Udekwu Chinedum Chukwuemeka on winning the Commonwealth Scholarship and ISI Scholarship

Undergraduate degree and university:

BSc Biochemistry at the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike. 4.53 CGPA out of 5.0

Graduate degree and university:

MSc in Biotechnology, Distinction (in view) at University of the West of Scotland

Can you tell us a little bit about your life and career before postgraduate studies?

I have always been particularly passionate about leadership, research and education. Growing up to become relevant in field was very daunting, considering the fact that I started off a "dullard." I was always bottom of my class and was even nicknamed COCONUT HEAD by my cousins and other relations.

Thus, my relations were invested in my academic growth with lots of chastisements here and there. I even repeated a class I had narrowly passed and this was the turning point for me. I never felt so ashamed in my life as my peers mocked the hell out of me. I was one of the so called naughty-big-boys in class who doesn’t listen to teachers and who loves to make noise at the back seat. However, after repeating primary 3, I decided to get serious with my life just so I can avoid repeating another class.

Consequently, my academic grades improved tremendously and when my school was changed, I got a double promotion in the new school with several invites to represent my school in Olympiad and cowbell competitions. At the end, I graduated as one of the best students both in primary, secondary and tertiary stages of academia. Hence I gradually started developing interest in academia and built a niche in drug discovery for metabolic and infectious diseases.

What inspired your graduate school goal?

My interest in academia and love for research in the area of metabolic and infectious diseases fueled my interest to pursue graduate school.

What are some of the pressing challenges you encountered while applying to grad school? How did you overcome these challenges?

I was working (8am to 5pm) at the time I started my applications and it was really difficult combining my work load with the applications. Hence, I stayed up very late every night after work just to meet up.

Did you get any scholarships? If so, can you tell us about the scholarship and how the application process went?

To the glory of God, I won the prestigious commonwealth scholarship and ISI scholarship in the same year. The Commonwealth application was very tedious because an applicant would have to apply to the university to gain admission and apply to the scholarship body to be considered. On the other hand, the ISI scholarship was a bit more straight forward since an applicant is expected to make just one application.

To over come the challenges of applying for the Commonwealth, I started preparing my application documents early enough. I wrote all my SOPs based on the previous year’s questions, selected schools I felt would be repeated in the year I wanted to apply and I wrote my recommenders to start writing their recommendation letter ahead. So when the application window was open, I was fully prepared.

Notwithstanding how prepared I was, I only got 1 nomination out of 10 commonwealth applications. This is a clear sign of the “GOD factor.” Even as a first class graduate, you really cannot prepare enough, hence the popular saying “if God does not permit it, you cannot change it and if HE permits it, you cannot stop it.” Additionally, within my months of preparation, I started publishing some research works I was previously involved in, I took online courses relevant to my research interest and I packaged my documents to the best of my ability.

Kindly share the resources you used or other things that aspiring scholars may find useful.

Every resource you need is online, so I will say “google to show thyself approved.” Graduate school is not moi moi and akara. So if you really can’t take the stress of researching and finding out things yourself, your survival chances in graduate school will be slim. By survival chance, I mean having good grades.

The scholarship has opened my eyes to believe that anything is really possible for anyone that decides to put in the work. It has also given me a clear direction for a PhD research topic/interest. So, a PhD is next for me.

What are some of the most eye-opening moments you have experienced so far during your study abroad?

The study systems here are very different from what we know in Nigeria and plagiarism is not joked with abroad. Hence, it has opened my eyes to the need of being 100% original in my writing to avoid intellectual theft.

It is very possible to win a fully funded scholarship abroad and all you need is tenacity, resilience, total commitment to the goal and GOD GOD GOD!!!!