Science Communication Hub Nigeria

Ebenezer Ajayi: "I Wanted To Become A Medical Doctor, But Fell In Love With The Beautiful Bride Of Science"

He wanted to become a medical doctor, but happily for biology, he never managed to pass the admission test.

Who is/are your Science hero (es)?

Well, I respect many top scientists including the internationally renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, Professor Ganiyu Oboh and Professor Olufunso O. Olorunsogo amongst several others; that inspired and shaped my science career.

What area of research is of interest to you?

My research interest is to study the nature and modulation of biological membranes in various disease conditions such as Cancer, Neurodegenerative disorders; Diabetes Mellitus and its complications - wound healing, nephropathy, cardiomyopathy, and retinopathy. I am searching for drug-able compounds and hormetins, which can be useful in the treatment or management of these conditions using animal models - fruit fly, Zebra fish, murine as well a tissue culture.

How did you discover your interest in science?  Tell us about your journey.

As a young boy, I wanted to become an Engineer! I was fascinated by the electrical and mechanical interactions that make machines work. But looking around my extended family, I realized there was no Medical Doctor. So, I changed my mind to be the first Medical Doctor in the family.

Coincidentally, I grew up reading my parents’ book titled; "Where There Is No Doctor" and later on I read Dr. Ben Carson´s books. So, books, movies specifically medical documentaries on pediatrics and gynecology, and the love to work with people shaped my interest in science.  Later on, I got admission to study Biochemistry in the University (my JAMB score was too low to study medicine), I fell in love with the course, but I still went ahead to write another JAMB. I scored low again, so I continued with Biochemistry with the hope of returning to study Medicine after NYSC through Direct Entry.

Along the line, I fell in love with Cancer Research and Biotechnology, and I was looking for a way to harmonize this with becoming a Medical Doctor. This led me to begin to search for opportunities to study abroad, so I could be a medical researcher. However, I was advised to follow the path of research. So I returned from NYSC and enrolled for MSc in University of Ibadan. I initially attempted gaining admission into Public Health, since I could not get a scholarship to study medicine abroad. It was a tough moment for me to let go of my passion for medicine. I was not selected for admission into Public Health; therefore I approached the Biochemistry Department, where I chose Membrane Biochemistry and Biotechnology!

What have been the challenges in your journey so far?

I did not face any particular challenge different from those students in Nigeria face. I got my first scholarship from the Ekiti State government to commence my Ph.D. training. The scholarship was supposed to cover the 3-years of my Ph.D. training, but in the end, I only got that of the first year. 

Fortunately, I did not get stranded as I got a job with the Osun State University, Oshogbo. That way, I was able to fund my Ph.D. training independently. Also, I won a TWAS-DBT Sandwich Ph.D. Fellowship to India for 1 year during which time I did my bench work. I returned to Nigeria and repeated my experiments to confirm reproducibility. Thereafter, I went back to India on a TETFund funded Short Course for Academic Staffs. In the process of embarking on these sponsored trainings/conferences to present my findings, I had to obtain loans, delay gratifications, and leave my family and Nigeria for a while - these are normal sacrifices and were not too big for the love of science!

Any success story or achievement (s) worth mentioning?

In measuring success, I will like to mention the findings of my research and the completion of the Ph.D. as well as the relevance it has afforded me in my field. The extract of the leaves of cassava showed promise for therapy against diabetes as shown in cells in a dish and animals tested. But it still needs more testing along the drug discovery channel. This had led to four publications in international peer-reviewed scientific journals.

And then going forward, what are your plans and aspirations?

Upon the successful completion of my postdoctoral training, I look forward to returning to my teaching and research job in Nigeria. I will continue to collaborate with other researchers home and abroad in a way that will strengthen the activities of my laboratory and benefit my students. I have started to interact with industries for research and development, for the establishment of business hubs/ start-ups for life science graduates and more.

What advice will you give to young people and aspiring scientists?

Higher education is good, but I’m afraid it is being over-rated. If they (young people) can attain higher education, they should go for it and study hard for success, not just head knowledge. If they do not have the means, they should seek mentoring in the area of their passion.

Many earlier researchers started out as junior assistants. So they can work with a researcher, attend scientific seminars in his department, offer volunteering service to enter data, schedule appointments/ meetings for him, etc. He should in turn set aside a stipend for such a young mind, give him access to books, videos and other learning materials, nominate him for science fun activities and/or camps for young minds.

Moreover, those who can afford higher education should not be bent on studying a particular course. Because I have come to understand that what we need is mind education. So, rather than refuse admission over the years because it is not for a choice course, and thus stay home, I would advise that such individuals should go ahead and get higher education. An educated mind will own the training and map out a career that is relevant and rewarding.

Specifically to aspiring scientists?

Aspiring scientists should keep their dreams alive. Reading wide, staying abreast with recent knowledge and discoveries will keep them relevant. As much as we know what we lack in Nigeria and Africa, they should not resign to fate. Rather they should keep putting their best feet forward. We all must also ensure that the government is responsible, accountable and interested in changing the narratives of science on our continent.

Interview by Abdullahi Tsanni

This post has first been published on Science Communication Hub Nigeria.



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