Researching, Engineering & Innovating: Struggles & Victories of a Young African Researcher

Curled from Twitter #YoungScholars | @AcademicHive | @EngrOtuoze | @JulieInyang  

On September 1, 2020, Academic Hive announced its Young Scholar of the Month- Abdulrahaman Okino Otuoze, PhD.

Engr. Dr Otuoze (as he is preferably called) is a Lecturer at the Department of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, University of Ilorin, Ilorin, Nigeria. A sneak peeks into his background revealed that he is also an academic mentor and a model for early career researchers in Africa.

October 15, Academic Hive Twitter community was privileged to engage Engr. Dr Otuoze in a 2-hour conversation (from the hour of 5 pm WAT) where we discussed research, engineering and innovation. The focus was on the victories and challenges of the African Early-Career Researcher. 

Just in case you missed it, here is a recap of the conversation which made Twitter buzzing with comments and retweets using the hashtag #YoungScholars:

Academic Hive: Can we meet you?

Engineer Otuoze: Abdulrahaman Okino Otuoze; 35 years; BEng (Ilorin), MEng (Benin), PhD (Johor Bahru). Lecturer and Researcher, Electrical and Electronics Engineering, University of Ilorin; Married; Two beautiful daughters. I’ll be 36 in November. And thank you for this rare and wonderful opportunity.

AH: You’ll be responding to 10 carefully selected questions that would be insightful to early-career researchers. First, why did you choose a career in engineering?

E. O: Engineering is filled with limitless opportunities and I’m very happy I chose this field. I remembered how my parents wanted me to go for medicine but my curiosity to being a design-based problem solver was enough as a resistance. When I was in Secondary School, I was opportune to attend a tutorial where we were told that human problems are basically solved by engineers and that we need to be creative in doing so. Somehow, I became curious and decided I must choose this greatly rewarding field, engineering. And in some cases, some are made to study for a course they never wanted. I have come across many students who fail to perform well with the excuses of their parents forcefully choosing a career for them. I really wish African parents try to guide rather than enforce.

AH: That’s true. Many times parents play key role in a child’s career. Happens a lot in Africa. Parents should guide, not enforce. Words of wisdom. As an engineer, what sparked up your interest in academic research?

E. O: Well, I would say I was first a teacher before being a researcher. I have always wanted to be a teacher with the inspiration I drew from my Father. He’s retired now but he was a great teacher. Being an academic researcher really helps to drive home my curiosity to solve problems. The field of research opens up our problem-solving skills. Luckily, everyone is a potential researcher. All we need is follow up on our interests and be sure to direct our thoughts to addressing our many issues.

AH:  Based on your reply, we’d like to know between engineering and research which is your love?

E. O: This is like asking us to choose between our Mother and Father. Please permit me to equally reply in this analogy. Engineering is the Father while Research is the Mother. This is because although Engineering is the background, research gives birth to even more engineering discovery. The Engineering in us allows us to be creative in developing our problem-solving ability by designing systems, devices or even structures to address societal problems. This is feasible by the application of scientific methods which are a function of scientific research. In summary, research cannot be separated from the field. Since investigative skills (research) seek to further open up the field (in this case, Engineering) by offering even more solutions. So, I’m in love with both of them.

AH: Talking of investigative skills, you sure have a lot! From your profile, it’s clear that you have published in over 10 reputable journals, locally and internationally. What can you say about getting published? Was it an easy process?

E. O: Publication is a crucial dimension of the lives of every academic as it is our main mode of evaluation. However, getting published in reputable journal outlets could appear very tough. It’s never easy but as we know persistence always pay. I have faced so many hitches but the focus on success remains my driving force. It’s never so easy and not so difficult. In Africa, we especially faced with unique issues of highly limited resources to help in producing quality papers, but thankfully, persistence pays.

AH: Dealing with limited resources is a major challenge early-career African researchers face. Then again, we have the issue of rejection after finally submitting a manuscript. How have you dealt with rejections?

E. O: Rejection! Rejection!! Rejection!!! It’s very tough really. It’s always as if one’s effort is ridiculed or unworthy of anything. However, for me, I don’t allow the pain get to me much. I quickly try to improve the paper based on reviewers’ comments. And then resubmit to another journal outlet. I try to do this within the shortest possible time. Every academic must at one point or the other face rejection but we must never allow it to weigh us down. We must understand irrespective of how we view it, that a paper is rejected doesn’t mean its content is not worthy but requiring improvement. Sometimes, a paper rejected by a journal may even be accepted by another with little or no comment. So, we keep trying our best. The only time I was mad at rejection was when one of my papers was rejected by a Q2 journal and in d email, they referred to attached reviewer comments which never existed even on the portal. I sent several queries to which the editor never replied, but then, we move.

AH: From your publications, we have observed that you do a lot of collaborative research. What can you say about collaborating as a young researcher?

E. O: Collaboration is a sure way of propelling every researcher especially, early researchers. When you collaborate, you stand to gain from the team’s experiences, your profile is boosted with more contents & for us in the academia, it also helps us climb our promotion ladder very easily.

AH: You’ve raised quite a number of issues on limited resources, rejection and collaborations. In your opinion, what are the big issues about researching in Africa?

E. O: Africans have got the potential to excel and even compete at the highest level if given the opportunity. However, we’re faced with a damning issue of available resources and in whole, enabling environments for efficient researches. However, the drive to offering our little quota to the upliftment of our society should and must remain our only focus. Luckily, part of being an Engineer is being able to utilize the available resources to proffer solutions. The big issues range from unstable power supplies, lack of access to quality journals, poor planning of educational programme and its facilities to poor research funding amidst some alarming level of corruption.

AH:  These challenges must require some level of innovation on the part of the researcher. How can Africans apply innovation in research?

E. O: Generally, a key output of research is innovation. For the African society, it is time to direct our innovative ideas towards solving our continental issues. Luckily, a lot of research opportunities are now available which are aimed at solving our local issues.

AH: As an early-career Researcher, what do you think is the way forward for research in Africa?

E. O: We need to declare an emergency in this respect. Bring top academics to dialogue on what the problems are. And then, by drastic measures, solve the problems. We have highlighted a few in this hangout and solving them is certainly not rocket science. We just need the political will. Research naturally comes with some ups and downs even in the face of hugely available resources. It’s a collective effort by all and we must all take the lead.

AH: This has been very enlightening, interesting and fun. If you had an opportunity to give one advice to a hall full of young African researchers, what will that be?

E. O: The development of our fatherland is our responsibility. With or without resources, every effort counts. Let’s keep contributing our quota bearing in mind that the progress of any society is the integral sum of individuals’ contributions.

The conversation came to an end with scholars asking questions on the readiness of the African system to pick up solutions gotten from research works; choice of research area; and availability of the Nigerian system to preserve discoveries from young researchers pending when the country is ready to implement. In addition to encouraging young scholars to go through with their research ideas; the Young Scholar of the Month exposed that the Nigerian Government @NigeriaGov now has a systematic mode of patenting research output. Every University is now expected to conduct regular exhibitions to select worthy projects through their desk officer for proper documentation and possible consequent industrialization.

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