Opeoluwa Alli-Oke, with a CGPA of 4.53, graduated from the University of Lagos in 2015/2016. The first class Biochemistry graduate, in this interview, tells ‘NONYE BEN-NWANKWO how she reached her goal
Many people who study Biochemistry usually prefer Medicine, was it that case with you?
The dream of most science students initially would always be to be a medical doctor. Of course, it was the same with me. I always dreamt of studying Medicine right from my junior secondary school days, so it was not difficult to move to science class after my JSS exams.
So what made you choose to study Biochemistry?
It was not even my choice to study Biochemistry at the first. After the completion of Universities Tertiary Matriculation Exam and the post UTME into University of Lagos, I did not meet up with the cut-off point, I lagged behind with two points and my name did not come out on the merit list. However, I was able to secure admission to study Biochemistry instead of the Medicine I had initially wanted.
Do you regret you didn’t study Medicine?
No. At the beginning, I was still feeling bad but later, I found out that Biochemistry is a very interesting course. I love it so much and I don’t regret studying it.
Did you plan just as soon as you got into the university that you would make a first class?
I did not actually have the plan of graduating with a first class but my plan was to graduate with a good grade. I started planning on how to make a first class when my department organised an orientation programme for freshers and direct entry students for that year. The best three graduating students for that year were invited to talk to us and by the time they started, I felt something within my spirit telling me that I could make something out of biochemistry, something extraordinary. And I really want to thank God for His grace.
Were there other students who you saw as competitors?
I did not really see anybody as a competitor but I saw my colleagues as a drive to achieve more. What I believe in is that when you begin to see someone as a competitor, you unavoidably create room for jealousy and envy which can easily lead to destruction. So what I did most of the time our result was pasted was to check those with highest grade and maybe reach out to them to observe the way they read and see if there was any method of theirs I could adopt to boost my performance.
How did you feel when you learnt you had a first class?
That was my happiest moment on earth. The moment I found out that I finally made it, all I was doing was thanking God for everything. I was greatly overjoyed.
Meanwhile, how easy was it for you to get first class?
I will say it wasn’t that easy. What differentiates ‘extraordinary’ from ‘ordinary’ is the ‘extra’ it contains. So for me to differentiate myself from the ordinary, everything I did had to be extra – extra effort, extra determination, extra focus, extra perseverance and so on. But all these would not have been possible if not for God who was by my side every time even till now.
So what ‘extra’ thing did you do?
I made sure that before the beginning of a semester, I would have made enquiry about the elective courses to offer, got the course outline and started reading. I would have outlined the grades for each course, calculated the grade point average for that semester and planned towards achieving them. Another thing is for you to know the best time suitable for you to read. I read mostly at nights, anything I didn’t understand during the day, it would become understandable in the night. So I preferred reading at nights but would never go for overnight classes where other students were because I could assimilate more in a solitary environment.
Does that mean you didn’t make use of the library?
I would say I didn’t. I preferred reading in my room. I think I made use of the library just during my first year and I stopped thereafter.
Did you get any special gift from friends and family when you had first class?
Oh yes, my family really appreciated me. The most surprise was the one I got from my church- Great Impact Baptist Church, Bariga. We were in the church for our normal Sunday service when my church pastor made the announcement that one of the church members bagged a first class and I was asked to come to the altar; that really took me by surprise.
Were you also very bright in your secondary school days?
I would say I was one of the best students during my secondary school days. I attended Command Secondary School, Ipaja, Lagos and right from my JSS to SSS classes, I was on top of my classes. I was among the best three students that triumphantly passed JSSCE with 10 As and two Cs and for my SSCE, I had seven distinctions and two Cs.
Did you pass UTME at first sitting?
The first time I sat for UTME was in my SS3 and I scored 224. I chose Obafemi Awolowo University as my preferred institution but when the result of the post UTME came out, I did not get to the cut-off point and I had to wait for another year. The following year, I put in extra effort and I scored 268 and here I am, a Biochemist.
Did you deny yourself of anything in order to make first class?
For you to attain a feat, there is need for self denial. I denied myself of so many things like sleep, comfort and so on. In my 100 level, I did not get allocation (room), I would squat with friends and every three days, I would go home to cook for my dad because my mum only comes home every two weeks. So I had to beat down every hurdle to attain this.
What was your reading pattern?
I did not have a reading plan due to the fact that we did not have a regularised closing time for laboratory work; but I would definitely read for five hours daily and most of my nights were for reading.
Were you called a bookworm in school?
Oh yes! This makes me remember the award I won in my secondary school. Right from my secondary school, when you opened my locker, you would just find only books to the extent that when my locker could not accommodate all of them, I had to keep some on my bed. I continued with that habit when I got into the university even till this moment. My 100 level books are still intact.
Your CGPA was 4.53; wouldn’t you have wished you had 5 points like your school mate did?
You know like Oliver Twist, we would always ask for more. But I am actually grateful for what God did for me. I got to a first class grade in my 300 level second semester and before then, it looked as if it was unachievable. I really want to give all the glory to God because He made it possible.
Was there a particular course you found so difficult?
No, because my belief is that when you confess that a course is difficult, you will find it hard to comprehend. So I always stayed positive and if there was any topic I did not understand, I would meet my best friend, Temitope Owolabi and we would read it together and explain to one each. She also bagged first class.
Which of the courses did you enjoy the most?
The courses I enjoyed most were Basic Immunology and Biochemical Pharmacology. Basic Immunology is all about how the body fights against invasion and pathogen by both the innate and adaptive immune system while Biochemical Pharmacology is how the body reacts to drugs, drug interaction, agonist and antagonist.
Did you even have a social life in school?
No, I was not the social type. Actually, I am an introvert.
How did you cope with admirers in school?
They were surely around but I always defined my relationship right from the beginning.
Do you plan to practise your course of study?
Yes, because during my study programme, I realised that there are so many opportunities attached to biochemistry; there are so many divisions under it like biotechnology and molecular genetics that will be the talk of town given five years from now. I will definitely practise biochemistry.
Where do you hope to work?
I hope to work where my skills and the knowledge I acquired in school would be put into use to develop this great country. I would want to work in a company or industry that is biochemically based or a research firm.
Did you face any challenge when you were in school?
I did not really face financial challenges because God really blessed me with wonderful family. But you know, as a student, there would be one challenge or the other especially when you are reading a course and you do not understand it. There was a particular course I sat down to read for eight hours at a stretch and at the end of the day, I still had a B in that course. It pained me but what could I do? I just had to forget about it and move forward.
What do you do at the moment?
I am currently serving my father’s land. I am underdoing the National Youth Service programme.
Do you intend to further your education?
I have plans of going for my Master’s degree programme immediately after my youth service and later do a PhD, if God tarries.
Do you have any advice for undergraduates?
My advice to undergraduates is that in everything they do, God should always take the centre position and He will definitely order their steps. And again, always make a difference, strive to set records and break them. Everything depends on your determination and focus.
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