Popularly called KC, he holds a double MSc degree and PhD from three European universities. He works as a Research Scientist at Procter & Gamble Germany. With a First Class from the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Kelechukwu Onwukamike shared his thoughts on issues ranging from his educational journey, his mentorship programme and education in Africa with the AbitoCitta team. Here are excerpts from the interview….
AC: Could you please tell us about yourself?
KC: I am Dr Kelechukwu Onwukamike, preferable called KC or Kenny. I am currently a Research Scientist at Procter & Gamble Germany. I was born in Cameroon to Nigerian parents, so I am Nigerian by nationality. I graduated with a First Class Honours in Industrial Chemistry from the Federal University of Technology Owerri, Nigeria in 2011. In 2015, I received a double MSc degree on Functional Advanced Materials & Engineering (FAME) as part of the Erasmus Mundus Masters programme that was done between University of Augsburg, Germany and University of Bordeaux, France. I equally hold a double PhD in Organic and Polymer Chemistry as part of the Marie-Curie Doctoral programme that was done between Karlsruhe Institute of Technology Germany and University of Bordeaux in France. Outside of my full time job as a scientist, I run a mentorship platform called DEKEMP (Dr KC Mentorship Platform) that is focused on coaching and mentoring graduate students for international scholarship and careers in general.
AC: From your LinkedIn Page, you have double PhDs. Could you tell the story behind that?
KC: My double PhD came from the type of doctoral programme I was part of called “European Joint Doctoral in Advanced Materials, EJD-FunMAT”. As a candidate of this programme, I was registered as a PhD student in two universities, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Germany and University of Bordeaux in France. I defended the double PhD to earn a degree from each of these universities. My PhD from KIT is on Organic Chemistry specialization while that from University of Bordeaux is on Polymer Chemistry. My expertise from my PhD research is on sustainable methods of developing advanced materials from renewable resources which won the best PhD thesis award on Sustainable Chemistry from the German Chemical Society in 2020.
AC: You have an organization that provides support services for graduate students in Nigeria/Africa. What motivated the founding of this organization? What are the success stories?
KC: Hope; this is the four letter word that formed my decision to start a mentorship platform in 2019. I wanted to use my experience and know-how to guide graduate students towards their dream. My mentorship platform is called DEKEMP (Dr KC Mentorship Platform) and started about 2 years ago. In numbers, 25 mentees got international scholarships in 2020 and as of Sept. 2021, 55 of my mentees have gotten international scholarship. These 75 scholars received a combined scholarship value of over 3 million USD. On our 2nd anniversary, we decided as a group to launch a “Dekemp @ Secondary Schools club” that will be focused on guiding secondary school students towards their career and overall growth. At the centre of my mentorship platform is the shared belief that “till we all win, no one has truly won”.
AC: You had a first degree in Nigeria and your two other degrees abroad. What could you say about the quality of the Nigerian higher education?
KC: I would say the difference is clear but that doesn’t take away the fact that my Nigerian bachelor degree paved the way for the others. Not only did it prepare me in its way, it was fundamental in playing a key role for me to meet my scholarship application requirements.
Nigeria education system lacks the necessary facilities and infrastructure to support extensive research. As an example, during my master and PhD thesis, I ran experiments that needed 48-72h at high temperatures. Imagine if electricity is disrupted in the course of these experiments. Just the thought of that is scary.
In my opinion, Nigeria and Africa in general needs to rethink their education curriculum to meet the specific need of their countries. We need to ask one fundamental question “what is our education supposed to enable our graduates to do”. Education is aimed at empowerment, so if we don’t have a specific and our country-centric curriculum that is designed to solve our existing problems, we will not make any headway as a country or continent. We need to come to the realization that what works for Europe, United States, China/Asia will not necessary work for Africa.
AC: Collaboration is touted to be an indispensable characteristic for anyone in the academics. What is your take on this?
KC: 100% agreed. I am a big advocate of collaboration in research. In fact out of 7 peer reviewed publications from my PhD research, 4 came out from collaboration. As a researcher, we need to think beyond the mentality of wanting to do it all-alone. The ability to identify how to leverage on the experience/expertise of our colleagues to deliver a common goal for the society should be pursued. No matter how good you are as a researcher, you cannot be an expert in everything. This is where collaboration comes into play. I like the analogy that is given about collaboration which states that 1+1 = 3! This is because of the additional benefit that collaboration brings to the table.
AC: Moving forward, what is your plan for self and country of birth?
KC: I am a big believer of Nigerians as a people, there is no doubt that we are among the smartest in the world. Given the right environment and support, Nigerians will excel beyond imagination. This belief played a big part in founding my mentorship platform and I feel this is my way of giving back to my country of origin. As an end-to-end material development expert, I have also created a sub-group in my mentorship platform called Research Hub. Through this group, I will be bringing my expertise to nurture ideas that could potential spin-off start-ups. I have also given postgraduate lecture to PhD students recently at FUTO on “Research Design”. In the long run, I would like to stay connected and keep providing my support to Nigerians that have ideas in the product development area and need my expertise to bring them to life.
AC: Thank you for your time.
KC: My pleasure always.