Interview with Professor Olopade: President of Society of Neuroscientists of Africa
16 September 2018
Prof. James Olukayode OLOPADE is a Professor of Neuroscience and Comparative Anatomy, current President of the Society of Neuroscientists of Africa (SONA) and the Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Ibadan, Nigeria. A passionate mentor with over 80 publications to his credit, in this interview, Professor Olopade shared his beginning, passion for science, Neuroscience in Nigeria and the upcoming SONA Conference (March 2019) in Lagos.
Who are your science hero (es): I respect many top scientists
Research interest: Neuroscience of Vanadium metal, Neurocellular Anatomy
Brief bio about you
I was born in Lagos, Nigeria, attended Lantana Day Nursery and Command Children School both in Lagos before attending Command Secondary School Ibadan. I was admitted into the University of Ibadan in 1986 to study Veterinary Medicine and graduated with the DVM degree in 1992. After the compulsory national service in Maiduguri, Borno State, I worked as a private home Veterinarian, in private practice and went through a discipleship training before joining the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine as a Lecturer II in Veterinary Anatomy in 1999. I subsequently obtained my MSc and PhD in 2003 and 2006 and eventually became a Professor in 2011.
How did you end being a neuroscientist?
I decided to be a neuroscientist by pure inspiration. It was a flash on my mind that I should work on the brain. Nobody in my faculty was working on the brain at that time. Glory to God, my supervisor then supported me and I remain grateful to him for that.
Tell us about the journey that shaped you as a scientist
I did my PhD on the skull of Nigerian Goat breeds. However as this was being done, I was harvesting the brain and doing Gross Anatomical studies, and then metal analysis. I then attended SONA in 2003 and concluded that I will invest my career in neuroscience. I am grateful for the training in Neurobiology course in MBL in Woodshole, USA and a postdoc in Penn State College of Medicine with IBRO money. These set me on a path to internationalization.
Challenges and successes
In Nigeria, science research is poorly funded and this can lead the willing to spend much of his own money to further his or her career. I did that for my PhD but I have no regrets because it has paid off. My greatest success story is training and encouraging young neuroscientists and seeing them make progress in their careers.
What is SONA Conference and what are you doing for it?
This is a biennial meeting of African Neuroscientists (Society of Neuroscientists of Africa). I have been to three of these and I am currently the President of the Society and Chairperson of the Local Organising Committee
Who is coming to SONA and should Nigerians be excited?
The Nobel Prize winner for Medicine in 2014, Edvard Moser will be coming, and so is a cream of Professors from Africa, USA and Europe with a track record of mentorship in Neuroscience. Equally important is that we are having young Africans who were "novices" in Neuroscience about 15-20 years ago and who are now top rated scientists abroad, and back home on the continent. We shall be having numerous symposia, and poster sessions. Top and relevant abstracts from the continent will be slotted into symposia presentations. It is a great opportunity for young Nigerian/African neuroscientists to rub minds with the best, with future mentors and collaborators. However this will only be for those who pay their conference fees.
What can the public or government do to support SONA Conference or Neuroscience in Nigeria?
Frankly I never put much hope on government support for International Neuroscience Conferences. I am not giving up however on getting support, particularly in kind.
What do you see as the future of Neuroscience in Nigeria?
I think it is bright. It lies with the current set of young researchers. If you teach the brain well, contribute to research and effectively communicate your findings to students, you can then attract them particularly bright minds to think of becoming Neuroscientists. If we cannot attract bright minds, we stand the risk of being more of a minority research field. I however do not see that happening
How can Nigerian neuroscientists take their science to international level? Is collaboration important?
We have to attend international conferences and attract international conferences to our country. These make you current on happenings in the field. Collaboration is key. I am proud of the collaborators I have.
What would you wish the government will do about neuroscience research in Nigeria?
I think we scientists need to work harder and show our relevance. Government in Nigeria are not readily science conscious. If we find effective treatments for diseases like Epilepsy, Alzheimer's etc, they will take more notice.
Advice to aspiring and emerging scientists
It is hard work. The brain is a bit complex and to succeed in that field you have to be diligent and passionate. There are funding opportunities for young neuroscientists from IBRO, ISN, TReND, MDS etc. You however have to build some level of competence to get supported. We say we have nothing, however in the midst of nothing do something and you will likely get more opportunities.
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