University of Texas at Austin


Lois Okereke Named Provost’s Early Career Fellow

By Aira Balasubramanian

Published Sept. 11, 2023

Lois Okereke. Credit: Aira Balasubramanian

After witnessing physicians and medical physicists struggle to diagnose and treat cancer patients using limited radiotherapy facilities in Nigeria, Lois Okereke, a postdoctoral fellow at the Oden Institute for Computational Science and Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, found herself searching for a way to apply her mathematical skills to help them. 

While she initially wondered how applicable mathematics was in cancer treatment and care, she soon found that problems in oncology could be posed as “mathematical abstractions which provide deep and powerful insights into tackling the challenges of combating one of the world’s deadliest diseases.”

I am so passionate about this research because of the innermost joy I feel when I see how elegant mathematical abstractions provide deep and powerful insights into the challenges of combating one of the world's most deadly diseases.

— Lois Okereke

Now, at the Oden Institute’s Center for Computational Oncology, Okereke focuses on the use of “mathematical approaches (including modeling, algorithms development, rigorous analysis, and data analytics)  to study and characterize cancer development and progression so as to optimize cancer therapies on a patient-specific basis.” Through this work, she stated that she hopes to play a “significant role in developing academia’s unique role in society building and innovation.” 

Okereke’s journey is characterized by her mantra to “ride on rigor and resilience,” persevering through “mountain-like obstacles” throughout her research journey. Growing up in a rural community with a large disinterest in the education of a girl child, she worked hard to gain access to and excel in her educational training at a pan-African Center of Excellence. 

Earlier this year, Okereke was named a 2023 Provost’s Early Career Fellow by UT’s Office of the Vice President and Provost’s Faculty Diversity Office. The award seeks to provide recipients with community, skill development, and personal mentorship from top faculty in their fields as they pursue independent academic research and tenure-track positions. 

The scientist that I am today is strongly built on the mantra 'ride on rigor and resilience.’ Although there were several mountain-like obstacles to pursuing my research in this direction, I am so glad I risked everything to follow through.

— Lois Okereke

While reflecting on what the fellowship award meant to her, Okereke recalled that “within my career, I have learned that talent, brilliance, and hard work would nearly come to nothing without mentors and giants who have not only pointed me in the right direction but have even let me stand on their shoulders to be able to see a path forward.”  

Spurred by the catalytic intersection of support, talent, and passion for her work, Lois Okereke has made groundbreaking strides in her research and career. As she develops as a leader in her field, she quotes Einstein to exemplify her dedication to progress and paying her success forward, stating that she is committed to "exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receivingthroughout her time as an Early Careers Fellow.