Women in Material Chemistry – Precious I. Ekwere

Google mentions that Material Chemistry is one of the new fields of study in Chemistry. It involves using chemistry for the creation, characterization, and application of materials with potentially useful chemical characteristics.

Hello Precious, thank you for accepting to speak with me today. You are welcome to Words That Count
Hello Winnie. Good morning and how are you today😄?

I am very well, thank you. This happy mood deserves a very good introduction, haha. Who is Precious?
My name is Precious Idinma Ekwere from Nigeria. I just completed my Ph.D. and waiting for my graduation in December. at the moment, I am still engaged with SensorLab at the University of The Western Cape in South Africa. I am also the African Chapter Chair of the Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA), which keeps me busy with organizing the chapter’s activities, planning conferences and workshops, and representing MCAA in this region.

How did this young girl from Nigeria think of pursuing a career in material chemistry?
I was born and raised in Cross River State, Nigeria, as the second child of three siblings, to Mr. and Mrs. Nathaniel Onuigwe. My parents were very passionate about educating us in the best schools at that time. I attended victory nursery and primary school and completed my higher secondary school at Federal Government Girls College Calabar, Cross River State.

During my third year at Abia State University, Uturu, I was required to do an industrial training program in partial fulfillment of my degree in Industrial chemistry. I got a placement in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Port Harcourt. This was my first exposure to research through the research and development division. Our research focus then included testing for the heavy metal content of wastewater from different oil rig locations.

Besides the experience and technical skills I gained from my internship, I picked up a passion for the environment and how crude oil and its extraction are causing serious environmental hazards. After My B.Sc I completed the one-year compulsory youth service in Lagos, Nigeria. Failing to get a science-related job immediately, I applied to a bank. That was the only institution actively and fairly recruiting at that time. I joined one of the most prestigious banks in Nigeria, worked as their customer service officer, and later as a relationship manager. While at the bank I completed my master’s degrees at the University of Calabar, Calabar Cross River State.

In 2017, I joined Sensor Laboratory (SensorLab) at the University of the Western Cape Cape Town, as a Ph.D. student under the supervision of prof Emmanuel Iwuoha. My Ph.D. research focused on the development of energy storage materials for new-generation supercapacitors. I was passionate about this topic because of the environmental implications it holds. This research was sponsored by the National Research Funds in collaboration with The World Academy of Science (NRF-TWAS).

Part of my Ph.D. research work was done at Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, under the staff Exchange program of the Marie Sklodowska Curie Action (MSCA). After my fellowship ended, I joined MCAA because the mission and goals resonated with me. I desired to see young Africans have access to the same opportunities I have enjoyed, to carry out research in decent Laboratories, and contribute to science. This association was an avenue to achieve this desire, so, I became very committed to it. Early this year (2022), I became the Chair of the MCAA African Chapter.

What challenges have you faced as a female African scientist in this “new” field of material chemistry?
I was pregnant with my second son when I got my Ph.D. offer. Leaving home at that time with my 2-year-old son was the most challenging part of my Ph.D. journey. The COVID-19 pandemic also affected me immensely. I was locked down in a different country, away from my family with no success in my experiment at that time. Most of my experiments didn’t work and I had to start over at different points. There were times I felt like giving up severally due to both personal and research-related issues.

What inspires you to keep pushing through such challenging times?
I love acquiring and sharing knowledge. I think it’s what I was born to do and I am happy with any platform that helps me to achieve that. My constant source of motivation is the desire to be the best version of myself. I want to show young women from the minority group like myself, that they can be whatever you want to be if they keep at it.

Let’s talk about your moments of prestige during this journey in material chemistry
Completing my Ph.D. is one of my biggest achievements! The fact I could contribute to the body of science was a tremendous joy to me. I am a recipient of two prestigious Ph.D. scholarship/fellowship awards, including;

  1. The Junior Research Exchange Fellowship Award (2019) under the European Union H2020 RISE INFINITE-CELL-DVL-777968 project; and

  2. The National Research Foundation (NRF) – The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS)/African Renaissance Doctoral Scholarship Award (2018 –2021).

I am currently the African Chapter Chair of the MCAA and that is a big one for me too.

Congratulations on the achievements. We enjoy celebrating with our guests.

Who are you outside of work?
As I previously stated, I am a voracious learner. So when I am not working, I am generally on YouTube watching TED talks on themes ranging from leadership to Africa and the science of human behavior. My favorites are Vanessa van Edward‘s talk on the science of people and Joe Navarro‘s talk on nonverbal communication.

I also enjoy doing community service. I do some work with an organization that feeds street children and helps with getting them off the streets.

Lastly, I have a strong interest in mental health and work-life balance. I also participate in aerobics and salsa dancing most evenings.

What is your favorite quote?
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously permit other people to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others” ~ Marianne Williamson.

What is your word of encouragement for a young girl who is interested in material chemistry?
You are enough. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise. Keep doing what you’re doing, and when you’ve done it long enough, you’ll be happy you did.

Precious, I know you run a tight ship! I am very grateful for the time you have taken to respond to all my questions and teach us something about material chemistry. Congratulations on your Ph.D., once again.

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