From Neurosci to Clin Epi (Part II)


If you haven’t already, Click here to read Part I

So where were we? BSc and MSc bagged, NYSC completed, what next? At first, I thought I’d get a job, make a little money, get some experience, as I had zero work experience as a researcher (no, all that hospital work didn’t count), and then pursue a PhD. I started applying for jobs in the US since that’s where my family was, and Nigeria wasn’t going to work out because there was no market for my skills. I lost count of how many jobs I applied to, but only two interviews later, a whole lot of frustration and not knowing where my life was heading, the only thing that made sense was going back to school. 

My family had just moved to St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, and there was only one university – Memorial University. In order to apply for a PhD, I had to find a faculty member that would agree to supervise and fund me. I looked under the Neuroscience program and only one person caught my attention – Dr. Michelle Ploughman. Although she wasn’t under the participating faculty for Neuroscience, she was an affiliated faculty member, and as far as I could tell, she was the only one involved in clinical neuroscience research. I e-mailed everyone on the faculty list with my CV, asking if they were in need of PhD students. The responses I got weren’t in my favor, but I had my focus on Dr. Ploughman, she was THE ONE I wanted to work with. Then it happened! She replied, saying she had a PhD spot open, and I was the kind of student she was looking for to start in September 2017 because of my neuroscience background, but she couldn’t commit to taking me until meeting me in person. It was September 2016. I was going to visit my family in St. John’s by December 2016 and applications were due around March 2017 to begin September 2017, so I told her I would see her in a couple of weeks.

Then Trump happened and visa applications to Canada were affected. They had such a massive surge in applications that their website crashed at some point, and my application was affected. Processing time of a few weeks turned into months. I didn’t get my visa until March 2017. It was too late, I had just missed my opportunity. It would take another year before an opportunity like that would come my way, and it might even be longer because PhD students have to graduate before there’s another intake. It could take another 2 to 4 years. I couldn’t just stay doing nothing, so I applied for a Masters in Public Health (MPH) at the same university. My heart wasn’t in it, I just wanted something to do while waiting for the PhD opportunity to come my way again.

I came to St. John’s in April 2017, and two weeks after my arrival, I got my rejection letter for the MPH. Nothing was working out. My support system really came through for me, encouraging me and letting me know that everything I was going through was happening for a reason. There was a bigger picture ahead, but I just couldn’t see it at that moment. Without knowing the next step to take, I decided to go to the university and talk to someone at the school of graduate studies.

It was just one meeting, that lasted a couple of minutes and I was told to look into applying for a graduate diploma in either community health or clinical epidemiology – those were the only two programs offered by the university for graduate diplomas in medicine. Community health is more like public health (I was done thinking of that as an option, it wasn’t my calling), but clinical epidemiology I had never heard of. I looked it up and it was exactly what I wanted to do – clinical research! Neuroscience wasn’t looking so inviting anymore, because I already had two degrees in it. I needed something else and there it was, starting at me; I had found clinical epidemiology! But it didn’t make sense to apply for a graduate diploma; I had an MSc, so why would I go lower for a graduate diploma?

Around the same time, I went to see Dr. Ploughman and I fell in love with her work and her labFor the first time in my life, I felt like I could have a mentor in my field, and someone I could aspire to be like. Unfortunately, not only had the deadline to apply passed, she had already filled the available PhD spot with a student she previously supervised under an MSc program. She also wasn’t sure when she’d be able to take on another student as she was spent on internal funding. Oh there was more! She was worried that I wouldn’t be competitive enough to get grants as I didn’t have any publications, and in reality, my CV wasn’t juicy enough as I had never worked in research. I told her that I was looking to apply for the graduate diploma in clinical epidemiology and it turned out it was the same program 50% of her PhD students were enrolled in. It was perfect! She gave me the contact of the head of the program to speak to right away as the deadline for application had also passed, but there was hope. Maybe not as many students applied and there would be space. I was already there, so it wouldn’t hurt to try. So, we came to an agreement. I would volunteer at her lab, so she could assess me further, and I could beef up my CV with publications as well as shadow and get trained by the researchers in her lab. If my grades were high enough, we would work on funding applications together and if external funding came through, she would have no problem taking me on. There was hope again! 

After talking to the head of clinical epidemiology, I applied for the graduate diploma program to start in September 2017. By July 2017 when I applied, the application for 2017 was closed, so I applied for 2018, but I kept sending weekly reminders that I was on ground and ready to go to school immediately I’m admitted, if there was space available for just one more student – ME! School resumed September 6th 2017 and at that point, no one knew if I was actually going to be joining that session. I kept the faith, it had to happen for me. The little beacon of light became brighter when I got an e-mail inviting me to the program orientation. I wasn’t a student, I hadn’t been officially accepted into the program, so this was promising! I went for the orientation, and we were told that transferring from the graduate diploma to the PhD program would be straightforward as long as grades are kept high, a supervisor and funding are secured.  The PhD program would require a lot more than the graduate diploma, but the basics would be covered. So, I got myself prepared to start classes, and behold! Two days later, I got the letter! I got the admission letter! I had been accepted into the clinical epidemiology graduate diploma program! Oh what a relief! Things were starting to fall in place! And that, ladies and gentlemen, that’s how I came to start my program in Clinical Epidemiology.

This is only the beginning of my journey, because it’s a year later right now, and guess what? It wouldn’t be life if all I had to say is a spot opened up for me at Dr. Ploughman’s lab. No, it didn’t happen that way, something much more amazing happened! 

*Part III coming shortly*

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