Buddhima on a fast track | Sunday Observer

Buddhima on a fast track

We walked through the main entrance of the NIBM and reached the office of Dr. Buddhima Subasinghe who has gone on a fast track to realise her ambitions.

Always wanting to achieve the best in whatever she did, she has now reached the pinnacle of success by being the youngest PHD scholar in Sri Lanka and South Asia.

She started schooling at the age of three. Proving that her capacity was far beyond her classmates who were already a couple of years older than her, she got a double promotion in Grade 3.

This leap paved the way to her entering the university at 16, the age at which other students sit for their ordinary level exams.

While doing her Bachelor’s degree at SLIIT, she started on another in Computer Science at Curtin University, Australia finishing both at 19. So, at the age when other youth in Sri Lanka enter university, Buddhima was ready for the working world with two degrees to her credit.

She joined the academic staff at SLIIT and continued teaching for two years when she decided to commit her time fully to the PHD program she had already started. When she resigned from her job, even her parents questioned her decision.

“If you can prove your capability to your parents they will allow you to continue what you choose to do in your own way. This is something I understood at a very young age. If you don’t make your own decisions, someone else will. I always wanted to make my own decisions,” said Buddhima.

Her PHD was in Cyber Crime Investigation and Security at the University of Peradeniya. It was a multi-disciplinary course and she had to take some units at the University of Moratuwa. She also had a mentor from the University of Cambridge.

A person who is very much focused in studies is considered a nerd by society. However, Dr. Buddhima condemns such labelling.

“Labelling people in any way is really bad. It should not happen,” she said. The term ‘nerd’ is not something compatible in her case as she engaged in many sports such as netball and chess during her school and university days and also did some other extra-curricular activities like compeering.

“In my case I wouldn’t say I’m gifted. I always count on hard work, courage, dedication and focus. Similarly, I believe that the Dhamma also helped me to be successful. I have been teaching at Dhamma school for 14 years now. This has helped a lot in shaping my life. Each time problems crop up in life I have a solution to the problems. Because there is no point in worrying about the problem. Focus or mindfulness is what is needed in life,” she said.

In 2014 she won a gold award for the Best Research Paper at the National Conference on Technology and Management and was awarded the INFOTEL ICT Leader of the Year in 2017. The World Bank Group gave her a Top 50 Women Leaders Award - Leadership Excellence in Information Technology in 2018.

Soon after completing her PHD, she joined Moratuwa University as a lecturer and then finally NIBM where she now serves as the Head of the Department of Computer Science. She has also compeered at Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation’s morning show Rise and Shine.

“I didn’t face gender stereotyping in my life. But I came across age stereotyping a lot. Once again what matters is whether you put things in to your head or you let emotional intelligence handle you,” she said.

She gave almost all the credit of her progress towards emotional intelligence to Toastmaster International where she practiced not just communication skills but leadership skills as well.

“I was very active at Toastmasters International in the last four years. I was its Training and Leadership Institute Chair in 2017/2018 in District 82. We organised more than 35 training programs countrywide,” said Dr. Buddhima.

Another significant factor in her life was her eagerness to grab every opportunity she met on her journey and making the most out of it. “When I get an opportunity I make it mine. I think that is really important. Many people get opportunities and they make use of it just for the sake of doing it,” she said.

A few months ago a prominent parliamentarian in Sri Lanka, shed crocodile tears in front of the media stating that a student from an international school bagging the island’s first in A/Ls is damaging to the free education system of the country. It is also rumoured that the Government is planning to create a separate entrance examination for international school students at A/Ls. Dr. Buddhima being a proud product of Willesden College International and Gateway College, had this to say on any type discrimination against students.

“When I was much younger, as all other kids I wanted to become a doctor of medicine. When my parents took me to a toy shop, I ran towards the stethoscopes. That was my dream. But unfortunately, because I was a student of an international school, I never got the opportunity to enter Medical College. We are all humans, one big family in Sri Lanka. All of us are looking for equal opportunities for quality education. Even in the Sustainable Development Goals, equal access to quality education is the number one” she said.

When Dr. Buddhima became the youngest PhD holder in South Asia, she was invited by many other countries as a motivational speaker to inspire youth. “When people say that they are inspired by me that is the utmost happiness for me. Not the titles,” she said.

She is currently working for her professorship, gaining experience probably with the goal of becoming the youngest professor as well. As we were about to say good bye, Dr. Buddhima had these words of wisdom for youth.

“I would always tell youth that you need to have a dream in life. And you have to be passionate about life to be successful in it. Each day you have to work towards achieving your dream. I truly believe that a pinch of practice is worth more than tons of theory. Managing your time is also very important. Then, everyone should have a role model. Mine was Stephen Hawking. When there was a difficulty I thought to myself ‘if Stephen could do it, why can’t I?’ I was waiting to meet him, but unfortunately I couldn’t make it happen.”