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.

Social Media And Averting Cancer in Nigeria

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For many Internet users, social media have become an integral part of our personal and professional lives. A large number of online users prefer to get their news and other relevant information through what others, including news agencies post on social media.

As a result, it has become a daily routine for many people, especially parents, to complain about the “fixation” of young people on their smartphones and social media. They feel a surge of anxiety about the dangers social media and technology pose to the future of millennials. I must admit that I used to belong to this school of thought but I have come to accept that social media is part of evolution. Naturally, we abhor any opinion that contradicts status quo – what we are used to. So it is understandable why many think social media is a time bomb.

The most overwhelming thing about social media is its reach. Through social media, the world has become a real global village thereby bringing us closer to the audience we seek. If social media were countries, they would make up 7 out of the 10 largest countries in the world by population. 

In recent times, we have seen social media exert outstanding influence on the real world through various harshtag advocacies, including medical advocacy. Since social media have a huge presence in our lives, it is only right that we apply social media to our health and well being.

Yesterday, I read about the 12-year old Indian boy, Sparsh Shah, who broke the Internet with his own rendition of Eminem cover ‘Not Afraid’. What caught my attention was the song but I was astonished when I watched the video. The boy uses a wheelchair because he suffers from a rare disease of Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a disease I had never heard of. With the help of social media, he was able to get his message across; letting the world know about his talent, disease condition and resilience.

The most successful health awareness campaign on social media so far remains the #IceBucketChallenge. This helped raise $115 million for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s disease – a motor neurone disorder that attacks nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscles.

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Social media has also helped in tackling the cancer scourge. In 2014, Cancer Research UK (CRUK), the world’s largest independent cancer research and awareness charity, raised over $13m in six days through Twitter and Facebook from the #NoMakeUpSelfie campaign. They asked women to post selfies without makeup on social media using the hashtag #NoMakeupSelfie. The money generated has since been reinvested into clinical trials and breakthrough discoveries that will eventually lead to novel interventions for patients.

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This got me thinking of ways we can harness social media properly and change the medical landscape in Nigeria. The power of social media to bring patients, clinicians, scientists, advocates, innovators and financiers in the country to the same table is fairly underutilised.

It is speculated that about 100,000 new cancer cases occur annually in Nigeria. As a consequence, it is dire that we act fast and nip it at the bud. Using social media, we can create awareness about the disease and also promote researches into cancers affecting Nigerians.

Online surveys on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook can go a long way to ascertain public awareness of the risk factors and symptoms of most common cancers in Nigeria. Many Nigerians are averse to paying a visit to hospitals when they notice a symptom; they often wait until their medical conditions deteriorate. This online campaign will help in sensitising people to become aware of the risk factors and symptoms of the disease thereby increasing early detection of the disease. Early detection helps a patient to seek medical treatment early enough to boost chances of survival.

Also, encouraging cancer patients in the country to share their stories and experiences via social media can go a long way to dispel the myth that cancer is a spiritual disease and help others to understand the magnitude of the disease. This can also spur online readers to donate money to fund treatment and research institutes/groups striving to find a cure for different types of cancers, including HIV/AIDS-related cancers.

Listening to patients, who are living with specific cancers speak publicly about their experience via Facebook pages, tweetchats, blogs, vlogs, podcasts and websites, can also be therapeutic for other patients. It creates an avenue for them to come together and form support groups or even charity organisations or companies around cancer.

However, there are risks involved with using social media in rapid spread of information about cancer in the country. There’s an abundance of information on the social media, some of which could be too much for some or inaccurate or misleading. Despite its shortcomings, I sincerely believe that someday social media will lead the change we desperately need in the Nigerian health sector as one of the tools that can help deal with cancer and its impact.

Are Men Intimidated By Smart Women?

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Human sexuality has always been an interesting part of our existence. A person’s sexual orientation, which is heavily influenced by social norms and status quo, has an ample effect on their sexual interest/attraction for another person.

In recent times, it has become a norm to hear young Nigerian men and women declare their sexuality as sapiosexual – being attracted to or sexually aroused by intelligence and its use. However, when critically analysed, are we really sapiosexual?

