” I have been a lucky girl/women” says Dr. Temitope Fadipe from Nigeria, despite the difficulties she has faced as a woman


21/02/2022

 

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Dr. Fadipe, from Nigeria, holds a PhD by the University of Lagos, Cell Biology and Genetics (Nigeria) and she has worked there since 2014 as a Principal Research Officer at the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi.

She has investigated the biochemical and molecular mechanisms of thiamine biosynthesis in maize, and wishes to study the sustainable production of Polyhydroxyalkanoates in Nigeria.

The main objective of her research is to replace synthetic plastics with biodegradable ones.

She carries out her research at Spanish National Center of  Biotechnology (CNB) thanks to the funding of ENDESA, as a benefiary of the Science by Women programme.

What encouraged you to pursue a scientific career ? 

My curiosity in the Sciences came to bear during my days as a Science student at the Lagos Anglican Girls Grammar School, Surulere, Lagos.

In the subject biology, I found the diversity and complexity among living organisms very fascinating. Each organism being unique and has the capacity of independent existence irrespective of its survival mechanism. In addition, I enjoyed topics covering cells, metabolism and genetics in biology a lot.

During my third and fourth year as an undergrad in the University of Lagos, my interest in a scientific career grew after been taught courses in genetics and molecular biology by Professors Williams and Omidiji. I sought career counsel from Professors Williams, Omidiji, Odeigah and Joseph Saliu, and they encouraged me to pursue a career in the life science, albeit unpopular and not financially rewarding but will be fulfilling given my passion and interest. It became clear that I could make a career out of my fascination and curiosity while providing pertinent solutions to problems in the life sciences.

What made you incline towards your specialty?

My Bachelor’s and Masters theses were in the area of cytogenetics which I thoroughly enjoyed. Frankly speaking, I felt the need to explore emerging areas of genetics. Moreso, at the time I was ending my Masters degree I had become more interested in molecular biology but my love for genetics had a really strong hold. Hence, my specialty in Molecular Genetics. I enjoy the science of figuring out life at the interface of molecular biology and genetics thus understanding the molecular mechanisms associated with traits in living systems.

Dra Temitope FadipeWhat is the research you are carrying out in Madrid?

My research at the Spanish National Center of Biotechnology focuses on over expression of polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) polymerases to achieve optimal PHA production in some bacterial species native to Nigeria.

How do you think your work can help your research area? 

My work is contributing new information with respect to the use of wildtype Bacilli and carbon rich wastes for optimal PHA production. The findings from this work is very vital for the pilot scale studies neccessary commericalization of PHA in Nigeria.

What is the ultimate goal of your work?

The ultimate goal of my work is to obtain collection of Bacilli species overproducing polyhydroxyalkanoates by using cassava waste as sole carbon and energy source.

What do you expect from your stay in Spanish National Center of Biotechnology?

I expect to have a productive time, both in terms of science and networking. In addition, I also hope that, given the short time, I am able to acheive the aim of my research fellowship and become fully equipped with current research tools and techniques in system biotechnology.

Have you felt supported throughout your career by your family? 

Oh, Yes ; I greatly enjoy the support of my husband, Dr Olaseni Fadipe. For instance, he supported me through the application process for this fellowship and even now while on the fellowship.

In my country, it is a very rare thing to find men who throw their full weight behind their spouses, cheer on and keep nudging them towards excellence.

I have also had the full support of my parents, Mr and Mrs K.O. Salaam and siblings, Damilola and Mayowa. They are always there for me. They attended all my seminars while I was in school, prayed for and supported me financially. My father will go to any length to ensure that his girls had the best. As I was a full time student during my Masters and Doctoral studies, I relied soley on the financial support of my parents. They always paid my fees, tuition and accommodation, promptly. They also provided stipends to support me as I was teaching biology part time to cover my living expenses.

My parents actually took loans (3 million naira) from the bank and thrift society to sponsor my travel and living expenses in Germany and Poland for 6 months during my PhD research. They also funded several participation at trainings and trips for local and international conferences through loans and financial contributory schemes.

Do you feel that being a woman has made it harder for you?

Yes, it has and is kind off harder for me.  In many African societies, women are seen as the home maker and beneath the man and as such their roles are dictated by these societal ideologies, norms and expectations.

Even going for postdocs and fellowships, as I am currently doing, is considered an abandonment of your primary duties as a woman.

While you were a student?

At the time I was begining my PhD, I was of « marriageable age » and according to societal expectation, marriage and starting a family was supposed to be the next thing after completing an almighty Masters degree with a distinction grade (which in itself is considered an intimidating acheivement).

My decision to pursue a scientific career and doctorate degree was not very popular even among my few male friends. I recollect a male Pastor at church discouraging me from pursuing a PhD because it will « scare » men away and render me ineligible for relationships/marriage propositions.

Actually, it happened at some point when I was introduced to an accomplished accountant by a close female friend but it came to nothing because the guy just could not get past the fact that I will be addressesd with the title « Dr » after my PhD. Funny, but this actually happened in 2012.

