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank AIMS for the first step in realising my dream. I will be more successful in the future. In the next ten years, I see myself actively involved in one of the industrial sectors, either in teaching or creating new enterprises that will transform and develop Africa for the new generations to come.
As a PhD student in a multidisciplinary research group, I have many new concepts to learn every week compared to other PhD students. It is quite hectic, and AIMS was pivotal to what I need now by preparing me for such a routine. AIMS has armed me with the foundation, and now it is up to me to take the responsibility of building the house.
Q: Which of the SDGs is most important/relevant to you? How do you plan on addressing it in your work?
Cyrille: When it comes to Sustainable Development Goals, two things come to mind: first, Decent Work and Economic Growth and second, Industries, Innovations and Infrastructures. In Africa, the crucial thing we are still missing is a proper working environment with sufficient resources that will allow our economy to grow up safely. The lack of such things encourages many Africans to stay abroad in European countries, America, etc. My plan to contribute in those different sectors is to come back to Africa after my studies and put my knowledge and experience into applications. I believe that just after almost three years of living in Germany now, I have learnt a lot that can be relevant to overcome those difficulties. My plan in the future is to establish myself in one of the African countries and create an enterprise to develop innovative technologies that will support the educational and pharmaceutical industries. I have already written down many project ideas that I will not reveal here. Still, one thing is clear; the future (industries, innovation, and infrastructure) is in Africa, and I will not miss my contribution.
Q: What is your message to current AIMS students and young people across the continent?
Cyrille: Take this opportunity offered to you by AIMS as a way to get more opportunities. The goal is not to “get a distinction”; make sure you deserve each mark written on your certificate. AIMS will transform your life in many aspects, so do not let yourself be disturbed by those minor difficulties you may encounter. I know the current situation with the pandemic makes things more complicated, but let me tell you something, to great people, challenges are significant. Do not miss the opportunities to communicate with lecturers, ask questions when you do not understand. I remember this sentence from one of our lecturers: “When I was at AIMS, some students never came to me, and as soon as I left, they messaged me for a recommendation. I was so embarrassed because I could not remember them”. For those who are planning for a career in academia, recommendations are generally vital contributions to most of your job applications. So it is crucial to do your best to avoid such situations. Don’t forget to make friends too; keeping good contacts with your schoolmates is essential for your stay and the rest of your life.