AI Insights

From Omdena Collaborator to Head of OmdenaSchool, to a Ph.D Scholarship in Germany

March 9, 2023

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Erum Afzal from Pakistan completed several Omdena Challenges, ranging from preventing online violence against children to analyzing the role of connectivity on economic & human development. She has been actively involved in teaching and training students in the field of educational technologies, and she eventually became the Head of Omdena School! Erum is a Ph.D. scholar at the Institute of Educational Sciences at Justus Liebig University Giessen now.

Erum, what is your professional background?

I am Erum Afzal, a Ph.D. scholar at the Institute of Educational Sciences at Justus Liebig University Giessen and the Head of OmdenaSchool since September 2021. I am originally from Pakistan and have spent more than eight years working at the National University of Sciences and Technology, where I have been actively involved in teaching and training students in the area of educational technologies.

When and how did you enter Omdena, and what was the reason?

I came to know about Omdena through a Facebook post. I joined Omdena back in May 2019 for one of the earliest projects, “Anomaly Detection on Mars Using Deep Learning.”

Erum took part in three projects! These are some of them:

What was the biggest obstacle you overcame?

The most difficult part of working on the social AI projects for me was dealing with the complexity and ambiguity of the problems we were trying to solve. Many of the projects we worked on had no clear-cut solutions, and it was often difficult to determine the best approach to take. In addition, the projects often involved working with data sets that were incomplete, noisy, or biased in some way, which made it challenging to develop accurate models.

To overcome these obstacles, I learned to be flexible and adaptable in my approach. I had to be willing to try different approaches and to be open to feedback and collaboration with other team members. I also had to become comfortable with ambiguity and embrace the idea of “failing fast” and learning from mistakes. I found that by being open to new ideas and approaches and by working collaboratively with others, we were able to develop creative solutions to complex problems.

How did the Omdena experience help you in your career till now?

As an educator and a technologist, I have always been passionate about finding innovative ways to improve the quality of education and expand opportunities for learners, particularly for underserved communities. Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work on a variety of exciting projects, and each experience has helped me to grow both personally and professionally. One of the most transformative experiences of my career came when I joined Omdena School in 2021. Before this, I had spent more than eight years working at the National University of Sciences and Technology in Pakistan, where I gained valuable experience in teaching and research. However, I was eager to explore new opportunities and take my skills to the next level, and Omdena School offered the perfect platform for me to do so. During my time at Omdena, I had the opportunity to work on five different social AI projects, each of which presented unique challenges and opportunities for growth. Through these projects, I was able to develop my skills in AI, machine learning, data analysis, and more, and I gained valuable experience collaborating with interdisciplinary teams from around the world. 

Moreover, my work at Omdena helped me to expand my professional network and build relationships with fellow experts in the field. One of the highlights of my time at Omdena came when I was invited to serve as a virtual jury member for the AI Startup Rising Open Idea Competition in Germany. Later, I was selected as a mentor for a couple of projects, including an AI simulation for teacher training developed by the Institute of Educational Sciences at Justus Liebig University Giessen. This was a transformative experience that helped me further develop my skills in AI and education. It ultimately led to my current Ph.D. opportunity focused on developing digital humans for teacher training. 

Looking back on my journey, I am grateful for the many experiences and opportunities that have helped me to grow and develop as an educator and technologist. From my early days at the National University of Sciences and Technology to my time at Omdena and beyond, each experience has contributed to my personal and professional growth in unique and meaningful ways. And as I look ahead to the future, I am excited to continue my work in education and technology and to use my skills to make a positive impact on the world.

How did the Omdena experience change your worldview? What brought you the most happiness?

The Omdena experience was truly transformative for me and had a great impact on my worldview. Through my work on various social AI projects, I was exposed to a wide range of challenges, perspectives, and cultural contexts that helped me to see the world in a new light. I gained a deeper appreciation for the complex interplay of social, political, and economic factors that shape our world, and developed a greater sense of empathy and understanding for people who face challenges and injustices that I had never previously considered.

One of the most impactful aspects of the Omdena experience was the sense of community and collaboration I felt throughout the projects. I was constantly amazed by the dedication, creativity, and passion of my fellow collaborators around the world, and felt a deep sense of pride and connection to the work that we were doing together. This collaborative spirit was a powerful reminder that no matter where we come from or what our backgrounds are, we all have the capacity to work together to make a positive impact on the world.

In terms of what brought me the most happiness, it is undoubtedly the feeling of making a difference in people’s lives through my work. Seeing the tangible impact of our social AI projects on communities around the world was incredibly rewarding and gives a sense of purpose and fulfillment that I had never experienced before. Whether it is helping to improve access to children, healthcare, or social services, I was constantly reminded of the power of technology to bring positive change to people’s lives.

Overall, the Omdena experience changed my worldview in countless ways and helped me to develop a sense of purpose, community, and empathy that has stayed with me to this day. I am grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of such a remarkable community of innovators and problem-solvers and am excited to continue using my skills and experiences to make a positive impact on the world.

Do you have any recommendations for people who would like to follow a similar path?

Yes, I do have some recommendations for people who would like to follow a similar path to mine: Seek out opportunities to work on projects that align with your interests and values. Whether it’s through an organization like Omdena, a local community group, or a personal passion project, look for ways to apply your skills and expertise to address social and humanitarian challenges. Build a diverse and collaborative network of peers and mentors. Surround yourself with people who have different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences than your own, and who share your passion for making a positive impact on the world. Collaborating with people from different fields and cultures can help you to develop new ideas and approaches to problem-solving. Stay curious and keep learning. The fields of AI and machine learning are constantly evolving, so it’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest developments and trends. Seek out opportunities to learn from experts in the field.

Ready to test your skills?

If you’re interested in collaborating, apply to join an Omdena project at:

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