‘I sold pepper on the streets of Ibadan’-Adeola Olubamiji, University of Saskatchewan’s first black PhD graduate in Biomedical Engineering

Nigeria’s Adeola Olubamiji, two weeks ago, became the first black person to obtain a PhD in the field of Biomedical Engineering at the 110-year-old University of Saskatchewan, Canada, often called “U of S”

But even more novel than this accomplishment is the very nature of her journey – the series of unlikely events that catapulted her to this amazing height. From a rough start, characterized by long periods of lack and seeming despair, Olubamiji weathered all the storms.

She recounted this story on her graduation day in a long post on social media.

“As the fifth child of five, I always had to wait for my turn. I was the last, a girl and raised by a mother who is a farmer, and a father who has little.

“I hawked pepper on the streets of Ibadan as early as age 10 to help my mum; went to public primary and secondary schools in Ibadan; attended OOU and studied physics.

“Because I had a 2:1 (Second Class Upper Division), it opened the door for me to proceed to Finland for a Master’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering. During this Master’s degree, I worked part-time as a cleaner, and did this after my Master’s as well.

“Out of determination, I applied to over 100 schools for my PhD and finally got a full three-year scholarship (later extended to four years) at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, to pursue a PhD in Biomedical Engineering.

“While in that PhD programme, I worked part-time as a makeup artist, teaching assistant, braided hair, and fixed weaves to make extra money.”

Her doctoral thesis was entitled “Development of 3D-Printed Cartilage Constructs and Their Non-Invasive Assessment by Synchrotron-Based Inline-Phase Contrast Imaging Computed Tomography.” She dedicates her work and success to Africa, Nigeria, Ibadan, and other people and places connected to her early years; she also dedicates it to her family, her “future husband” and her “unborn children.”

She said, “Today, I walked the stage as the first black person to bag a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Saskatchewan, Canada!

“I walked the stage for you, Mama Africa, and for my Motherland Nigeria! I walked the stage for all of you black women disrespected and looked down on!

“I walked for all of you from my ghetto hood, Mokola, Ibadan. I walked for all OSU students and ex-students that got that look from people who think we are not brilliant!

“I walked for all of you Africans in Finland, wondering what is next for you

“Specially, I walked for you, my parents, siblings, and extended family, in fulfilment of your dreams!

“Specially, I walked the stage for you my late sister, Omoleye Olubamiji, and my late mentor Ayodele Olatunbosun.

“Today, I walked for my future husband and my unborn children who patiently waited for me to fulfil my dreams so that he can have a wife he will be proud of, and they can have a role model to look up to.

“I walked for all immigrants and all young adults who strived every day, chasing their dreams!

“I walked in celebration of the unfailing love of my first and one true love, Jesus Christ (in you I walk, in you I live, and in you I have had and will continue to have my being)!”

To many, it remains a wonder that a young woman so “disadvantaged”, even without the support of a husband, would find the strength, determination, and inspiration to embark on projects so bold and intimidating. Olubamiji shares some words of advice:

“Be bold, be innovative, be different, be you, be everything you want to be; but remember to put God first!

“Let no man, upbringing, money, circumstance, colour, past mistakes, institution, company, partner, background, let nothing tell you, ‘You can’t do it.’

“Go smart! Go hard!! Go for Gold!!! Go with God!!! Just get going!!!! #Grad2017 #PhDConvocation #UofS.”

Biomedical engineering combines medical science with physics, drawing also from a vast collection of other fields including technology and health sciences.

A note on the university’s website describes the field as “multidisciplinary”: “Biomedical Engineering links the Physical Sciences and Engineering with Clinical Medicine and the Life Sciences in many interdisciplinary activities. This multi-disciplinary field plays a vital role in bringing advances of the natural sciences and technology to our knowledge of life and especially to the service of human health.”

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