Germany chose me for my PhD and gave me the wings to fly in the academic world- Fola Ogungbemi

Fola Ogungbemi is a Nigerian who recently bagged his PhD in Ecotoxicology at Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Leipzig, Germany. There are three things he is passionate about. He combines his love for research with that of music and helping young graduates find their feet in the academic world . In a recent interview with AC, Ogungbemi shared his PhD story with our team. Here are the excerpts

AC: Congratulations on your recent feat of achieving a PhD. Could you please tell us about yourself?

FO: Thanks a lot. My name is Fola Ogungbemi. I grew up in Ibadan, Nigeria and attended the University of Ibadan where I studied chemistry and analytical chemistry at both Bachelor and Master level respectively. Due to my zeal and passion to learn more and to contribute to knowledge, I got a scholarship to enrol for another Master’s programme at University of Koblenz, Landau in Germany where I had the opportunity to delve from chemistry to ecotoxicology. I became highly passionate about everything ecotoxicology and proceeded to complete a PhD at Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Leipzig, Germany. I am very passionate about helping graduate students find their feet in the academic world. Therefore, I founded in 2015, a database for graduate and postdoctoral scholarships. In my role as the chair for the student advisory council of SETAC Africa (Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry), I have supported the cohesion of African students in the area of environmental sciences. In my free time, I like to listen to music and to DJ at student parties.

AC: What was the focus of your PhD research and what were the insights from the study?

FO: My PhD was focused on developing biological methods using fish embryo to detect chemicals that can disrupt the nervous system. The research was conceived based on the fact that there has been an increase in the number of people suffering from neurological diseases (i.e. Parkinson and autism) and this increase is associated with exposure to neuroactive chemicals (i.e. pesticides and pharmaceuticals). Furthermore, neuroactive insecticides have been identified as the main driver of biodiversity loss in aquatic invertebrate communities. Therefore, I investigated the effects of neuroactive chemicals such as pesticides and pharmaceuticals on humans and the environment. The major research question was: is it possible to identify different neuroactive chemical mixtures within a pool of other chemicals and if that is possible, then it could be possible to conduct a highly focussed assessment to identify the drivers of neurotoxicity. The results showed that it is possible to detect specific type of neuroactive chemicals using the movement of zebrafish embryo and this bioassay can be used in risk assessment of neurotoxicity.

AC: From Ibadan to Germany, could you tell us the story behind this career trajectory?

FO: Hmmm….that is a very interesting story. I always wanted to gain research exposure and experience abroad. Therefore I was actively applying for scholarships in US, Canada and UK, China, Singapore, Taiwan etc. I wrote all the necessary exams such as GRE and TOEFL. However, my plans were not successful and I decided to commence my master’s studies in Nigeria while I continue to apply. During this period, my cousin got a scholarship in Taiwan for his master’s degree. He exposed me to the opportunities in Taiwan and I also applied and got a PhD scholarship. However my visa application was not successful. I then suddenly stumbled on a master’s program in ecotoxicology at University of Koblenz-landau in Germany. It was so fascinating to me and I immediately submitted my application which happened to be on the day of the deadline. Two weeks later, I got information that I was admitted and I could also apply for a scholarship. I immediately applied for the scholarship and I was one of 2 students who was awarded the scholarship. So as you may see, that Germany was never my selected destination for further studies but I only found one opportunity which I liked that paved the way to Germany. Therefore the summary is that I did not choose Germany but Germany chose me….hahahaha

AC: How was it like studying in Germany for a PhD? Any low and high moments?

FO: Truth be told, doing a master degree in Germany kind of prepared me for the German PhD experience. In fact, since I already had a master degree from Nigeria, I took my second master degree experience in Germany as a PhD. Therefore, I tried to work independently and I also got 2 articles out of my master’s thesis (1 published and 1 in preparation). Nevertheless, my PhD in Germany was not an easy task like every other PhD. The research was new to me and I had to learn a lot in the beginning. I spent my first year conducting literature review which later formed the first chapter of my thesis. I believe that was a major catalysis in my PhD experience as it gave me the length and breadth of my topic and allowed me to set reasonable and realistic research goals before entering the lab to conduct any experiment.  I also encountered challenges such as failed experiments and lack of adequate results but the extraordinary support of my supervisors saw me through the difficult stages. The high moments for me was whenever I got the opportunity to go to a conference to present my research. This experience was a major boost to finish specific tasks on my PhD and to present them in small chunks at a conference which enhanced the overall finishing of the PhD. I was able to attend 7 conferences in Italy, France, South Africa, Nigeria, Belgium and virtual.

AC: You are a researcher. You also love music. How do you combine these two professions? 

FO: I have always been passionate about music from my teenage years. Although, I do not play any music instrument, my passion for music manifested in different ways such as concert/event planner, talent manager, stage manager, creative director and music critic/blogger. As you may notice, I never had any direct contact with music, except for working closely with people that made music and listening to a lot of music myself. My drive was to discover talented artistes and show their good music to the World via my concerts/events.

All this happened during my bachelor studies in Nigeria. Now, you will ask how did I finally become a DJ? This happened when I moved to Germany to further my education. I still wanted to organize events but I did not have the right talents around me. Therefore, I had to learn to become a DJ to hold my first event which was an Intercultural party where I had to play songs from all over the World. The success of this party motivated my goal for DJing: To create innovative parties that enhances social interaction between people and maximizes relaxation.

To ensure that my DJing and academic research were on similar track, I focused my DJing events to the student and scientific community and hence, I perform mainly at scientific-conferences-after-parties and International students parties. But sometimes at wedding ceremonies too.

DJing and listening to music takes away my academic stress and enhances my scientific research by giving me the much-needed, time-out from research and also giving me a sense of purpose outside research. On the other hand, I remain passionate to solve real life problems by creating innovative techniques to reduce environmental pollution and creating innovative party solutions that helps people interact and relax better.

AC: It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. How many people did it take to produce your PhD? What are your words of gratitude to them?

FO: Of course, it takes community support to achieve a huge goal such as PhD degree. From my primary school days till now, I have had a very supportive community by my side which has helped me believe I can achieve whatever I want. First I will like to thank God for giving me the strength and passion to embark on the PhD. My parents were a huge pillar of support. For my father, it was either I became a medical doctor or a scientific doctor. His push, both financially and emotionally, were instrumental for me getting this far in my career. All my primary school teachers who identified my scientific talents and suggested I take science subjects are the foundation of my scientific journey. My high school teachers gave me the basic knowledge to flourish and my university lecturers helped me build on the foundations. My theses supervisors (BSc, MSc and PhD) were the guiding angels God has used to bring me to the apex of the PhD degree. I am also grateful to friends, family and colleagues who has supported me over the years.

AC: Thank you for your time

FO: My pleasure

One thought on “Germany chose me for my PhD and gave me the wings to fly in the academic world- Fola Ogungbemi

  • February 7, 2022 at 1:39 am

    Congratulations Fola. The sky is your starting point. Time to explore the stratosphere…..Let’s go!


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