According to a friend, most Nigerian men aren’t sapiosexual; they feel intimidated by smart women. This echoes the recent findings of researchers at the University of Buffalo, California Lutheran University, and the University of Texas at Austin which showed that men are sapiosexual in theory and usually lose interest in smart women after encountering them.

Interestingly, there is an iorta of truth in both opinions. I do like smart women, however, there’s much more going on than merely a meeting of the minds.

Naturally, intelligence often comes with a certain amount of arrogance, pride, autocracy and being opinionated. In this clime, some smart women exhibit sheer arrogance and a dire need to be an authority in the relationship. And this is what often scares Nigerian men away not the lady’s smartness.

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Masculinity often comes with a big ego as well as social and hierarchial dominance. As a consequence, anything that puts men in danger of having their ego bruised or losing their territory makes them scamper and run for the hills.

This doesn’t mean that the man is weak or intimidated by a smart woman – even though in most cases it appears so. In dating, we are being evaluated on far more than our most attractive traits. And as aforementioned, there seems to be a strong correlation between our attractive traits and some unattractive traits.

For example, it is still an enigma why women turn down nice guys. American singer, Mary J Blige said in her song, Mr Wrong Good guys ain’t no fun.” A female friend went further to succinctly explain it. She said good guys have a certain mentality – things should be easy for me because I’m good mentality. The same applies to smart women. Smart women have a similar type of mentality – I am a strong woman who is not scared of sharing my opinion. If you can’t handle this strong woman, you are weak.

Men do value intelligence as much as women value nice guys. Women want nice guys who exude masculine energy and scoof at the constant need for others’ approval whilst men do want an intelligent woman who gives them warmth, affection and peace of mind thus making their lives easier and more pleasant.

Human relationships require social and emotional intelligence, which are based on viewing people through the lens of their own social and emotional needs. Nevertheless, many people focus their attention inward instead of outward. As a result, they find it hard and painful to acknowledge that their strong traits are often accompanied by significant downsides. If you are smart, opinionated and domineering, don’t be surprised if some of your actions turn people off.

P.S. these things go both ways. Some ladies are too awed by a smart man’s intellect and demeanour that they lose interest. They want someone who completes them and sometimes a smart person lacks the qualities they seek in a partner.

Opinions and Attention

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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.

Information is everything

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Last weekend, I sat down to tinker with my thoughts; to evaluate how the past month went. After a while, I discovered that every important decision I made was dependent on the information I had at the time.

Information is the lifeblood of every decision. It is at the root of everything. We depend on information to make decisions, solve problems and resolve uncertainty.

In this Information Age, information is ubiquitous and more accessible to virtually everyone. We are overwhelmed by the abundance of information at our disposal.

Everything that informs our world – music, writing, movies, news etc – can be described as information. According to Business Dictionary, Information is described as data that is accurate and timely, specific and organized for a purpose, presented within a context that gives it meaning and relevance, and can lead to an increase in understanding and decrease in uncertainty.

For instance, if you don’t read the instructions on your exam paper (information given by the examiners) before proceeding to answer the questions, you are likely to misunderstand the questions.

Information is an integral part of our lives; it can affect a behaviour or an outcome. Those with accurate, reliable and timely information have an advantage over others.

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Scientifically, information defines who we are. Every individual possesses a genetic code, which is the biochemical basis of heredity. This genetic code serves as biochemical instructions that translates the genetic information in one’s DNA or messenger RNA sequences into amino acids for synthesis of protein. Pardon my use of medical jargon.

Information can be facts, opinions and/or assertions. Our relationships, including marriage, is based on facts and/or opinions. It is hard to know everything about an individual so one tries to make a smart judgement based on facts and opinions and not a risky one based only on opinions.

Information provides knowledge. Knowledge is a prequisite for success and power. I am yet to see a rich man that doesn’t have information/knowledge. By sharing his/her knowledge, he acquires more wealth and power.

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However, information can be disastrous when there is an overload. Differentiating between good and bad information requires skill, patience and practice.

In this school of life, everybody is a researcher and every researcher is in dire need of information for his/her research to be successful. When you find this information, evaluate if it is good information. Successful research is based on having good information and then using it to make the right decisions.

Information is everywhere; the challenge is to make good use of it.

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