Agnes, Rwanda

10 Questions with Agnes Mbonyiryivuze

agnes in lab

Agnes Mbonyiryivuze, 32, from Rwanda is a Ph.D. student in the Physics Department at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

She is working on the “developing of students’ understanding of spectroscopic data in the senior physics teaching laboratory”.

Agnes is a participant of the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting which is dedicated to the field of physics in 2016.

Enjoy the interview with Agnes and get inspired:

  1. What inspired you to pursue a career in physics / STEM?

In addition to my mother, brothers and sisters, I was inspire by my teachers from primary to high school, my classmates, my lectures especially my supervisors for Prof. Lakhan Lal Yadav who guided me for my Bachelors (Horns) degree. After getting married my husband and our sons as well as my extended family are always inspiring, encouraging, and supporting me to do science.

  1. Who are your role models?

My mother was my role model. She was a nurse and since my childhood my dream was to become a medical doctor due to her passion, hardworking, kindness, and perseverance. The only way to become a medical doctor was to perform well in sciences at high school and through studying process I liked physics more than other courses.

  1. How did you get to where you are in your career path?

As a married women doing science and having family responsibilities, there are a lot of challenges and obstacles, but when there is supportive and friendly environment, doing science and having family for women is possible.
I was born in Rwanda in North province, at Kigeyo, a village in Burera district. I was raised by only my mom Josephine Ntawugashira who was a nurse because my dad, Joseph Ndagijimana passed away while I was a still very young.
Since my childhood, my dream was to become a medical doctor. I attended primary school at Kigeyo Primary School where I was performing well both in science and other courses, and this leads me to be the first in the whole Burera district in primary’s national exam in 1998. The ordinary level was attended at Groupe Scolaire Rulindo till 2001. I was also performing well in sciences which motivated me to choose Math-Physics section at Advanced level at Groupe Scolaire de Muhura. Since that time I was more interested in Physics. In the whole class, we were only five female in more than 40 students.
It was in 2004 when I passed the national examination to continue at University and got married to my husband Ndacyayisenga Alex, and a father of our two sons Cyuzuzo Confiance and Iranzi Souvenir.
In waiting to go to university in 2006, I have offered a job of teaching science at high school Nyamugali Secondary School where I was teaching sciences including Physics and Mathematics at Ordinary level and this changed the direction of becoming a medical doctor to science educator as I really enjoyed teaching at that time.
Reaching at National University of Rwanda, I did one year of languages and I requested the university that I want to change the university and continue at University of Rwanda-College of Education (former Kigali Institute of Education) to study Mathematics Physics and Education Combination.
When choosing main subject, Prof. Lakhan Lal Yadav (my supervisor) was the first person who inspired and advised me to choose Physics as a major subject. I was only one female among 21 students and because of his motivation, guidance, mentoring and his teaching methodology; I managed to succeed even if I was combining my studies with family responsibilities. He was always inspired us to have love of hard work, love of challenges, the ability to embrace and learn from our inevitable mistakes as well as time management.
I will never forget my last year when the submission of our thesis was almost coming and my son got burned on his arm and he was hospitalized. I was scared to inform my supervisor that my son is in the hospital, and the time I told him, he became chocked and ask me why I didn’t informed him on time in order to avoid the pressure of chapters’ submissions. Despite all the challenges of combining my studies and family responsibilities, in 2010, I was among 4 who got distinction at our horns’ graduation.
I have offered a teaching job in 2011 at Nyamugali Secondary School where I was teaching Physics at Advanced level till 2013 when I got the Organization for Women in Science for Development (OWSD) fellowship to further my education. I have left my family in Rwanda to South Africa at University of South Africa (UNISA) where I did my Master’s in Physics and I was awarded my Degree in 2015. Since that time I am doing my PhD at University of Cape Town. During my studying journey of Physics, my extended family as well as my husband and our sons are always encouraging and supporting me.


  1. What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

The coolest project that I has worked on is my current project. Working on this PhD is becoming a great learning experience. I always work to improve my skills. I am investing time in myself to improve. I am trying to know myself, knowing my strengths and weaknesses. This goes for technical skills, communication skills, and time management skills. I also get to learn that it is important to recover from failure quickly and learn from that failure.

  1. What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself / your work?

When I graduated for my bachelor (Horns) degree being one female among 4 student who got distinction in Physics wit Education, I felt proud of myself and my family as I knew how hard was for us to study and having small babies and living in low conditions. This was the motivation to further my education towards masters and PhD and I had confidence that it will be possible.

  1. What is a “day in the life” of Agnes like?

I get up at 6:00, and take a shower and prepare myself for studying half an hour and then take breakfast. I usually leave students accommodation with 8:10 Shuttle and reach at campus around 9:00. There are always loads of emails to be to go through and then I should really check my academic accounts (twitter, research gate, LinkedIn, Academia, and Facebook) till around 9:30. This time I start reading and writing on my PhD project and have breaks of 10 minute after each 50 minutes till 12:30 when I have lunch break.
At 1:30, I start reading and researching again with the same time interval and breaks till 17:30. At 17:30, I do evaluation on my to-do-list and what I did not do will be the first to do on the following day. I leave the campus around 18:00 and reach home around 19:00. All week days are the same except some days when I have tutoring classes or the meeting with my supervisor as well as some seminars to attend.

  1. What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

I am looking forward to contribute actively to the increase of participation of women in developing countries in scientific and technological research (STEM), teaching and leadership in being a role model of other women in science. I will contribute to the transformation of science teaching, especially physics, from low secondary to tertiary level. By providing a female-friendly curriculum, women can be recruited into the physics major. Paying particular attention to the introductory course, choosing charismatic and effective teachers, emphasizing interactive classes and labs and encouraging a cooperative learning environment, these are some of the ways that can be used to increase the number of women majoring in physics.

  1. What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

When I am not doing research, I like:

  • To talk and chart to my family and friends,
  • To share my life story with my family, friend, students as well as other people,
  • To read and watching lives of great scientists and their storied as well as motivational and romantic stories,
  • To learn and teach myself new skills apart from sciences such as personal development, leadership skills, management, etc.
  1. What advice do you have for other women interested in physics / STEM?

Any woman interested in physics must have self-confidence in herself. Don’t let anyone intimidate or discourage you from doing science or physics. By having passion, perseverance, self-confidence and working hard, you can reach success. I would also like to advice young female scientist to grab the opportunity that we have nowadays. There many organizations including OWSD that are more than willing to support, promote and motivate women in sciences.


  1. In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in physics research?

In my opinion, the next great breakthrough in physics research will be the discovery of the mass of neutrinos.

What should be done to increase the number of female professors of physics?

To increase the number of female professors of physics, we need to promote and support women leading and working at the different levels of universities in physics field and this would certainly help to change our female students’ ideas about physics as a professional livelihood and increase female role models.

There is a need of promotion of equality and incorporate gender equilibrium in all planning and administration tasks, taking measures to remedy the situation where necessary including universities. In physics, the involvement of women in changing the equality picture is vital.

Promoting the involvement of female teachers in tutoring final projects in physics can motivate many women to continue physics career. The presence of female physicist role mode has an influence on the decisions of female students regarding their future professional especially in physics. Female physicist should become actively engaged in all the different stages of women’s education.



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