I Love Science Communication – Temitope Jekayinoluwa

I got to know Temitope from LinkedIn, through a mutual friend called Pauline Okemo. Her research is about genetic modification of banana and plantains for resistance to banana aphids using the RNA interference approach. Enjoying learning from her STEM story;

Hi Temi, thank you for being our guest today. You are welcome to Words That Count
Hello Winnie. Thank you for inviting me to your platform. I’ve gone through your website and you are doing amazing work 👍. You have a number of interesting stories.

Thank you for the kind words, and for accepting to contribute to this cause.

Kindly introduce yourself to the audience please
My name is Temitope Jekayinoluwa from Nigeria. I am currently writing manuscripts for publications while searching for postdoc/job opportunities especially in the industry. I’m actively learning new skills through virtual attendance at professional meetings in research related to crop transformation for genome editing as well as bioinformatics.

Please tell us about your STEM journey from childhood to where you are now
I was born and raised in the metropolitan city of Lagos, Nigeria. Lagos is known for its hustling and bustling kind of life. However, it is a place that accommodates varieties of nationals. I am the youngest in my family but was never pampered as some would assume, haha. My mum valued the importance of girl-child education and so ensured that her female children were not left out in attaining quality education even though her parents underestimated this.

I started pre-school at about age two. I was quite chubby and lovable. Many people including my teachers liked me for my genuineness. Although I was reserved, I would recite everything I’d learnt every time I got home from school. As a child, I realized that many did not see agriculture as a promising career but I had a different opinion and had a passion for plant-related matters and nutrition. Therefore, I decided to journey through the path of science and currently I happen to be the only science-inclined person in my family.

I completed my primary education and transitioned to secondary school. After my Junior secondary school, I made it to the science arm of the senior secondary school. I obtained my Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and Master’s degree in Environmental chemistry and pollution control at the University of Ibadan. Recently, I bagged a PhD degree in Biotechnology at the Center for Biotechnology and Bioinformatics, University of Nairobi.

I view science as a language that everyone can understand without overwhelming scientific jargon. I believe that when you understand science, you should be able to simplify it without losing its meaning and share the love of science. I love science communication especially to non-scientific audiences who are sometimes interested in the subject but have difficulty grasping its meaning. I regularly communicate my love for science to my siblings, friends and acquaintances who are in non-science or other science fields different from mine. Consequently, they know what my work is about because I can explain it clearly without the use of jargon. This skill is one that I am constantly improving upon.

What have you found inspiring and challenging along this journey called life?
I had a challenging time when studying for my first degree in Chemistry at the University of Ibadan. Challenges were mostly due to financial constraints, and other obstacles which I would not like to talk about on this platform. I nearly gave up on myself but had hope that I could navigate the difficulties. The spark to keep moving was rekindled by the kind words of Professor Oladele Osibanjo, who supervised my undergraduate and postgraduate thesis. I would say he was God-sent when he was assigned to be my undergraduate thesis supervisor. He helped me see the need to harness my potentials as well as not to underestimate what I can achieve. That instilled the need to believe in me regardless of other people’s opinions because I had low self-esteem.

After my first degree, I went for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). I taught integrated science and biology to the Junior and senior students respectively. We got along well and I was engaged as a private tutor to four of my students by their parents when they observed their children’s academic improvements in the subjects that I taught. I also led an advanced girl-child education in the community and engaged in entrepreneurial efforts that helped me save funds to self-sponsor my master’s degree education post-NYSC.

However, things did not go as planned. The saved funds together with resources from my siblings were used to care for my parents’ illnesses. My father passed away shortly after my NYSC and my mother was ill for a long time. My savings were spent on their health care and forfeited admission for the master’s degree that I had secured. I must say it wasn’t easy at all. I eventually got a mini job and built my savings to purchase a master’s form the following year. Fortunately, I got a partial scholarship with the Genetic Resources Center (GRC) of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to support me. I eventually bagged a master’s degree in Environmental Chemistry and Pollution Control in 2011. The journey was hectic but I made it.

