We talk to Zororo Makumbe, a cool mathematician

What is your job title?

College Instructor/Lecturer

Where do you currently work?

United Arab Emirates University, a tertiary institution that awards bachelors, masters and PhD degrees. The main activity is teaching but we do research and consultancy as well.

Tell us a little bit about your career history?

Apart from the odd jobs that I did while studying for my bachelor’s degree, I have always been in academia. In other words I have always been teaching at university level. My first two jobs were as teaching assistants at two different Zimbabwe universities. For the past five years I have been a lecturer.

Was this always your dream career or it changed somewhere along the line?

This was not my career choice. Like most science students at high school, I saw myself as a medical professional and never planned to teach. As soon as I realized my strengths in mathematics, I gave most of my attention to that. It was soon apparent to me that mathematicians have a lot of possible career choices. My interests lied in mathematical modelling, management sciences, finance as well as computational methods. So from that time I have had one objective of being an applied mathematician in finance. Though teaching is my main function at the moment, I will in the coming years gain the skills and exposure to be a mathematician in industry.

How closely does your academic education fit in with your job? What qualifications do you hold?

It’s a perfect fit. I hold a bachelors and a master’s degree in mathematics both from the University of Zimbabwe.

In short what educational path got you where you are? Could you have made the path shorter?

Yes I could have made my path shorter by choosing the right A’ level combination early (I spent more time here). After that I should have stuck to one drive as far as my career was concerned. Due to having too many options in my mind I did not devote enough time in choosing the right program and the appropriate institution. There are many variations of applied mathematics degrees for different applications of mathematics. The appropriate one for me would have put me in the right position much earlier. Nevertheless, here I am and I will make it all the same.

There are two broad areas of mathematics pure and applied mathematics. Within the applied mathematics wing there are several subdivisions that may overlap. In Zimbabwe, there are not many differences at the bachelor’s level since most colleges have reformed their curriculum to match similar standards. The master’s programs however, emphasize different areas spanning from Mathematics, Industrial Mathematics, Mathematical modelling, to Operations research. All these are equally capable of preparing you for a successful Mathematical career, however internationally there are more competitive options to choose from. The MPhil in computational finance from UCT is one of the best on the continent. Overseas one would be a lot better off with a degree with computational finance, quantitative finance, financial mathematics, mathematical finance or computational mathematics in its title. Countries like Germany, France and Spain have tuition free post graduate studies while Belgium has a very attractive scholarship for developing countries. I got to know all this much later in my career.

What are the tasks that you do regularly in your profession?

Preparing and editing notes or lecture slides as well as grading papers take center stage every time. However, research and further study are an important part of our activities. As a result, most employees at my level are part time PhD students.

Can you tell us some of the projects you have worked on, which you found interesting?

Currently, I am working with a professor to model the price of a European option using what are known as stochastic volatility models. In the Zimbabwean industry, such concepts are not yet used but in major trading firms such models can be used to price derivatives. One needs to know stochastic modelling, C++ programming and some basic financial terminology. This has been the most exciting project I have worked on.

Previously I studied proportional reinsurance models, investment portfolios, credit risk models and many others. However, none of these areas brought as much excitement and enlightenment as the current project. Besides the financially related projects, I have been in a team of scientists modelling biodegradation of waste where we evaluated the effectiveness of the enzyme as well as to come up with a statistical model to describe the process under different conditions.

Recently, here in the UAE, an opportunity to help in the modelling of a wealth fund has come up and this also is an exciting area of application. In general such problems are called optimal investment/consumption models.

What is it that excites you the most when you are doing your job?

Teaching is exciting! Getting other young scientists and researchers to understand new concepts is a wonderful experience. I probably like learning also as much as I like teaching. Currently, I am learning new things in programming, risk, and modelling through the research collaborations that I’ve been privileged to have.

What bits do you find boring in your daily tasks?

Repetitive or routine tasks.

Any advice to those studying or aiming at this job or career?

If you are looking at a career that gives you flexibility and exposure this is a career for you. So, it is important to choose the mathematics you want to apply and hence the institution renowned for excelling in that area at an early stage.

  • Pure Mathematics: Algebra & Algebraic Geometry, Algebraic Topology, Analysis & PDEs, Geometry, Mathematical Logic & Foundations, Number Theory, Probability & Statistics, and Representation Theory
  • Applied Mathematics: Combinatorics, Computational Biology, Physical Applied Mathematics, Computational Science & Numerical Analysis, Theoretical Computer Science, and Theoretical Physics