This article is part of our 'Ideas to save the planet' series - a series of articles each focusing on a different innovative solution to help tackle climate change. We are grateful to our expert alumni for their insights, and hope to inspire further action through sharing their ideas.
Why do you want to study in the UK?
We speak to international students and Chevening Alumni about their perseverance, passion, and relentless pursuit of their goals to successfully leverage their UK study experience. In this article, we hear from Chevening Alumna Adetoun Mustapha about how she's advancing scientific research to improve public health outcomes.
Achieve your goals, advance your career, and make a positive contribution to something greater than yourself. That’s why Adetoun Mustapha chose to study in the UK on a fully funded Chevening Scholarship. Here’s what she had to say when we interviewed her earlier this year.
What advice would you give to international students hoping to study in the UK?
Think about what experience you can get now that will support your future career.
I have been interested in science for as long as I can remember. I tried to demonstrate this passion in my Chevening application to study for a Master’s in Public Health.
I talked about my experience working as an environmental advisor. This was back in the 1990’s, when fewer people were interested in the environment. I had been writing articles to try to convince people that conserving the environment and being more diligent in the use of natural resources was not only important for the health of the planet, but for the health of people.
The internet was nowhere near as prevalent in those days, so it was more difficult to spread this message and influence public opinion. I was becoming increasingly frustrated. I found out about Chevening and the University of Cardiff’s Public Health Master’s programme and applied.
It was in Enugu in Nigeria, where the interview was held, and I was able to tell them that, look, they’ve been mining coal here [in Nigeria]. If you do not do anything about the environment, air pollution will be a real problem in the future.
My advice for Chevening Applicants is to do all you can to showcase your passion for your field of study.
Take advantage of all the opportunities available to you on your Chevening year.
During my time at the University of Cardiff, I came across the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE), while I was working on a paper in the library. As it was relevant to my area of study, I decided to join.
It was through the ISEE that I won a competition to travel to Greece, where I made lifelong friends and met the person who was to become my supervisor when I later decided to return to education to do a PHD.
As well as making lifelong connections during my time in the UK, I was also taught how to apply my new knowledge, so that when I returned home, I was a much more confident person.
I continued writing, I became bolder. My message was clear, it was smarter. People tended to listen more.
I kept in touch with the people I met at the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology. Many of my friends are now professors and I often attend their conferences and share my research papers with them.
The international networking opportunity was great.
Don’t give up.
I often tell people that you might not get exactly what you want straight away, but with perseverance you’ll be able to get most of what you want.
I currently serve as an adjunct research fellow at the Nigeria Institute for Medical Research where I’m working on the Nigerian Environmental Epidemiology Accelerated Research Programme. We are developing the next generation of researchers in environmental epidemiology through training and sharing our research.
I told them it took me almost 20 years to get here. I don’t want it to take that long for them. I’m trying to pass the baton to enable others to continue moving forward.
I’m also collaborating with other people across the world on research into the impact of air pollution on health.
There are huge challenges involved in addressing the problem, which tend to come down to a lack of routine air pollution monitoring. This makes changing people’s minds about the importance of air quality difficult. I’ve been contributing to discussions with the World Health Organisation about how to cascade air quality guidelines in Nigeria in order to prevent so many air-quality related hospital admissions.
I wish that I could do more but it’s a slow and steady journey because you’re up against a lack of data and many who don’t believe air pollution will kill you. But it’s heart-warming to see so many young people from a variety of backgrounds passionate about public health.
In my day, a Master’s in Public Health was only open to medical doctors, who tended to be men. I was able to surmount many of these barriers by relentlessly arguing that medicine is just one aspect of overall health. There is public health. There is environmental health. There is occupational health.
Whatever challenges that come your way, don’t give up. Persevere and you’ll be surprised by how much you’re able to achieve.
Collaborate with others wherever you can.
I’d encourage scholars to keep in touch with the British Embassy in their home countries.
I kept in touch with the British Council in Nigeria and am a frequent speaker at British Council events. They recently held a webinar on climate change which I was invited to speak at.
The more platforms you can utilise to help spread your solutions to this challenge, the better.
What’s next for me? I’m not ruling out serving my country in politics in parts of my career to be able to give back because you need to be at the table to make things happen.
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