This Q&A is part of our series of interviews with mentors and mentees who have used the AuthorAID mentoring and collaboration platform. Oluwakemi Rotimi is a lecturer in biochemistry at Covenant University in Nigeria. Her current biochemistry and toxicology research focuses on the effects of exposure to a common cereal contaminant in sub-Saharan Africa and protein malnutrition. She shares her experiences of being mentored.
Interview by Andy Nobes
What challenges do researchers in Nigeria face?
Funding is a massive issue, as it is very difficult to get funding here. I had to fund my own undergraduate, master’s and PhD degrees, which was difficult. We try to do what we can with the little money we have, but this lack of money really limits us.
Connected to this, there are also issues with things like research writing, publishing and communicating our research. If we are unable to get funding for high-level research, it is unlikely we will be able to get published in high-impact journals. Plus, we lack mentoring for research writing – for example, we are not taught how we should write an introduction or structure a paper.
How has AuthorAID helped you?
I attended a conference with the help of a grant from AuthorAID, where I participated in a workshop on epigenetics. I found it really interesting, and I saw how closely epigenetics is related to my own field of toxicology, so I wanted to know more. I tried to do the research on my own but I hit a roadblock, so I decided I would try to connect with a mentor on the AuthorAID website.
I met my mentor in February last year. My mentor was the third person I contacted, but she was the first to agree to be my mentor. She is from the University of Michigan in the US.
What support has your mentor provided?
My mentor has really helped me in my research by guiding me through the field of epigenetics. We worked on a manuscript together (which is currently under review) – she helped me to communicate the message and structure the paper. She also introduced me to a statistical analysis method that I’d not come across before, which has been very useful for analysing the results in my own work.
She has also helped my career. In August 2016, I discovered that the University of Michigan (UoM) African Presidential Scholars Programme was open to scholars in Nigeria, as long as someone from UoM could nominate them. My mentor agreed to nominate me for this exchange programme, and she helped me refine my proposal. I am happy to say I have been successful, so I will be going to UoM for six months in August 2017. I will be based in my mentor’s lab, and she will mentor me closely during this time.
What have you learnt from being mentored?
One of the most important things I have learnt is how to effectively communicate my main message when I am writing a manuscript. I now know how to make sure the message stands out and is visible in the manuscript. Also, I have learnt important skills that I will be able to put into practice when I become a mentor.
Have you any advice for researchers looking for a mentor?
The first thing I would say is to be really clear on what you want from a mentor. From the start, I made it clear to my mentor that I wanted long-term mentoring and help with career development. It is important to be on the same page and to understand each other’s expectations.
Also, when you find someone who agrees to be your mentor, make sure you don’t throw everything at them as if you are saying that you expect them to do all your work for you. Do everything you can do yourself, and then let your mentor help you with the things you don’t know.
What are the most important skills a mentor should have?
First, I think the ability to motivate your mentee is really important. My mentor has always been very encouraging – whenever I send her my work, she says something positive about it before giving me constructive criticism. Second, I think mentors need to be very clear on what they want their mentee to do. The third skill is good time management – if you say you will do something for your mentee, it is very important to deliver on time. All of these skills will give the mentee confidence.
What is the next step for you in your research and career?
The next step for my career is to do the six-month scholarship at UoM and learn as much as I can. I’m particularly eager to develop my knowledge and skills in epigenetics. Afterwards, I want to bring this knowledge back to Nigeria and pass it on to other researchers here.
My other aims are to apply for research grants and try to publish more papers. If I’m going to do important research in this field, I need access to funding. I have spoken about this with my mentor, so part of the plan during my scholarship is to do some research proposals.