PhD Chronicles: Part III

“Hello there! The angel from my nightmare”

It’s been a while since my last post. One has been busy with science and life – I sincerely apologise for this sojourn. Although, I am happy to say that whilst away, I made huge steps in my PhD program with interesting data.

I have also been opportune to present these data at a number of conferences as well however my first presentation is the one that sticks out for me. It was last year, to the MSc Biomedical Science cohort. One of the students asked me afterwards, Why did you decide to do a PhD? and what are your plans after the program?

These questions got me thinking about different things at the same time. Although I have always had a concrete plan about my life goals since I was 20, it took the preaching of a lecturer to convince me PhD was worth my time when I was at their stage as I’ve never seen myself going down the Professor route (but hey! never say never).

So when I was asked these questions, I was filled with some doubts about the whole process and I had to break my reverie to remind myself the reason(s) why I decided to plough this spiked road. These reasons are myriad that I can’t put them in words here.

However, if your aim of wanting a PhD is for family pride/honour, societal respect and gratification, and status symbol, I am here to tell you that it isn’t worth it. I must admit that in the “third world” like Africa, a PhD degree can propel you to greater heights and open doors for you especially if your aim is to be a powerhouse in politics or your chosen field. However, I believe that you can achieve great things without it.

This is not me trying to discourage anyone from getting a doctorate but letting you know that it will test you in different ways. For example, I am (naturally) an impatient person. I dream about things, plan them and hope everything goes according to any of the plans I’ve set in motion. However, things rarely go according to plan in the lab and life in general, and this can lead to frustration and depression.

As a result, this journey is not necessarily about intelligence nor hard work but patience, persistence and flexibility. It teaches you that patience is a virtue and impatience is not a vice but can be harnessed in the right way.

PhD equips you with a lot of transferable skills that can help you in any sector you decide to go into. A colleague once said, “the good thing about science is that a scientist can work in any field.” I am getting to that stage where I have to repeatedly ask myself what I want to do next – politics, business, academia, industry, research?

Whatever I decide to do next, this phd journey has tremendously helped me to learn, re-learn and unlearn a lot of things about myself and life in general. Prior to now, I liked to tell people negative stories about myself than positive stories and this was for a reason. Sometimes, I even act dumb and naive.

The reason why I do these things is because being a naturally observant person, I found out at a young age that we are all narcissistic to some extent. People feel better when they think they are better than you so I found it easier to read and understand them this way. However, doing this phd exposed me to a lot of experiences that made me realise this was more detrimental to my mental health and sense of self.

Our minds are our gateway to success, happiness and sense of accomplishment. The way you see yourself regardless of external opinions, perceptions about problems or undesirable circumstances and reactions to things beyond your control have an ample effect on our end products.

Opinions and Attention

image

Naturally, I am not attracted to groups so I try not to join any but life has presented me with different reasons, at different stages and on different occasions, to do so. Right from an early age, I had to join the Bible, quiz and football clubs to hone my academic and soccer abilities. This continued as I grew older and I proceeded to join a research team as a post-graduate student.

There are several reasons why one may benefit from group inclusion. Just like me, many join groups for purposes of social, spiritual, educational and political change. These groups afford us the chance to meet up and have different interactions with others.

However, there is something about groups I abhor. Groups tend to promote crowd mentality amongst their members. And this doesn’t align with my belief. I believe one has the right to think freely on his/her own. According to Mark Twain, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority. It is time to pause and reflect.”

Groups often infiltrate the minds of their members thereby making them see themselves in a positive way and others (opponents & people dissimilar to them) in a negative way. For example, back in secondary school, it was deemed wrong/degrading for members of certain groups to relate with members of other groups. As a consequence, social distance is created.

Social distance is based on the concepts of race, ethnicity, class and status. It reflects the degree to which people are willing to accept or reject social intercourse with others with different social characteristics.

Social distance succinctly explains why we disregard the opinions of those we feel are below us e.g our gatemen etc because their ideas and dreams seem bare and ordinary to us. So we only bother ourselves with opinions of those we feel are above us or on the same level with us.

In every organisation or institution, low-rank individuals often pay attention to the affairs of high-rank individuals. This explains why rich people pay little attention to those below them. Daniel Goleman in his article “Rich People Just Care Less” published in the New York Times, wrote “The more powerful pay less attention to us than we do to them, in other situations we are relatively higher on the totem pole of status — and we, too, tend to pay less attention to those a rung or two down.”

Think about this: when a rich/successful (wo)man says something, whether it sounds smart or stupid, people are awed. In contrast, many might turn a blind eye to a well-thought analysis offered by a poor wise man. No wonder King Solomon, who many believe to be the wisest man that ever lived, said in Ecclesiastes 9 vs 16, “Wisdom is better than strength, those who are wise will be despised if they are poor. What they say will not be appreciated for long.”

