What students in science-related disciplines are doing to stay productive and the challenges they face by Akpan M. Friday
In 2020, University students in Nigeria were left without tuition for a total of 9 months due to the COVID-19 lockdown measures and a prolonged strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities Nigeria (ASUU).
Unbelievably, we acknowledge it has already been two years since the outbreak of COVID-19. Though not totally eradicated, at least we see a decline in the status of the viral disease which has seemingly brought life back to “normal” in Nigeria. Unfortunately, many Nigerian tertiary students can’t relate to this norm; it is as though they are still facing another pandemic shutdown of academic activities. This is due to yet another incessant, lingering, and prolonged strike by the Union which has eaten deep into the fabric of education in the country. Countless times since 1999 the union has gone on strike to enable their voices to be heard concerning their income and total reform of the Nigerian tertiary educational system, but this invariably affects the students. These periodic disruptions in learning have left a vast majority of students in danger of losing a bright future through education.
While many students are learning a trade, taking remote jobs, or helping out with home chores, others are actively investing their time in activities that help the advancement of their careers. As a victim of this gruesome strike, I have observed and highlighted 5 ways students in science-related disciplines are staying productive in their field of study during the prolonged strike in addition to the challenges they face.
Volunteering at health organizations
Students in health-related disciplines are actively making themselves available at different health organizations, helping out in labs and with medical outreach in their various communities during the strike. Lawrence Akoh, a medical student at the University of Abuja, notably volunteers by giving health talks and offering local medical outreach within his community during the strike under health initiatives such as the Widows Intervention Foundation Worldwide and Worldicure Foundation. According to Lawrence, volunteering in health initiatives is a way of practicing in his field of study during the prolonged strike. The Slum and Rural Health Initiative is also a health initiative for active volunteerism.
Pictured below: Lawrence Akoh, University of Abuja
Acquiring digital and computational skills
Bioinformatics is gradually paving its way into the minds of undergraduate students. Though bioinformatics is not taught at the undergraduate level in most Nigerian universities, undergraduate students in the life sciences have quickly realized the need to up-skill themselves in basic bioinformatics skills. They have seized the opportunity the strike presents to either learn a programming language, take machine learning classes or learn the applications of AI in digital pathology.
Taking remote internships/jobs
Fortunately for the students, there are many openings for summer remote internships through international academic institutions that offer science-related courses and even local and international organizations. Students of the life sciences are opting in for these training both remotely and on-site. Recent summer remote internship programs that are available to international undergraduate students from Nigeria are: the RNA bioinformatics summer fellowship program, The Institute of Molecular Biology international summer school program on epigenetics, gene regulation, and genome stability, and also the Ashoka University summer internship program in modern biology and bioinformatics.
Taking online courses
Coursera, Edx and Udemy have become the new universities for students who undertake both paid and free online courses from international schools. These courses offer certificates that can help in the advancement of their career, and students are motivated and comfortable taking these courses as an alternative to their regular in-class teaching.
Organizing and attending scientific webinars and workshops
Local pharmacy, microbiology, medical and other life sciences associations for undergraduate students are actively organizing webinars and workshop series, teaching its members about topics ranging from research and grant writing to how to prepare for graduate school opportunities. One such example is the webinar hosted by the National Association of Microbiology Students South West Region in collaboration with the American Society for Microbiology, which taught its members about research writing as well as how to access graduate school opportunities. Also, the Pharma Learn 2.0 Capacity development training organized by the Pharmaceutical Association of Nigerian students, OAU Chapter has trained its members on skills for Research Methodology.