Volunteer with the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS)

AIMS-Logo.jpgEnhancing Statistical and Data Science Education in Africa
Supporting the growth of statistical and data knowledge in Africa is an important part of developing the continent’s infrastructure. RSS fellows who volunteer at The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) centres help to inspire African statisticians and data scientists, thereby investing in long-term impacts that will:

  • Empower Africa’s youth in shaping its future
  • Build capacity for African statistics and data science expertise
  • Enable better governance, agriculture, commerce and health
  • Help drive economic self-sufficiency

RSS fellows have often contributed to AIMS programmes in previous years, among them being Professors Jane Hutton and Tony Lawrance of Warwick University and former RSS Presidents Professors Peter Diggle and Sir David Spiegelhalter.

African Institute for Mathematical Sciences

The RSS-AIMS Support Group
At the RSS-AIMS Support Group, we work in partnership with AIMS to help and encourage RSS fellows who are interested in volunteering. To help encourage further RSS fellows to volunteer with AIMS, the RSS is continuing to pledge funds to cover travel expenses. These will be mainly be used to support fellows looking to teach three-week courses at AIMS centres each year, and partly to support recent PhD students as course tutors for part-year positions.
AIMS usually provides full board and lodging in the form of on-campus accommodation and daily meals for lecturers and offers small honoraria. In addition, volunteers acting remotely for research essay supervision are also welcomed. AIMS also fully funds lecturing visits from its own resources, and is supported by several organizations across the world.
The AIMS programme
AIMS-1.jpgAIMS runs a 10-month Masters programme in Cameroon intended to prepare African graduates with mathematically-based first degrees for employment and postgraduate study.

The  programme is arranged in nine blocks, each made up of three-week courses. The first period (August–November) has three blocks in which nine three-week skills courses are taken by all students, covering introductory and foundational material in mathematics, statistics and computing.  In the second period (November–mid-April), students can select ten  advanced courses over six blocks which are formed into three streams. For instance, in Cameroon  in 2024, the streams were Data Science (covering statistical areas), Climate Science and Fundamental Mathematics.  The topics in each stream depend on the research interests of the visiting lecturers. 

Many courses are taught by visiting volunteer lecturers, often major international research figures from leading universities and companies in Europe and North America as well as those from Africa. From mid-March to mid-June, students also prepare an essay on a research topic of their choice, supervised locally or remotely. 
Graduation is at the end of June, although an internship may also be taken at some centres by Cooperative Masters’ students, which extends the course by eight months. AIMS Centres, some with Masters programmes, are located in Ghana, Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa as well as Cameroon. Potential volunteers can find out more about the individual centres on their websites.

International Teaching Fellows
Individuals that take on the role of international teaching fellow deliver three-week statistically based courses. For skills blocks one to three (September-October), the courses are seen as part of levelling-up knowledge in the statistical area by developing applicable theory and application-orientated statistical data science computer skills. Evidence of past experience of delivering such courses is needed; content of such courses will be agreed with the centre Director.
For review blocks one to three (November-December), the requirement is for three-week courses presenting modern statistical and data-science based techniques that are useful in professional employment or research. For review blocks five and six (January-March), the requirement is for three-week courses presenting more specialized topics in statistics and data science. It’s not expected that lecturers will design new courses as they can be suitably modified versions of courses given previously, but will generally need adapting to the three-week delivery schedule. It is important that they are seen by the Directors of the individual centres as useful and appropriate to their students.
Assessment consists of four quizzes and weekly assignments devised by lecturers, and largely managed by local tutors. For the final assessment, the students also prepare individual or group presentations of their findings. The short quizzes are marked by the lecturers, and assignments by local tutors, who largely manage course administration.  Lecturers need to be fully prepared for delivery and assessment on arrival, and be prepared for a two-hour lecture most days over the three weeks of their stay. Students will usually expect computerized notes, which they can re-read on their provided laptops; computer projection facilities are available in classrooms, and lecturers are also asked to provide and supervise research essay topics.
International Course Tutors
For those with a strong background in maththematical sciences (broadly interpreted), becoming an international course tutor means supporting students in tutorial and computational work and joining with lecturers in the administration of their courses. The core duties are to provide tutorial advice in statistical and related data-science course areas.
Interested persons should have completed or be about to complete PhD studies in a suitable area. A residency period of three months is the norm. Travel, visa, accommodation expenses, meals and a monthly stipend will be covered by AIMS Cameroon with a possible contribution from the Royal Statistical Society’s AIMS support budget.
International Essay Tutors
International essay tutors supervise research essay topics for students undertaking review blocks five and six (March–April).  Essay tutors and lecturers provide and supervise up to  five topics, usually deriving from the review courses. Over the period April–May, supervision is remote, but for the period May-June, international essay tutors may be invited to Cameroon for about two weeks to help students in their final stages and sometimes to participate in the examination process. 

Research essays might be based on a piece of practical analysis of a particular problem or a literature review of a chosen specified area; there is no tight specification. Distinction-level students are expected to produce some original work—this may be theoretical, computational or a data-based analysis. What can be reasonably be achieved is limited by the relatively short time span and the students’ backgrounds. Essay areas should concern or follow on from previous courses taken, as seen from course listings at the beginning of the programme.
RSS supported fellows and tutors
All those who receive funding from the RSS may be requested to consider sharing their experiences in a blog to be published on the RSS website or elsewhere. 

The Social Side of AIMS
Although the academic side of AIMS is highly valuable, volunteering for AIMS, and living and socialising in and around the centres is an experience to remember. The countries are hardly on the tourist trails, and visiting staff are likely to meet students from 15 or more different African countries.

AIMS-5.jpgWhile the accommodation won’t be luxurious and the climate may be a bit taxing, you will be provided a clean room with private facilities, often with air conditioning. Due to provision issues, electricity may be locally generated some days, and internet/email not continuously available. However, a new building with enhanced facilities should be operational for the 2024/25 entry.

 Wholesome local food is provided and is taken with the students. Lecturers can expect to make friends with other lecturers as well as with the very friendly student body.  Centre support staff are also invariably very helpful, and visitors usually organize their own weekend trips together with local help; Mount Cameroon is within visiting distance, as shown below, as is the 18th-century Bimbia slave trade port.

The Cameroon centre is in Crystal Garden, a small village with a market, local store and street cafes, less than a mile from the bustling town of Limbe, and adjacent to the south coast.

Contact:  Those interested in any of the positions described may contact the RSS-AIMS Support Group, c/o  Tony Lawrance (A.J.Lawrance@warwick.ac.uk) with a CV, course ideas and any questions. The final stage would be to submit a formal application using a link which can be supplied.
Many thanks for your interest in AIMS.

By Tony Lawrence, Lead, RSS-AIMS Support Group
Revised May 2024