In this information age, your long-term success depends on winning the attention of others. According to Steve Rubel of Edelman, “Attention is the most important currency that anybody can give you. It’s worth more than money, possessions or things.” It’s not easy to gain people’s attention. It requires hard work, determination and time.

Nobody pays attention to someone who shares a common opinion (only famous people are an exception to this). We rather turn our attention to people who we deem threats, superior or have uncommon opinions.

Therefore, to leave your mark and make a difference, you have to focus your attention inward and be bold enough to challenge the status quo. Only then will people pay attention to you.

Poles and Notions

image

It is quite astonishing how quick we, as a people, are to pick sides when something happens. Nigerians and sentiments are like yin-yang. Inseparable!

When news reports trickled in about the arrest of former Petroleum minister, Dieziani Allison-Madueke in the UK for allegedly laundering $13bn, two groups suddenly emerged. Those in her support were assembled in the blue corner whilst those against her were in the red corner.

Those in the red corner desperately want to see Diezani jailed and thence celebrated her arrest, without asking questions how the media came to that figure of $16bn. The opposition, in the blue corner, described Diezani as innocent until proven guilty and slammed the President’s anti-corruption war as mere noise used to harass and persecute his political enemies.

This is based on their belief that the President has surrounded himself with chronically corrupt citizens like Rotimi Amaechi et al. Perhaps they are right about Amaechi et al but if they feel Dieziani deserves time until UK court proves her innocence/guilt, why can’t they extend such benevolence to the likes of Amaechi etc? After all, everyone has a right to a fair trial. Or maybe not!

Some days later, there was a fight between new Super Eagles handler Sunday Oliseh and veteran goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama which led to the latter announcing his retirement from the national team. As expected, Nigerians, without waiting to get to the root of the matter, were split again into two sides with both teams hurling insults at each other.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having an opinion and taking sides but the least one can do is to be objective about it and back up your claims with facts, not assertions. Objectivity was lost during the aforementioned debates, and replaced by bias. Being objective is a herculean task for many due to the amount of bias we carry around.

It will amaze you how bias, especially what we hear others say, can sway our judgements and decisions. For example, if you were told that someone is good or bad at something, it would be hard for you to forget that information when you observe the person and in the process, miss other vital positive/negative traits of the person. Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson wrote in his new book LEADING, “It is astonishing how many biases and preconceived notions we carry around, and these influence what we see, or more precisely, what we think we see.”

Subjective thinking is based on an individual’s emotions, opinion and perspective hence it comes easily and naturally to everyone however objective thinking doesn’t. It is a skill that is acquired and developed by paying good attention to details. Just as kids develop vital personal and social skills by observing behaviour of their parents, siblings, peers or teachers, that’s the same way one needs to be a keen observer to think objectively.

Objectivity is based on facts and observations. It is a very important skill to acquire because it stops one from making hasty conclusions by taking a step back from one’s own thinking to critically examine facts/opinions/assertions at his/her disposal.

It also requires one to look at things from other people’s point of view hence one has to be willing to give a fair hearing to what others have to say. No matter how right your opinion may seem to you, a single perspective never reveals the whole truth.

Observing and listening are underrated activities, and they cost nothing. Follow arguments with objectivity, not bias.

Do You Have A Problem With Corruption or Nah?

image

Nigeria, my Nigeria. First and foremost, let me start by wishing my dear nation Nigeria a happy belated 55th birthday. The labour of our heros’ past shall never be in vain.

Following the Independence day celebrations, news emanating from London suggest that former Petroleum minister Dizeani Allison-Madueke, along with four other people, has been arrested in the UK for money laundering after they were found in possession of a huge amount of money.

What surprised me was how the news brought joy to many Nigerians. All shouting, “crucify her, crucify her.” I found this surprising because when the Senate President, Bukola Saraki was summoned to appear before the Code of Conduct Tribunal on grounds of false declaration of wealth, many believed it is/was a ploy by President Muhammadu Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) to make Saraki abdicate his responsibilities after he went against their wish to assume his position.

The opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have also thrown their weight behind Saraki to help him survive this alleged witchhunt. Ohaneze Ndi Igbo followed suit and marched in protest to the National Assembly this week, baricading the entrance & describing the trial as the trial of an Igbo man (whatever that means).

Both events have made me question whether Nigerians really have a problem with corruption. In fact without mincing words, it seems Nigerians don’t. We seem to have a problem with people involved in corrupt acts. We take sides; everything is personal. Maybe that’s why Ohaneze Ndi Igbo youths who claim to speak for all Igbo youths have taken sides with Saraki.

