My Parents Taught Me Not To Settle For Less

THE PUNCH Newspaper- Tunde Ajaja

Was it part of your plans to graduate with a first class or was it just providence?

It was always in my plan to graduate with a first class and I worked towards it. It was not quite easy but I thank God who made it possible. I come from a home where we (my siblings and myself) were encouraged to pursue our dreams and be the best possible. With the kind of parents I have, there is no room to settle for less or live below the standards they have set; they are very strict. And these helped me greatly because I became disciplined. I also know that I am the only one that can limit myself, to know that nothing is insurmountable. So, I always give the best I can in all my endeavours.

The rate of unemployment in the country is quite disturbing whereby we have some first-class students who are jobless. Have you ever been discouraged?

I have never been discouraged by the rate of unemployment in Nigeria. Though, some people complain about the lack of job opportunities, there are companies that are searching for people that can offer something above the norm. I believe the key is to stand out and be unique.

In the run-up to your days as an undergraduate, what was your performance like?

I have always had a good performance in my previous schools, and I believe those were a product of hard work and God’s blessing. In my secondary school, I had the best result in my set and I was awarded the most outstanding student in my set for which I got a scholarship from the school. The school paid my tuition for one academic session in the university. Apart from that, I sat for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination and Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examinations once and passed. I remember that the least score I had in my SSCE was B3 and I had a very good UTME score as well. That same year, I applied and gained admission into the University of Ibadan to study Industrial Chemistry.

Does it mean you had always wanted to be an Industrial Chemist?

No. My dream as a child was to become a medical doctor, specifically, a neurosurgeon, and what really influenced that desire was the story of Ben Carson. Medicine was my first option while industrial chemistry was the second option. When I took the course, I had the mind of crossing to medicine but at the end of my first year, I was exposed to the wonders and opportunities in chemistry, especially industrial chemistry, so, I fell in love with it and changed my mind about crossing and, no regret so far.

What is Industrial Chemistry about?

There are basically four units of pure chemistry: organic, inorganic, physical and analytical chemistry. The application of the knowledge of chemistry in the transformation of raw materials into finished goods that are beneficial to man is termed industrial chemistry. It involves a broad knowledge of chemistry. The economic utilisation of available raw materials and the innovative methods of converting these materials on an industrial scale for the development of a country is the primary aim of an industrial chemist.

The organic aspect of chemistry has been described by some Chemistry students as tedious. Is it true?

The organic aspect of chemistry is quite tedious. The course is full of structures and diagrams which can be mistaken for one another. Sitting down to learn the distinguishing features, structures and various reactions of hundreds of compounds can be a very difficult task but once you understand the rules, it becomes interesting.

Some people still feel the course is somehow abstract, how real is it and what are the applications in a country like Nigeria?

Chemistry might seem abstract but it is very real and it surrounds us on a daily basis. Like our motto says “what on earth is not chemistry.” Its presence is almost endless; it is in the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the air we breathe, the cars we drive, the houses we live in, the bed we sleep on, to mention but a few. Its application in the industrial sector cannot be overemphasised. And for its job prospects, we can work anywhere as organic chemist, inorganic chemist, physical chemist, analytical chemist, environmental chemist, nuclear chemist, medicinal chemist, forensic chemist, petrochemical specialist, metallurgical chemist, agricultural chemist, pharmaceutical chemist, chemical pathologist, geo chemist, phyto chemist, food chemist, nano chemist, etc. The course equips us to adapt to any condition because when in school, we were exposed to many courses outside our field.

One important part of the course is petrochemicals. Are there derivable products from crude oil refining that Nigeria might have been losing with the way it imports refined petroleum products?

Apart from the products of crude oil that include petroleum naphtha, gasoline, diesel fuel, asphalt, heating oil, liquefied petroleum gas and kerosene, there are by-products from this refining process that Nigeria is not maximally utilising. These include petrochemical glycerin, plastics, synthetic rubber, nylon, polyester, acrylic, heating oil, chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and other useful petrochemicals used in food, make-ups, etc. Commercial fertilizers and pesticides made from these petrochemicals would indeed go a long way in improving the agricultural sector of the economy not to mention the improvements in the food industry as a result of the production of food additives and preservatives from these petrochemicals. The probable worth of these products cannot be overemphasised and it cuts across all sectors, especially manufacturing.

What were the things you did differently to have a first class?

I made sure I did my best in every course, setting a standard mark I could attain in each course and working towards it. I left the rest to God. I always end up getting that mark I set for myself or more than that. So, I started having first class as a first year student. I didn’t need to be coerced into taking my academics seriously, I knew what I was working towards and that served as a motivation for me to work hard and achieve my goals. One other thing that actually helped me was that I went beyond my notes to learn. I sourced for materials to back up my notes and made sure I understood a particular topic before moving on to another one. Having unfinished business can be very problematic because it will keep on piling up until it would cause a lot of problems when preparing for examinations. So, I avoided that. Overall, I’m happy I attained my goal and the joy my excellence gave my parents remains a great reward for me.

What was your typical day like as an undergraduate?

My typical day as an undergraduate was quite perfunctory. I used to sleep for about six hours and I didn’t really have a specific time for reading because it was largely dependent on the time needed to cover whatever topic I set out for that day. I read to understand either by paraphrasing a topical issue or by jotting down cogent points that I could easily read later. I also sourced for materials to back up my notes for better comprehension. Most of the time, I read in my room where I could relax and read, so I rarely used the library. Also, my colleagues used to call me to help them with tutorials and assignments. With all these in place, my reading schedule during exams was not tight because I would have prepared long before examinations so during exam periods I did more of revisions.

Were you involved in other school activities?

Yes, I was. I was the president of a club in my department called “Chem-Intellect”. There, we put into practice our class work and developed our entrepreneurship skills. We also encouraged innovations among ourselves. We were able to embark on some projects and successfully carried them out. I was also a member of the Red Cross Society of Nigeria, UI division and I was part of my departmental female football team. So, it was all engaging and I had fun.

What are your aspirations in life?

I desire to impact the lives of people, especially the youths, in any position I find myself. I love to be in the academics eventually, but before that, I like to work in some companies to gain some industrial experience, broaden my knowledge and contribute my own quota to industrial development. I am very much interested in research work.

Where would you like to work?

I love to work in an oil and gas company and I also love to work in a petrochemical industry. This would give me the opportunity to research and find new ways to utilise the underused resources and materials that we have. I believe we need new innovations and development in our industrial sector.

What would be your advice to students?

My advice to students is that no hard work goes unrewarded. You might not be the best in your class but make sure you put in your best in whatever you find yourself doing. Set a standard for yourself and make sure you work towards it. Be persistent and pray for directions from God. Nothing is too big to attain, you have it in you. It might not come in the form you are expecting but as long as you do the right thing, you will make it.


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