And now in your day job?

As a single lady with a PhD on my day job, I was viewed with suspicion especially when I had to work closley with one or two male superiors. I also had to fend off inappropriate advances from some male colleagues (superior and surbordinate) and deal with the tendencies to be less respected and seen as not fully accomplished because I did not have the title « Mrs » attached to my « Dr » title. Like having « Mrs » attached to « Dr » was the ultimate crown and icing on the cake in the opinion of certain individuals.

 Have you had models of women scientists or others who have inspired or supported you??

Yes. Professor Gloria Elemo, the former DG/CEO of FIIRO has been a great source of inspiration. The grace, charisma, sagacity, intelligence, and diplomacy with which she managed the affairs of the Institute and succeeded in the political terrains to secure quality funding for the Institute is very commendable and impressive. I am particularly happy to be part of a major legacy of her tenure at FIIRO which is setting up and equipping a world class molecular biology laboratory within my first 4 years of working with her.

Another person is Professor Stella Smith. She is currently a Director of Research at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR). Her drive and passion for research and molecular biology capacity development in Nigeria is “infectious”. She has and continues to host a molecular biology workshop series at NIMR which I attended 4 times in the early days of my divergence into the field of molecular biology. Despite all odds, she hosts the workshop every year. The molecular biology workshop series which I have been hosting at FIIRO since 2018 stems from one of the major take homes from her workshop that I attended in previous years, which is to increase molecular biology capacity development in Nigeria.

What would be your advice to a girl who wants to pursue a career in Science and more specifically in your speciality?

A popular saying in my language, Yoruba « Oju orun to eye fo lai fara kanra » translated « the sky is wide enough for all birds to fly » comes to mind.

I would say, Welcome on board girls/ladies/women. Do not listen to anyone who wants to stop you with doubts, societial norms and pressure e.g

  •  your biological clock is ticking 
  • you will not be able to find a husband if you are so well read and knowledgable in the sciences
  • women who have PhDs make terrible wives because they are arrogant and unsubmissive
  • a woman’s place is in the kitchen

I could go on and on. You are in control of your time and seasons and your fulfilment in life is of paramount importance. I also want to add that, your choice of a life partner is a very important one because they will be your greatest cheerleader through it all. There will be challenging moments in which your oppositions can be either men or women, you must stay focused and be tenacious.

Mentorship and capacity development is a major component for a successful career in Science and any field at that. Specifically in my area, pay attention to your passion, observe the research trends and development so that you can equip your self with relevant skills in the field of Molecular genetics. These days, big data analytical skills due to the volume of genomics data is a coveted skill in the life sciences. You need to be proficient and efficient in both wet and dry labs. Strive to be the best and the sky will be your starting point. Being a woman in the sciences is still very popular and attractive. Afterall, the 2020 Nobel prize in Chemistry was awarded to two outstanding women scientist, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna for their work on the development of CRISPR-Cas9, so you are in great company.

Have you felt and do you feel supported in the work environment?

I have also had the immense support of my Boss, Dr Adekunle Lawal. His support has been pivotal to my humble achievements as the Head of the Molecular Biology laboratory and the quality research ouputs from my rôle as a Researcher at the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO). Professor Gloria Elemo, the immediate past Director-General/CEO of FIIRO also supported me by giving me my first job towards the end of my PhD. She gave me a big task of setting up a functional molecular biology laboratory for the Institute after several previous failed attempts. She chose to believe in the “fresh” graduate with so much skills and an impressive resume and made all resources available to help me succeed.

Dr Juan Nogales, my host in the Systems Biotechnology group at the Centro Nacional de Biotecnología (CNB-CSIC) has been very supportive and kind. When I contacted him for the first time in 2019 on my research project. He spent quality time working on my proposal to make it up to the current standard in Systems Biotechnology. I could hardly believe how refined the proposal became after we had worked on it together. I was very confident in the prospect of being selected for the Science by Women program. Alas, it did not happen. He contacted immediately the call for 2020 came out and we worked on making the proposal and other application documents better. It was very encouraging that he still had me in mind for the fellowship. This time, I was successful, and the rest is history.

I had the academic and moral support of my PhD supervisors and some lecturers in my department, Professors Sesan Omidiji, Khalid Adekoya, Idowu Taiwo and Gabriel Williams, Peter Odeigah. I also enjoy/enjoyed the support system provided by colleagues, Dr Frank Orji, Dr Viola Nicholas-Opara, Dr Abel Silas, Dr Soji Adewumi, Dr Ifeoma Obasi, Dr Asak Diana, Dr Fagbayi Tawakalt, Dr Sogbanmu Temitope, Dr Adetoro Fouad, Dr Bawa-Allah Adebola, Dr Amaeze Nnamdi, to mention a few and the Henry Carr Postgraduate Hall PhD forum. Outside of school and the workplace, three of my female friends were/are constant sources of support and encouragement, Damilola Eventus, Olawunmi Ajayi and Omowunmi Akinbuli.

Simply put, I have been a lucky girl/women.


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