QUEST TIMES spotlights Olabimpe Olayinka, 29, a two-time University of Ibadan’s Faculty of Pharmacy best graduating student.
In this interview with Arogbonlo Israel, the pharmacist who hails from Ijebu-Igbo in Ogun State, South-Western Nigeria, speaks on what inspired her feats and dreams in the pharmaceutical industry.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a pharmacist, researcher and educator. I’m interested in drug discovery and cancer research. I have about 3 years experience as a Clinical Pharmacist working at the University College Hospital, University of Benin Teaching Hospital and some community pharmacies. I have also served as a graduate assistant at the Department of Pharmacognosy, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Ibadan. I currently volunteer as a research assistant at the Phytomedicine Research Laboratory, University of Ibadan. My research work focuses on drug discovery from natural products for cancer treatment. I am the convener of The Polished Pillars, a group focused on mentoring younger students on academic excellence and career advancement. Aside from work, I participate in church activities, enjoy meeting new people, dancing and playing the piano. You can always find me in a learning and joyful space.
How has your educational journey been?
I would say my education started with fun memories of my kindergarten days when I was exposed to basic reading and writing skills. I was later enrolled at Parent’s Pride Nursery and Primary School, a tier-1 private school in Ijebu-Igbo, Ogun, where I had my first school leaving certificate. In 2001, I sat for common entrance at Molusi College, and passed. I was one of the top 5 students in a class of over 100 from Junior Secondary School 1 to Junior Secondary School 3. I have always loved Science so deciding a path in it at SS1 was predictable. At the end of high school, I aced my West African Examination Council (WAEC) examination in 2007 and passed the Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB) exam as well. However, I couldn’t secure admission into University until some years later. In 2009, heaven smiled on me, I was admitted to study Microbiology at the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago-Iwoye, Nigeria. My strong desire to study Pharmacy made me retake the entrance examination (JAMB) that eventually got me admitted into the University of Ibadan to study Pharmacy.
Tell us more about your experience in UI.
Considering my background, I struggled with Impostor Syndrome (IS) in my first year in Ibadan. I felt I wasn’t good enough to be at the University of Ibadan, because then, I used to see UI students as “mini-gods” with amazing academic pedigrees. The intellectual competitiveness of campus made me put in my best from the start because I wouldn’t want to be sent back home or taken to another department in what is known on the campus as “tsunami” or “erosion”. I became more confident when I realised I made a 6.3/7.0 GPA in 100L. The result was a lot of encouragement for me. From my sophomore year, I started tutoring faculty students that had challenges with their studies till I graduated. In retrospect, I’d say this volunteer teaching experience was invaluable in sustaining my intellectual prowess throughout University. Ultimately, I graduated with distinctions, and top of my class. At the induction ceremony, I was awarded the Best Graduating Pharmacy Student in 2016 with a cumulative grade point average CGPA of 6.6/7.0. The University rewarded the academic feat with a Master’s degree scholarship. So, I started my MSc. program in 2018. This was supposed to span 2 years but for the COVID-19 lock down and University Union strike. I completed it some months behind schedule in February 2021. At the convocation ceremony held in November 2021, I was awarded the overall best graduating Master’s student at the University of Ibadan with a perfect Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of 7.0/7.0. Although three of us in the university had a CGPA of 7.0, I had the highest average of 81.72.
On your academic achievements, what would you say is your motivation for breaking grounds?