In the popular classic movie, The Godfather, there is a scene where Michael Corleone told his father’s (The Don) unofficial adopted son and consigliere, Tom Hagen that everything is personal. “Don’t let anybody kid you. It’s all personal, every bit of business. Every piece of shit every man has to eat every day of his life is personal. They call it business. OK. But it’s personal as hell.”

Politics in Nigeria is a dirty game, which is all about power and personal (not regional/tribal/religious) interests. When politicians are marked by an obvious personal interest, pro or against lustration, the public approach is deeply influenced by emotions and subsequently, rationality is thrown out of the window.

It is clear to every Nigerian that the level of corruption in the country is high but we only complain about corruption if/when it does not favor us. And attribute benefits of corruption (see link: https://arturozinga.wordpress.com/2012/07/28/corrupt-state-of-nigeria-we-all-have-benefitted-from-it/) to God’s favour, grace and blessings when corruption finally favours us.

Have you ever seen a student who copied his/her friend or sorted a lecturer (whether in cash or kind) to pass complain when s/he comes through with flying colours? Mba nu! Maka why? S/he will babble about his/her academic prowess and advertise the newly attained status on social media, all to the glory of God. S/he only complains when the result isn’t favourable and tries to point accusing fingers at others. Misery loves company after all.

Our partisanship towards corruption stems from the general belief in Nigeria that once one occupies a political position, be it the smallest, s/he has found El dorado. So, people tend to lend support to anti-graft war when charges of corruption are levelled against those in their black book.

People claim they are ready for change but question if Nigeria is ready for change. People only act this way when they can’t say that they are not ready to change the status quo. Even the idea of being ready is ridiculous.

The mission to cleanse Nigeria of corruption and subversives will take time; patience is essential. In words of President Muhammadu Buhari, order is more vital than speed.

Pay Attention To Your Feedback

image

As a Nigerian, I have come to realise that one of the things we, as a people, are often afraid of is people’s criticisms/negative feedback. No one likes to be criticised so we tend to develop strong resistance and reluctance to it.

Critiques often trigger strong emotions in us all. We tend to get bitter, angry or try to hurt people who have offered their critiques. We create a defensive stance to protect our self-worth which we feel is under vicious attack.

As a result, we try to disconnect from our social environment and prefer to live in our heads or associate with people who share our ideas and values. We develop an intemperate dislike for other people’s values/opinions and grow insensitive to people’s differences.

image

Our environment encompasses people from different cultures and backgrounds who we interact with on a daily basis. We fail to understand that paying attention to our environment is necessary for human survival.

Almost everything we do is for the public – large or small. For instance, an entrepreneur develops his/her products for public consumption, a teacher/lecturer does his job for his students (public), the students do their school work to impress their teachers (public), the public office holders serve the poor masses etc. Thus, no matter what you do, we depend on people’s feedback to forge ahead.

Your ideas/work may seem brilliant to you but without feedback from people, our ideas/endeavours become especial and illusions. Hear American Rapper 50 Cent, “The public is never wrong. When people don’t respond to what you do, they are telling you something loud and clear. You’re just not listening.

image

image

I remember when I presented a scientific paper about a year ago. In my head, I did pretty Ok amid the response from the audience but the examiners thought otherwise. Although they commended my delivery, they critiqued the information. I was disappointed at first but after meeting with them privately, areas of the presentation that were flawed and needed to be worked on became magnified/clearer to me. 

Just as I had thought, we often deceive ourselves into thinking we have an insight into how the public feels about us/our work but this information is often tainted and false. This is because we prefer to surround ourselves with friends/family or sycophants who may envy or praise our every move thereby creating a distance between us and the real information out there (the public).

For example, our politicians/leaders/public office holders distance themselves from the people they represent, lecturers distance themselves from the students they teach, employers/superiors distance themselves from the employees/subordinates thereby creating a huge communication gap and thence false feedback from the public. Distancing yourself from the public can be tragic because feedback is so crucial to success. By bridging this gap, we encourage direct interaction with the public and allow them to voice their criticisms and feedback.

image

image

It is impossible to please everyone or control what other people will say, whether they’ll approve or share their opinions but the strength of interacting with the public does not come from the quantity but the quality of your feedback. If you have little or no access to the public, then how do you learn from your mistakes? How do you improve? How do you know you are ignorant? How do you know what the people want?

Criticisms and critiques are never easy to receive/accept but they give you an idea how people see you. Pay attention to your feedback, the most important information in the world, and transform it into an opportunity for personal growth, emotional development, time efficiency, improved relationships, and self-confidence.

Thank you for making out time to read this article. If you have enjoyed it, please comment and share your views on this issue. Also, do like, share and follow the blog.