Dr Purity Ngina scored a measly 235 marks in KCPE but went on to become Kenya’s youngest Ph.D. holder in biometrics at 28.
She talked to NaiNotepad.
What was going on in your mind when you became the youngest Kenyan to earn a PhD in biomathematics?
It was so emotional. I reflected more on my journey and the dreams that had once seemed invalid. It pained me that many of my primary school classmates did not get such an opportunity due to financial limitations. Poverty is a bad state to be in.
Is there someone special you wished you could share that moment with, but was not there?
My mum did not get to see her doll graduate. I wish she did. But I guess that is how life is…unfair. May she continue dancing with the angels.
And your dad?
I was raised by a single mum. I am yet to meet or know my father.
What is biomathematics in layman terms?
It is a branch of applied mathematics that uses mathematical models to bring solutions to phenomena in biology.
What was your thesis about?
HIV is a global pandemic that has claimed so many lives. With that in mind, I made a deliberate decision to be part of the solution to this menace.
My research findings give a significant explanation of why late initiation of ARTs (antiretroviral therapy) might not be helpful to an HIV infected person and suggested that the controls ought to be optimal at the acute phase of infection, where the viral replication is extremely high.
Is there an avenue for implementing your research work?
The research outcomes in this study emphasises the importance of Anza Sasa campaign that was launched on July 15, 2016 by the Government of Kenya through the Ministry of Health in collaboration with the National AIDS and STI (sexually transmitted infections) Control Programme.
In campus, people drink, party, have irresponsible sex and run wild. But you were chasing a first class honours degree. Why?
Getting a first class is not as hard as people think! It actually depends on you as a person. You must be motivated by something or someone greater. For me, I had a vision and a mission: to be the best and successful.
Kenya has a shortage of doctorates, yet many PhD candidates have been dropping out. What are the issues?
The Ph.D. candidate must be very passionate about their research area to avoid boredom and also have a close relationship with the supervisor since they serve as mentors and resource people.
If there is no rapport, both the student and the supervisor end up frustrated and the student eventually drops out.
For those who pursue PhDs, money is rarely a motivation. How come?
In academia, money is rarely the drive. I think nurturing an intellectual spirit in students and watching them take hold of that spirit and grow with it is more fulfilling.
This and the opportunity to become an expert in their field of research to the level where they can direct and influence policy.
Why is it that the first millionaire from a high school class is usually a C or D student?
Because most of them venture into businesses right after school. Look, I have been in school for the last 24 years. Can you imagine if ventured into business after high school 11 years ago? I would probably be a millionaire right now!
Isn’t something wrong with a country where an MCA earns more than a PhD holder?
Of course yes! I am hopeful that in future, pay, especially for civil servants, will be determined by one’s level of education.
Kenya has many problems, yet we have thousands of masters and doctorate theses gathering dust in universities. Why aren’t our scholars helping in solving our problems?
For research to impact society, researchers must collaborate with industries. This is a critical component of efficient national innovation systems.
Which book made the most impact on you? What are you reading now?
Mastery by Robert Greene is the most consequential book I have read so far. Another equally good book is Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder by Nicholas Nassim Taleb. Currently, I am reading Becoming by Michelle Obama.
Kenyans assume those with PhDs know everything. Do you face this dilemma?
Oh, yeah! People will ask for your advice on issues that require an advocate! Others think you have solutions to their health problems. I am forced to constantly explain why I am called a doctor yet, I cannot treat the sick. It is very frustrating!
What three things worry you the most?
Failure and health. I guess health is a concern for all people.
Kenyan men fear ‘over educated’ women…how will you go about this?
I think this depends on one’s perception of marriage – is it for a show of might and competition or true companionship?
The Gender Bill…what are your views?
Kenya is a patriarchal society and we need to change this narrative. Women need to be in boardrooms taking part in making decisions and policies.
It is sad that Kenya is the only country in East Africa that is yet to establish affirmative action for gender representation in Parliament.
There are students who are shattered by poor KCPE performance. What should they do? Any advice for their parents?
Personally, I failed in my KCPE. I scored 235 marks. I had to repeat the exam, yet here I am with a doctorate degree.
Life will always offer many more chances, so when they come your way, grab them! Parents should support their child irrespective of the marks they score. They will always be your children.
Slay queens usually marry the top male student in university. Why?
Research shows that men and women still tend to form marriages in which the wife’s socioeconomic status does not exceed that of the husband.
So, for this reason, I might not be surprised if this also happens in Kenya. However, this is not to mean that slay queens have no money to bring to the table.
You are warm and bubbly. Why aren’t you all puffed-up and arrogant like the traditional Kenyan academic?
My mum (God rest her soul) drummed respect and humility into me. She reminded me over and over again how humble a Dr Kanja (whom I never got to meet!) was and how he treated people from our neck of the woods with respect.
I learnt to treat every human being with kindness and love. Unfortunately, many people consider humility and kindness as a sign of weakness.