21st March 2023
  • 9:11 pm Through the Eyes of Ides Ofune – Women Shouldn’t Have to Choose Between Motherhood and Higher Education
  • 11:32 am Meet the 2022 shortlisted authors for the AKO Caine Prize for African Writing.
  • 5:13 am 6 African startups among World Economic Forum’s Technology Pioneers 2022 cohort
  • 1:01 pm Canadian Based NGO GoldenKes Foundation holds First Empowerment Program in Nigeria 
  • 5:38 am Meet the 6 Africans shortlisted for 2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize
  • 7:49 am Facebook invests in fibre optic cables to improve internet access in Edo State

Desert Bloom Advisory believes in information that inspires and encourages you to be more. That’s why we interview people who have crossed the hurdles of funding and obtaining scholarships for their studies. In telling their stories, they inspire others who want to do same and also, encourage people to begin the journey. Their stories tell others, if I can do this, you can too. This week, I will be focusing on Godbless Onoriode Akaighe, a Doctoral Researcher at the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom. He talks to us about his journey to where he is today and offers very practical steps on how to get there. If you are looking to one day do a PhD, then reading this interview is a must. Personally, I find his story is very inspiring.

Godbless is a 38-year old Doctoral Researcher from Delta State, Nigeria. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Lagos State University and Masters of Science degree in Business Administration (Organisational Behaviour) from the University of Lagos.  He is an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) as well as an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria (CIPM).

What motivated you to leave Nigeria to study abroad?

I love to teach and do project writing right from my undergraduate days leading me to set up a tutorial group called “Godbless247”. During my Master’s programme, my love for teaching and writing grew stronger and I was bold to declare to my friends and course mates that I would pursue a Ph.D. My desire to pursue a Ph.D. abroad with a scholarship were further accentuated when I finished my Masters with a Distinction. I know that I deserve to study at a world-class institution and compete at the international level. I was more determined to study abroad with when I observed how long many Ph.D. students spent in some public universities in Nigeria and their sometimes horrible experiences. I started making applications to UK institutions for an offer for a Ph.D. place and scholarship in 2015, and I got the ‘breakthrough’ in 2018 after probably about 60 applications and rejections.

What are the major differences between studying in Nigeria and the UK?

The educational system in the UK is much more advanced in structure, quality, and human resources. The state-of-the-art equipment (computers, laboratory, buildings, libraries, and tools) for learning are far advanced than Nigeria, implying that there has been a consistent and sustained investment in the educational system in the UK than Nigeria have imagined or attempted to do.  In addition, the culture (power distance), teaching methods, and respect for students are totally different. For example, in the former, you can call your professors by their first names and express yourself freely without fear of being victimised, which may not be the case with the latter.

How do you cope with the challenges encountered in the UK?

Obviously, there are culture shocks, from the transition from the Nigeria system to the British system, ranging from the food, weather, living conditions, and the educational system. I had an open mind to what I would find in my new environment and made strong observations to the culture, both explicit and implied. For example, I struggled to call my supervisors by the first names, without adding the “Dr” title. In addition, my supervisors have been so supportive, helping me to settle in fast with relevant information and adding to my confidence level, with nice words like “You deserve to have the scholarship”. Now, I am enjoying my Ph.D. experience and life in Sheffield.

How can Nigerian/African students access funding for study? Please tell us about your experience.

As I said, I made about 60 applications and kept applying, and by implication, improving on my applications and admissions requirements (e.g., research proposal, English Language test) to secure a fully-funded university scholarship. Before I get back to my story, let me say generally, that there are various funding bodies, both locally and internationally. A Nigerian student seeking scholarship must be strategic, consistent and persistent in the pursuit of scholarship. It is important to note that competition for scholarship places is fierce and it does not come on a platter of gold. There are no sentiments in awarding Ph.D. scholarships, you must deserve it and meet all the requirements. In Nigeria, there are scholarships such as NDDC if you are from the oil-producing states, PTDF, TETFUND, NLNG, Commonwealth scholarship and so on. You have to check your eligibility for these scholarships to apply and get shortlisted.  In addition, Universities in the United States of America, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France, and Italy offer scholarships to highly qualified students for research.

A student seeking Ph.D. admission with full scholarship must be fully convinced that he/she wants to go that route, and can compete at the international level. In other words, some of the points you should score in your profile includes a high flying academic record (first class and distinction) graded degrees or one of the two, a strong research proposal, a high GRE score (for USA styled universities), a good English Language test score (IELTS for UK and TOEFL for USA), a strong statement of purpose, a well-written curriculum vitae, good recommendation letters from your professors, some academic papers under your belt, and if possible, some research experience.

For UK institutions, the tradition is for you to find a research supervisor. I would advise that you should not contact any potential supervisor until you have your research proposal ready, CV, statement of purpose and English Language test. Once you contact a potential supervisor, and you get feedback, that might just be the beginning of your application and scholarship consideration. For USA universities, you need your GRE result (preferably from 315), TOEFL and SOP before you start mailing graduate coordinators for a chance to apply and be considered.

There is a popular quote that “looking for a job is a job itself”. I can add to this quote and say ‘looking for a Ph.D. admission with full scholarship is a job’. In the process, you will learn many things, for example, how to handle rejection, how to build resilience, areas to develop in your proposal if you are lucky to get feedback from potential supervisors and how to face interview panels when you are invited for admission and scholarship interviews via Skype.

Back to my story, I had little information about the admission and scholarship process before making applications, so I had to learn through the process, partly accounting for my many applications. For example, my research proposal was not strong enough for funding at the initial stage of my application. I probably had written up to 5 proposals by the time I got my fully funded scholarship. I was not deterred by the rejections, even though I always felt bad. I kept at it and was improving my writing skills. I was writing papers with my lecturers/academic mentors which strengthened my profile and showed my potential for research at the doctoral level. Thanks to Lagos Business School- Pan Atlantic University (LBS), I was offered a research assistant position in their MSA (Management Scholars Academy) in 2017. Through this programme and experience, I sharpened my research skills, organised my Statement of Purpose, CV documents, wrote IELTS examination and had more research experience under my belt. From LBS, I learned how to search for potential supervisors in my field and wrote to them to potentially supervise my work, attaching my research proposal, CV and cover letter. With this approach, I secured two Ph.D. admissions (the University of Sheffield and the University of Exeter) and after a couple of interviews, thankfully, the University of Sheffield offered me a fully-funded scholarship. Meanwhile, I was invited for commonwealth scholarship and PTDF interviews in Abuja in the past without success and shortlisted for NDDC scholarship just after my Sheffield scholarship came through. The rest they say is history.

If this is not inspiring enough, I don’t know what can. This is wishing you all the best as you go along your research journey.

Ides Ofune

Ides Ofune is currently a PhD Student at the University of Leeds. Her research focuses on civil society and accountability in improving the quality of education. She is the founder of Desert Bloom Initiative and editor of Desert Bloom Advisory. Ides is very passionate about education and creating an inclusive society. She speaks French and English fluently. She can be reached at info@desertbloomadvisory.com