Department: Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Why did you choose to pursue your postgraduate studies at HKUST?
I have earned degrees in Industrial Chemistry and Chemical Engineering from Federal University of Technology Akure, Nigeria and Imperial College London, respectively. While in London, I worked as a chemistry and mathematics tutor and during this time I heard about the Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme (HKPFS) opportunity in Hong Kong. I had always wanted to further my education and chose HKUST because that’s the only university offering a chemical engineering program in Hong Kong.
What do you think about the environment at HKUST?
At first there was culture shock because Hong Kong is completely different from Nigeria and London. I’m an outgoing person and found that people here are more distant (at first) to those who can’t speak Chinese. My approach was to make as many friends as I could and I always remind my Chinese friends that my mother tongue is not English so I had to learn English like them too. This approach helped me to connect with many students and others in Hong Kong. Overall, I realized that when they see that you are friendly then they move more freely with you too.
What is your relationship with your supervisor like and how do you handle disagreements with him?
Before applying to HKUST, I briefly researched online about some faculty members in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and I was enthusiastic about my supervisor’s research area and his previous experience. So I sent him an email and he replied immediately and agreed to be my potential supervisor for the HKPFS application. On getting to HKUST, he welcomed me with open hands and I can say he is a very encouraging supervisor. I remembered some weeks after my arrival, I would always stay in the office on Saturdays and if he sees me in the office, he would tell me to go out and play. His good work-life balance is something I really like about him. He stresses that “aside from work you have to play (extra-curricular activities)”. We have a lot of gatherings at his house throughout the year, where previous and current students can mingle. Based on my experience with him, I can conclude that he is the best supervisor anyone can aspire to have for their PhD studies. In fact, I remembered him helping me to get accommodation when I wanted to move off-campus in 2010.
On resolving conflicts, we do not really have any that I can think of except sometimes regarding some research results. Most supervisors have expectations of certain results based on their own research experiences. I realized that when working on a problem, things might not come out as expected. So when we have disagreements, I will try his method first and then try to convince him to see things from my own perspective too. I always try to let him understand why things are not working as expected and what I planned to do next. Communication is the key to having a good relationship with your supervisor. Regarding meeting with my supervisor, initially when I first started, he would regularly meet with me one-on-one. But now we have regular group meetings so everyone knows what each student in the group is doing and the challenges each student may face. Also my supervisor is very easy to approach, you can just knock on his door and if he is free, you can have a lengthy and personal discussion with him.
What skills do you attribute your School of Engineering PhD Research Excellence Award to?
I actually wasn’t expecting the award because my first journal paper was published in 2011 and my citation isn’t so high compared to previous winners. But I think the judging panel looked at the ability for you to communicate your research to someone in another field (non-experts). They want you to simplify what you have done and let people see the significance of your research. Also, I have participated in a lot of extra-curricular activities during my research study. So I believe all of these attributes in addition to my good research outputs led to the award.
What are your career plans?
I love academics but I would love to have some industrial experience too. Based on those around me, professors or lecturers who have gone out to industry and then back to academics tend to have a good work-life balance. I would love to emulate such a pathway.
I plan to have my own consulting firm one day, say in 10 years’ time, so having the experience of how things work in the industry will be a great asset for me when I finally set up my own firm. For now, I planned to do more research in the area of pyrolysis and gasification.