Olumuyiwa Igbalajobi (OI): We have microbes as friends and foes. I mean, you can't do without fungi if you want to eat your bread.
Science World (SW): That’s Dr. Olumuyiwa Igbalajobi.
OI: But I'm just trying to, you know, help to keep people safe from these bad guys.
SW: He’s a postdoctoral research fellow in Michael Smith Laboratories at the University of British Columbia where he studies fungal pathogens.
OI: If you wake me up, I can talk for 24 hours about fungi, from plant pathogenic fungus to human pathogenic fungus which I’ve worked in the last eight years.
SW: His dream today is to become a professor of mycology. But that wasn’t always the plan.
OI: Actually, my story into science is quite interesting. Back in high school, I liked numbers. I liked balance sheets, I liked business studies. But then something happened. I started reading books about science discovery, and one important scenario was a Pfizer book that someone gave me that actually had an archive of major milestones in health and in medicine. That really took me straight to science. And I wanted to be part of a team that solved the problems, the gap between infectious disease and treatment.
SW: Olumuyiwa's passion for health extends far beyond the lab. You could say, it’s in his veins. He's organized blood drives on university campuses around the world.
OI: Giving blood is giving life. When I started donating back in Nigeria, I discovered I am O negative, which is rare. And when I gave the blood and they told me, “You just saved the life of a nine-year-old child with sickle cell,” at that moment I was forever grateful. Like okay, this is my own way to give back.
SW: Online, Olumujiwa is the founder of Scholarship Café, which spreads information about awards, bursaries and funding to students around the world who are facing astronomical college tuitions.
OI: The South Korean government really made a fine turn of events in my life. Offering me a scholarship on merit to study for free, worth over 50,000 Canadian dollars for the three years I spent in Korea. And you know, this shaped my journey as a microbiologist, as a Black scientist, and as the only Black science student I understood the importance of a good support system. And all this information has been given for free for me to benefit. So, that brought about Scholarship Café.
SW: In 2020, as COVID exacerbated the inequities in every system in the world, Olumuyiwa saw an opportunity to share his knowledge and experience to students with academic dreams. The impact of Scholarship Café is astounding.
OI: I wake up every day and look for sites, university sites that post job opportunities, and I post it on my timeline. And I started with 411 followers on Twitter and as of today it's over 95,000 followers. Two days ago, I organized a Twitter Space that had over 9,000 people tuned in. And in the last one year I've reached out to over 30,000 people which has resulted in more than 5,000 successful application worth over 1 million Canadian dollars. And I recently partnered with the University of the People in California, an online university, to offer 100 fully funded scholarships worth over 400,000 Canadian dollars for my audience. Also recently to mark my birthday, I raised about 5,500 Canadian dollars for prospective graduate students in Nigeria to pay for their international passport, their travel passport.
SW: He also shares resources about how to write an Academic CV; how to cold email a professor; and which universities around the world don’t require an application fee.
OI: If we are talking about inclusion, if we're talking about diversity, in most Canadian universities you have the application fee ranging from 150 to 160 Canadian dollars. This is more than the monthly minimum wage in most developing countries. So, if we're talking about inclusion and representation, diversity, then we need to look deeper into things that prevent people from accessing quality education. I believe financial constraints should not prevent people from accessing quality education. And for me, inclusion is giving a platform for everyone to grow, irrespective of their colour, of their sexual orientation, of their religion or political affiliation.