Interviews with Scientists: Abiola Isawumi
Abiola Isawumi is a PhD Fellow at West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP) with research interests in antimicrobial resistance and hospital acquired infections.
He won the reputable Gordon Research fellowship to present at the highly regarded Antibiotic Conference and Seminars held in the summer of 2018 in the United States, and has also been an academic guest at Harvard and a visiting research associate at Queen’s University.
We spoke to Abiola about his research, his advice for fellow scientists, the proudest moments of his career so far and more.
Great to speak to you, Abiola! Firstly, tell us a bit more about your research…
I started active research in 2007, and since then I have been doing research in the fields of Microbiology, Molecular Biology and Molecular Genetics. My PhD research investigated the diverse resistance mechanisms exhibited by bacteria from hospital environments. I leveraged on phenotypic and molecular tools to profile resistant bacteria, the majority of which have been implicated in global hospital acquired or nosocomial infections. I provided insights into the tactics deployed by these bacteria to shutdown the immune defenses and cripple the effectiveness of conventional and last-resort antibiotics.
Did you always want to be a scientist when you were younger, and why?
My father wanted a family Medical Doctor, and found me fit for this dream at age seven. This pushed me towards options in Sciences in High School. In the process of time, life happened and I couldn’t make it to Medical School. I found solace in Biomedical Sciences, falling in love with Microbiology, and here I am enjoying my honeymoon with microbes.
What did you enjoy most about your PhD?
I enjoyed the whole game, not only what I saw on the scoreboard. The stress stretched me. The people made me. The journey was rough but beautiful. Joy that enveloped positive results, strength imbued by failure, smiling when you couldn’t help but cry, calmness when it’s your last option and diverse experiences that birthed wisdom. I enjoyed everything with no exceptions.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out with their PhD?
Manage your expectations. You can’t do everything, priority is a necessity. Do little things well and diligently. Pay attention to details. Be serious, but don’t take things and people too seriously. Don’t allow things to get to you. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Fail, fail more, and fail again, don’t give up trying. You won’t know everything, so you need people. Fair, firm and frank people (they make you know yourself better). Get the right supervisor too.
What's the most important lesson you have learned in your scientific career so far?
The impossible is the untried. Don’t allow anyone to tell you that your dreams are impossible. No one should dictate the tune of your life, and no one has the permission to be better than you until you give them the right. You will need this for a successful PhD journey. Never accept a NO from someone that doesn’t have the capacity to say YES.
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
Starting and finishing PhD. It takes bravery in your heart and actions to embark on a PhD journey. Among other things, I am profoundly proud of the support I have received from people.
What do you think are the biggest challenges currently facing life scientists and their work?
Funding. Translating scientific findings into what is accessible (goods and services) to the people. The ‘publish or perish’ mentality. Relational/fair science (there is a need for emotional/psychological support system for graduate students). We also need to minimize what ‘working experience’ represents during grant/fellowship applications.
Tell us a bit more about what you’re working on at the moment...
I am presently formulating a conceptual framework to orientate hospital personnel, biomedical researchers, public health officials and the community on the dangers associated with emergence of resistant bacteria from hospital environments. I’m also leading a thought-revolution on how to address the challenges posed by improper disinfection practice facilitating the spread of resistant bacteria in the Intensive Care Unit in the African Region. I am also analyzing the bacteria resistome to identify SNPs for therapeutic purposes. I am developing sensitive and Quorum Sensing assays to further understand the roles of efflux-ports in antimicrobial resistance of bacteria.
What does a typical day in the lab look like for you?
A typical day in the lab involves taking little steps forward in the right direction. The right preparation is essential for overall achievements. I prepare a day ahead for all my experiments. I schedule time for each of the assay, data analysis and also a daily report on what was achieved. I also contribute towards other people’s experiments and assist in achieving the overall objectives of our lab.
Outside the lab, what do you enjoy doing most?
Outside of the lab, I find fulfillment in coaching young people on success and leadership. I create content for parallel publishing. I’m a brand strategist and also do copy-editing, designing and freelance writing. I also read non-science fiction and I love cooking too. I also like taking walks to explore the beauty of nature.
If you weren’t a scientist, what do you think you’d be doing?
I think I would be a wordsmith or a poet. I find pleasure in using words to appeal to the conscience of humanity.
What is it about your field of research that gets you most excited?
I love the way I hate ‘superbugs’. I am excited to be leading a fight and lending efforts to stop their emergence in the hospital environments and control their spread from hospital to the community.
Which scientists working today do you most admire, and why?
I most admire all great scientists toiling days and nights to make the world a better place for us all. They are our heroes as they set the pace and blaze the trail to give a second chance for the dying to live again.
What’s your favorite science quote?
This is my science career drive and personal cheering quote: “If your grace is selling grass, you will soon have a grass to grace story”.
What do you think is the greatest scientific discovery of all time?
The ingenuity to initiate and process a simple research idea until it becomes a kind of miracle that can advance the course of humanity.
Thank you so much for speaking to us, Abiola. What an inspiring interview!
Abiola Isawumi is a PhD fellow of a Royal Society accredited program (WACCBIP) and a member of British Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. His research funding comes from World Bank, Wellcome Trust, Royal Society and The Company of Biologists
Connect with Abiola on Linkedln here
Follow Abiola on @IsawumiAbiola
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