I am happy I was able to apply my knowledge of chemistry in simulating plants in vitro using nutrient medium and plant tissue culture techniques. I pioneered the establishment of the Temporary Immersion Bioreactor at IITA, a rapid multiplication technique for generating massive plants within a relatively short period. A few months after, I got a job with the same institute. I rose from being a Research Fellow to a Research Supervisor and later as a Senior Research Supervisor. I had the privilege of training students and partners in the private and public sectors as well as newly employed. I also represented the institute in other ways. I am happy to mention that I was awarded an outstanding staff for my accomplishments.

I enjoyed another opportunity for a PhD scholarship and in September 2020, I earned a PhD degree in Biotechnology from the University of Nairobi, Kenya. I am extremely grateful to Jehovah for helping me in ways that I least expected and for meeting fantastic people who want the best for me and are relentless in supporting me. I wish I could list their names but I would save that for later. Their positive outlook, support and kind words are super-charging.

Please tell us about your prestigious achievements & awards along this journey
I was awarded competitive scholarships for my master’s & PhD degrees, the IITA talent grant award, awards during scientific presentations at the innovation summit and scientific conference, and as an outstanding staff of GRC, IITA. I pioneered the establishment of the Temporary Immersion Bioreactor at the GRC, IITA and have set up the system in East Africa for commercial production.

I have had the privilege of representing IITA as a resource person at various platforms, supported the capacity of commercial labs and presented my research to national and international audiences. Recently, I was nominated to represent IITA at a workshop on effective communication of the importance of genome editing. This workshop will be coming up in August 2021.

It is a great privilege to have had the opportunity to work in IITA, especially making tremendous career growth within a relatively short time. It is amazing working with people from various cultures and backgrounds. Its beautiful platform has sharpened my perception in many aspects and the ability to harness opportunities for career advancement.

I have also met amazing people who have contributed to my growth and sometimes held my hand so to speak when necessary. I have also impacted positively on people’s lives. Seeing the growth and success of the people that I have trained as well as good reports makes me feel good.

What do you enjoy doing outside work?
I spend time as a private mentor to other students struggling in STEM who are referred to me by Prof Osibanjo and to those that I meet during the course of my endeavours. I also enjoy cooking, hospitality, listening to music, gardening and connecting with nature.

What is your favourite quote?
I have several quotes for different occasions. In this context, I would say “Nerve give up on yourself, focus on the few positive people around you, and don’t forget to help others” ~ Unknown.

Another is, “life is full of ups and downs”. In simple terms “when life throws you a lemon, make a glass or a jar of lemonade.” ~ Dale Carnegie

What is your word of encouragement to a young girl in STEM?
Easy roads are not always the best ones. We think they are but look at the people you respect in life, they are usually the people who have made it when the going wasn’t easy” ~ Danielle Steel

Sometimes failure and negative comments are inevitable, it’s not the end and that doesn’t mean you are a failure or can’t achieve anything good. People may think that you are dumb, weak, worthless, name it. You are not! It is their opinion, not yours, so never absorb that! It is never too late to start rewriting your story. What matters is to actualize self-love, self-discipline, self-motivation and success. When you achieve a measure of success, don’t mock others who may be struggling. Accomplishment has nothing to do with age, never compare your success with others because everyone has a different path, background, exposure and opportunities.

Also, be willing to share your knowledge; don’t hoard it, the more you share, the more you know, the more you brighten other people’s paths and the happier you will be. Always remember to pay a good deed forward.

  • STEM is doable; if you are a girl-child please go for it and make a difference.
  • STEM should not just be in your imagination, clarity comes as you engage with it.
  • STEM is interesting & sweet. Give it your flavour and you’ll enjoy it.

Thank you so much Temi! I am personally happy to see you share your story and are very privileged to be the one to bring it to the world. I wish you the best with your endeavours in life.

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