Associate professor at Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Olugbenga’s career journey inspired him to become a mentor.
Olugbenga grew up in Ogbomoso, a town in South West Nigeria, where he developed an inquisitive nature as a child. His curiosities often led him to question what was in the food he ate and the water he drank so he could understand the world around him: “I have since found out that the answers to these questions are found in studying chemistry.”
A strong bond with chemistry
Transitioning from his secondary school, the Anglican Grammar School, to Ladoke Akintola University of Technology in his home town, Olugbenga initially wanted to become a medical doctor, but met several brick walls. After delving into all the sciences, he discovered his love and ability in chemistry and attained a B. Tech degree. One aspect of chemistry he particularly enjoyed was the world of atomic and subatomic particles.
“The fact that there are a finite number of these building blocks but an infinite realm of possibilities for their combination is itself, mind-blowing.”
After his undergraduate degree, he went on to complete his Master's degree and a PhD in physical chemistry at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, where he faced one of his biggest challenges. ‘If you don’t publish you perish’ is a saying heard too often in academia. With little understanding of research and publications, Olugbenga was concerned that he would be left behind and sought help from his seniors. Despite a denied promotion at a critical time in his career due to a lack of publications, Olugbenga turned his negative experiences into positive ones.
“I looked inwardly to understand this ‘publishing mystery’ and through intuition and dedicated commitment, I had a breakthrough and I caught up with my colleagues in a flash. It taught me to be a deep thinker who is proactive and not a parasitic or kangaroo researcher.”
"Winners never quit, quitters never win"
Olugbenga is an associate professor of physical chemistry at LAUTECH, where his research focuses on adsorbing dyes and heavy metals from waste water using low cost adsorbent material. By using waste materials sourced locally within Nigeria, he aims to clear up the same environment from which it is generated. In the long term, he is working towards using these waste materials and adsorption techniques to clean up the oil spills in riverine areas of the Niger Delta in Nigeria, to make the water suitable for domestic use.
As well as teaching and research, Olugbenga is a mentor, helping young people with educational achievement, health and safety and on a social and emotional level. With research showing that students who experience good mentoring have a greater chance of securing academic positions and career advancement, he sees the importance of passing on knowledge, skills and personal support to students.
“Mentoring students gives me joy and fulfilment as I see most of my mentees taking giant strides in various walks of life.”
In 2012, Olugbenga won the African Union Third World Academy of Science Award, which he describes as a reward for his hard work. The award has inspired him even further in discipline, diligence and determination.
“Discipline means the willingness to make sacrifices and obey rules to get results. I remember hearing my parents say, ‘do the things other people won’t do now, so that you can do the things others can’t do later.’ I always keep that in mind when I grow my career and build the future I see for myself.”
Olugbenga’s determination is clear. The experiences he’s had throughout his career have not only shaped his attitudes towards his work but also his wish to help others. By improving communication, handling challenges correctly and learning from each other, he sees that anyone can advance in science. He advises:
“Chemistry is an exciting field of science that is rewarding and fulfilling. When you are tempted to quit, then you are nearer the answer. I always remember the saying, ‘winners never quit, and quitters never win.’”
Words by Jenny Lovell
Images courtesy of Olugbenga Solomon Bello
Published February 2015