Classics, Interviews, People

UNILAG youngest Ph.D holder, Temitope Adeyemi reveals her excellence tips – ‘I socialize but I don’t party’

Temitope Adeyemi

AT just 26, Miss Temitope Adeyemi has become a Ph.D holder in Botany.  Not only that, she is the youngest to be produced from the University of Lagos and Nigeria.  The young scholar shone like a million stars among the 8,585 graduands at the convocation ceremony held inside the campus weeks back.  Her Ph.D thesis, Molecular Systematics and DNA Bar coding of African Sapindaceae won the best Ph.D thesis award.  She received N50,000 and a laptop for her feat.

Coming out in flying colours in academic is not new to Temitope Adeyemi, as she graduated with first class in the Department of Botany of the university in her first degree.  She told ENCOMIUM Weekly, the secrets of her attainment at a very young age in this interview.


You broke the records of being the youngest Ph.D holder at the University of Lagos and Nigeria being called up at the convocation in the presence of high profile personalities, how do you feel?

I was very happy, I felt elated.

How were you able to achieve this feat at just 26 years?

I will say I started quite early. I started school early, did my undergraduate on time and I didn’t take a break.  I didn’t do anything else, I just came back, I didn’t work.  I think that was one factor that made me finish on time.  If I had worked after my undergraduate and come back, of course, I won’t finish my Ph.D by now.  I didn’t work.  First, I knew what I wanted and I pursued it with all my heart.

Why didn’t you work first, you must have had the financial strength to go all the way?

Funny enough, I didn’t have the money but I believed that when I get to a particular road and I need to cross, God will lead me through.  He will provide, no matter how much it might be.  Though with all the constraints, I thought that when I get into it things will work itself out, the money will come.

Are you going for the money now or you are still going to study?


You lecture in the department, what course do you take?

I lecture Botany.  I take all undergraduates in the department from 100 level to 400 level.

Was Botany your course of choice?

No, when I did JAMB, I wanted Medicine or Pharmacology, but my cut off could not enter any of those courses.  So, I had to reapply. I got a change of course form and then I applied for Botany.  Of course, I just did it for doing sake, I never really wanted to do it.  In fact, it was my neighbor schooling here who did all that for me because I was like, I will rather take another JAMB and do Medicine but my neighbor said no, I can cross over after my year one that I should start with Botany.  My name came out like some weeks to first semester exams.  So, I came in and registered with the thinking that after my year one, I would cross over but by the time we finished 100 level, my department said they don’t allow their students to leave especially when you are doing well.  So, I had to stay, of course, I did another JAMB, but I just didn’t pursue it again because I needed to be focused.  For me, I saw not allowing me to cross over as a challenge. I needed to make something for myself here so that they won’t say if I had gone for Medicine, I wouldn’t have made it anyway, so that was the drive.  By the time I got to 300 level, I never thought of going back to Medicine again. I now started thinking if my goal is to become a doctor then I can also be an academic doctor.  So for me, I challenged myself to do well here and when I came back it would be faster for me to run the programme.  So, I finished with first class in my first degree, went for youth service and came back.

Yet you have not been able to fulfill your dream of becoming a doctor (medical)?

No, I wouldn’t say that. I am a doctor now even if I am not a medical doctor, so I am fulfilled.

Tell us about your secondary school days.

I went to Girls Academy, Simpson Street, Lagos.  I did my junior and senior secondary school there.  I was the deputy head girl in my school.  I represented the school in a lot of quiz competitions, I don’t like facing the crowd, so I chose quiz competitions because debate is all about talking to a listening crowd.  But quiz is about thinking and proffering solution. I did a lot of that, I was part of the first set that did the Spelling Bee competition. I won the whole of Lagos Island then.  I did quite a number of things, I came out as the Best Graduating Student after our WAEC.  My secondary school days was fun, I had very encouraging teachers, one of them, Mr. Saheed Matli, he is a great mentor.  We still talk till today, he was like a father to me.

Studying in a school like UNILAG where there are a lot of social activities every day, how did you cope?

I socialize but I don’t party. I have a lot of friends. I just make sure that as much as I make friends with a lot of people, I surround myself with people who have focus, people who know why they are here and what they are here for.  People who have high aspirations, who I can also look up to if not at the same level. I made friends with people who are not as bright as I am and I try to help them.  I go for Theatre Arts programmes, I watch their performances, I participated in the Hall Week programme, departmental programme, so much so that I was Miss Botany in my 200 level.  So, I am not just a book worm, I have a social life and I ensure I grew up close to God.  Everyone knows me as Tope Disciple.  Though I didn’t do much of partying because I am not a party freak but I enjoy being here, I had fun.

You said you only study during the day and not at night, is that one of the secrets of your success?

I believe people should understand who they are and their body chemistry and try to function in that line. I grew up as a child who went to bed very early. Once its 7 p.m, my eyes are already closing.  When I entered UNILAG, and people call me for night study, of course, I tried it a few times but I realized it was punishment because I go there and I sleep almost all the way through.  I tried to be awake but I couldn’t.  After like three to four times of trials, I realized it’s not going to work for me so I rather make use of my day time and in the evening, I relax and go to bed.  I make good use of my day because I know that’s the strength I have. But at night, I just sleep all through.

What informed your choice of topic for your Ph.D thesis?

I did Molecular Systematics and DNA Bar coding of African Sapindaceae, because it’s a relatively new field in Botany and also because we don’t have so much people that are really involved in DNA bar coding.  So, I wanted to carve a niche for myself and do something different for what every other person is doing and that’s why I chose that field.

What’s your strong point in your study?

I enjoy Mathematics, Statistics.  In fact, Mathematics is one of my favourite if not my best subject.  But right now I am into Systematics which has to do with classification of objects, identification of biological objects and also trying to see the relationship they have with each other, ideas variations and all that. Majorly, I use molecular tools such as DNA.  Right now, I am a Biologist and a Systematist.

What age do you target to become a professor?

I would love it fast but things don’t happen that fast.  There are stages one has to go through. Ideally, I will say the most realistic time should be ten years.  Of course, I can make it earlier than that no doubt, but let’s just say things come up, marriage, family life and all that and then slow down in activity and research.  So, give or take 10 years is enough.

At what period will you say marriage will be okay for you?

Five years is a long time and then it’s a short time also.  But I am sure before then, I would be married.

Does this ingenuity run in the family?

Yes, it does somehow because all of us started school early and moved quite fast.  Our parents believe there is no point keeping a child at home when he or she can talk, so let them make use of their talent and get used to academics.  As early as you begin to talk and walk, you are sent to school, so that way we all tend to finish school on time.

Tell us about your family.

I have a younger brother and cousins in-between, he is 11. I am the first child and he is the second and he is doing really well.  My dad is late, he was a Customs officer.  My mum was a civil servant at the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs.

What are your plans for your N50,000 cash prize?

I won a laptop and N50,000, I am looking at sowing that money into something. I don’t know what it is going to be yet, I will sow the money into something I will always be glad to look back and be proud that I did.

Apart from books on science, which other books interest you?

I read a lot of inspirational books and I read novels.  My favourite author is Francine Rivers, I like a lot of her books.  I also like John Maxwell.  I read a lot of John Grisham books, I like fiction. I enjoy reading generally at my free time if I am not doing anything or thinking academic.  I am either reading or watching movies, I like action movies, thrillers, watch comedy.

  • This story was first published in ENCOMIUM Weekly on Tuesday, February 28, 2012

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