‘Going for it – with purpose’: A science journey from Nigeria to Manchester
“The purpose for going for it must be clear,” answers Dr Cecilia Medupin, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (EES).
“Why are you doing this thing? What do you want to get out of it?”
She is speaking on a new episode of the excellent Ignite podcast from the Glasgow Science Centre – which explores how scientists become scientists – and advising how to get started in science, especially if you’re unsure how
“There must be that interest, and tenacity. There must be patience. There must be tolerance.”
And, as we learn, Cecilia has had to be particularly tenacious, patient and tolerant while pursuing her own, remarkable science journey – from Nigeria to Manchester, via academia, industry and even paramilitary service – to fulfil her own, unique purpose.
Today (8 March) is International Women’s Day, a day to #EmbraceEquity and celebrate women’s achievement – and a perfect opportunity to share Cecilia’s story.
“My own understanding and my own advice is that whatever you want to do, you go for it!”, Cecilia tells Ignite’s host, Patrick.
And it’s certainly a motto Cecilia seems to have followed herself, forging an exciting career path across continents.
She enjoyed school in Nigeria (“school was beautiful!”) and, perhaps encouraged by her parents (“I don’t want to use the word ‘boasting rights of parents’! [laughs]”), had initially wished to become a medical doctor.
“But coming into university and the reality that we can’t all become doctors, we can’t all become engineers, it opens your eyes into whatever course you are given. You begin to see other dimensions of science, and that kind of wows you in terms of ‘wow, I have different ways I can apply knowledge’.”
Her first degree was in biochemistry. “Doing my undergraduate was wonderful, it was one of the formative, excellent years because you see all the people who come from different places coming to university.
“And you look forward. You are keen to do something, and you are keen to give back to the family that has sponsored you. And that kind of motivation pushes you on.”
“Through studying biochemistry I saw areas that I found interesting,” Cecilia continues. “And so from biochemistry I started exploring other areas.”
These areas included a placement at a medical laboratory, as well as a job in the bottling industry, carrying out microbial tests, chemistry tests, and other forms of quality control.
Her path also included one-year mandatory paramilitary service, and the experience proved invaluable in her scientific journey. She was posted to a university, and took advantage of the chance to meet with – and learn from – the biochemists there.
“That pushed me further because I could see people who were academics, working in that system in the university institution – and it’s good to have people whom you can look up to.”
Her time in industry was “an eye-opener!” Cecilia worked as a process control officer, checking water quality and acidity levels, and treating bottles – “it was very nice!”
The experience also opened her up to the importance of learning – not only the science, theoretical aspect but also the policy side, and the changes we need to see.
She came to The University of Manchester through a scholarship, as part of a master’s degree programme in pollution and environmental control. “It was a very intense programme, and I learnt a lot!”
Cecilia got a job with the UK Environment Agency as an environmental regulator, and from there took up a role in the nuclear industry, as an environmental compliance advisor at Sellafield.
Armed with these new skills and learning, she returned to Nigeria to gain experience of working in her homeland, landing a job at the Open University and working as an environmental coordinator – a job similar to her current role, in EES.
It’s been a varied career path, one requiring many adjustments – especially to the British weather!
And an aspect of her work that Cecilia holds particularly dear is public engagement.
“I like to include people when I do things. If you want people to contribute to an activity you must enthuse them, you must win them over.
“I like to meet people. I like to meet with people who may be interested but don’t know where to come in – creating an avenue where they can see you and ask questions. And some of those questions can help you to refine your thinking and maybe also help you to refine how you communicate information.
“They will see me, and maybe have some hope that ‘alright, I can do it too’. It’s helping people to potentially be what they would like to be.”
When asked to describe her career, Cecilia answered “passion, values, and knowledge transfer”.
We can certainly see that.
And we can certainly attest that she’s ‘gone for it’ – not only achieving her own purpose, but helping others fulfil theirs too.
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Words: Joe Shervin
Interview: Ignite podcast
Images: Dr Cecilia Medupin