My secondary school had Zero Tolerance for examination malpractice, so back then, it was a norm for people to register for WAEC or NECO at ‘special centers’ after graduation because it was expected that only the Head boy, Head girl and a few Prefects would pass WAEC. When I was in SS1, a series of events happened that translated to a turning point in my life. Firstly, my friends and I used to teach our classmates after school, but we then had fallout. So in our first term exam, I couldn’t study with them as usual; when the result came out, I was in 14th position. I felt really bad, because before then, I was either in the 4th or 5th position. Secondly, some university students came to our school fellowship to organise a career fair, they motivated us to pursue academic excellence through smart study plans and trust in God. They had glowing results and they claimed it was genuine. I decided to give it a trial. I was determined to have a good WAEC result at a sitting without cheating. That was it! I became very serious, I started studying night and day, at a point my parents even got worried and started begging me to stop reading. To crown it all, we had a very dedicated Chemistry teacher, Mr. Okuneye (aka 50cents), he was always going the extra mile for us, even to the extent of teaching us on weekends (though the school didn’t usually agree with him). He would often tell us about the industrial application of what we were learning because he studied industrial chemistry, he opened our eyes to possibilities. Taking solace in my Christian faith and having a strong background in chemistry laid the foundations for the academic achievements in Pharmacy school, as I mentioned earlier. Furthermore I made all my papers in WAEC at a sitting from my school. At that point, I was convinced that excellence was achievable. That was my stepping stone.
Were you in any relationship in secondary school days?
Smiles… No, I was very young. I was not in any relationship; it didn’t even occur to me, I got my first love letter in senior high school SS3. Well, I had classmates that were dating back then, they were the ‘big girls’. It just didn’t occur to me and my parents wouldn’t have approved of it anyways.
Don’t you mind sharing with us the content of the letter?
It was from a guy in my class. We were friends but he was too shy to give me the letter directly, so his close friend who was much older had to act as the intermediary. I didn’t see it coming, the whole proposal was getting dramatic because I was confused, and I thought the intermediary was the one asking me out. Eventually, my friends found the love letter in my bag and everyone in class got to know about it. Of course, I turned him down on the spot and he soon became the hottest class gossip. I kept the letter for a while, the only thing I remembered was that he mentioned liking my hair (Laughs). After everything, I was nice to the guy; I wished he didn’t have to go through such public humiliation.
What inspired your passion for cancer research?
I am interested in cancer treatment because, before I got to UI, I had family friends who had lost two of their family members to cancer. Also, when I got to UI, my guardian then lost her very caring mother to cancer. Then, I was in my second year as a Pharmacy student, I really wished she could get a cure but I couldn’t do much to help. I’ve also come to learn through research and clinical practice that when you mention cancer, especially in Africa or Nigeria of today, it is more like a death sentence. It has to result in death. And it’s painful to see people die of cancer. They die painful deaths like a part of them is being taken away from them daily. Nobody deserves such agonising death. I think there should be a way out. This experience stimulated my interest in cancer research.
Any regrets in life?
None. I pray not to have regrets. I believe my life is not my own, I belong to God. I consider my decisions critically, pray and seek counsel before deciding. I am never in a hurry, I give my best to whatever I am doing. In the end, if I am pleased with the outcome, I give glory to God, if it turns out otherwise, I learn from it and keep going.
How was your social life back in your days in school?
I love music, dancing, and writing; so I socialised mostly in Church, school fellowships, library, and volunteer activities. I was in the choir; I also served as the associate organist in my church. I enjoy spending time with my friends, getting to know why people do what they do, and trying to understand why people act in a certain way.
Your advice to young people looking after you for a successful career?
Discover your gifts early; also know that it would take time, hard work, prayer and other people’s help to turn your gifts to Gold. Don’t cheat, rather help others succeed. Don’t ever let your story end in failure or defeat. Above all, put your trust in God.
What have you been up to since you finished your masters?
Mostly research, personal development and community service. I participated in the 2021 cohort of BMGA fellows program convened by Miss Gbemisola Abudu of the BMGA enterprise. It’s a 6 months intensive training on soft skills, career development and mentorship. I went through the training successfully and I am now a BMGA Fellow, I am also a Mentee at WAAN-I Network. I am a member of the 25B book club, I volunteer at BNI- Building Nations initiative and the Roleaux Foundation. I am open to collaboration on scientific research bordering on drug discovery, cancer and natural products. I would also love to engage in youth empowerment and community development programs.