Volunteering at AIMS: Supervising students at AIMS-Ghana

The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) programme helps prepare African graduates with mathematically-based degrees for postgraduate study and employment. The Royal Statistical Society has sent many volunteers to centres in the network to teach statistics at AIMS centres. Here, RSS fellow Federico Andreis describes his experiences of remotely supervising students from AIMS-Ghana for their final projects in 2018/19.

As a statistician and RSS member, I had volunteered to teach a course in Probability and Statistics at AIMS-Ghana in November 2018. During that amazing and transformative experience, some of the students approached me to ask whether I’d be interested in helping them with their dissertations. I was thrilled at the idea, and prepared a list of potential topics; ultimately, I agreed to supervise two of them.

I was to be available for regular contacts (Skype calls, emails), and guide their self-study and work towards a final report, that I would have assessed. While this clearly depicts a typical supervision workflow (especially now in pandemic’s times, where remote supervision has become a necessity everywhere), it implied so much more!
Why? Well… sometimes, their computers just would not start, or be too slow. The internet connection would be gone for days, and in general even when it wasn’t, the quality of live communications was terrible compared to what we are used to in the UK. Furthermore, access to books and resources was very limited.

This meant a lot of effort in carefully planning activities that could be carried out even when frequent and direct communication was impossible, and/or reasonably functioning computers were a mirage. This created challenges for the two specific projects I was supervising, both with computationally intensive components (Bootstrap and simulation in one case, a complex model with a large dataset in the other).

Perhaps surprisingly, all this proved to be one of the most exciting aspects of the supervision! But definitely something you should keep in mind, before you embark on this incredibly rewarding journey!

I hope that ‘my’ students have learned as much as I did from this experience. They were familiar with technical barriers, and often suggested creative solutions, and taught me a few tricks. On my side, I tried to communicate my love for Statistics and give them the feel of how relevant a role it can play, and they reflected on that and shared their views on how they thought it could be used in their home countries to improve living conditions and opportunities.

This is definitely something I am planning to do again in the future, and would warmly encourage every RSS member to give it a go, and maybe – who knows – also volunteer for teaching!

Find out more about volunteering at AIMS.

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