‘How I bagged Master’s degree before clocking 22’

Deborah Afas Gadzama
Deborah Afas Gadzama

Deborah Afas Gadzama is a graduate of Heriot-Watt University Dubai, with a master’s degree in Strategic Management before she turned 22. Deborah, who hails from Maiduguri in Borno State, speaks about her academic feats, and more.

Daily Trust: How does it feel achieving such a feat at a young age?


Deborah Gadzama: It feels amazing to be honest.  I feel so blessed to have had this opportunity.

DT: Did you expect to graduate with such flying colours?

Deborah: I won’t say I expected to, but I knew I would be well off as I had hoped and prayed that all I had strived for throughout my academic years would rightfully reflect in my final results.

DT: How have you been able to maintain high academic records?

Deborah: In all honesty, it has been a steady journey to get to this stage. Growing up through primary and a bit of my secondary education, I wasn’t the smartest in the classroom. But as I progressed through the years, I got more confident and determined to be better. So, I would say that having determination and patience were key in my journey.

DT: What’s your study pattern like?

Deborah: My study pattern was very much dependant on a few factors, i.e. the syllabus, workload, and time. I like to plan; so before a lecture, I would read up or research the topics to be taught that day, to make sure I am somewhat prepared. During the lecture, I would take down notes on key points and after the lecture I would put together my final notes to reflect on later. I had lectures five days a week, and roughly 3 to 4 hours per lecture so I planned out study times where I would go to the library for at least 5 hours daily. Of course, I knew that a master’s degree would be very difficult compared to a bachelors, as the expectations and criteria are inherently higher, so I made sure I did my best.

DT: As a graduate of Strategic Project Management, what was the greatest challenge during the course of your studies?

Deborah: The greatest challenge, which I don’t necessarily regard a challenge anymore, was twofold. Firstly, being the youngest in my course and secondly, having no experience in the field. When I started the course, I remember feeling very intimidated as all my course mates were established project managers, very much older than myself and had first hand practical awareness of the field. The reason why I don’t regard that as a challenge anymore is because I decided to work twice as hard in order to keep up with information already familiar to them and this consequently worked in my favour.

DT: What role did your parents and family play in your success?

Deborah: My parents and family played a massive role in my success. In fact, I owe my success to my parents, without them I would not be in this position. They’ve been so selfless and always made sure I had everything I needed, my family have always been my biggest support system. They make me feel like the smartest person which only motivates me to make them proud every day.

DT: What’s next for you?

Deborah: I would like to gain some work experience, get my project management certification and of course complete my NYSC.

DT: What else would you have studied if not Strategic Project Management?

Deborah: If I didn’t study SPM, I would probably have studied Law and Criminology.

DT: What do you do in your free time?

Deborah: In my spare time I love to read books, I am currently reading a book by Michelle Obama titled ‘Becoming’, I also love to keep myself active, so I do a lot of sports.

DT: What advice do you have for students who find it tough to cope with their studies?

Deborah: I would advise them to take their time and be more confident in themselves; sometimes it takes persistence and willpower to get to where you need to be, and just because it is a struggle at this point in time does not mean it would last forever. Always remember that even the greatest leaders of our time struggled before they became who they are today.

I always refer to the story of the Co-founder and Executive chair of Alibaba Group, Jack Ma, who grew up poor and struggled with his academics. He was rejected from Harvard 10 times as well as being rejected from 30 jobs including one at KFC where he was the only one out of 24 applicants to get turned down. Fast forward to 2019, Ma is one of China’s richest men and is ranked in Forbes’ World Most Powerful People.

Always keep in mind that everyone goes through rough times, it is up to you to pick yourself up and strive for success, work twice as hard if that’s what it takes, reach out to your tutors, course mates and family for support and guidance and always have a positive mindset.

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