Commonwealth Collaborations: Reflections on a Commonwealth Professional Fellowship at Lancaster University with Dr Georgina Erifeta

Dr Georgina Erifeta at LEC
Dr Georgina Erifeta

An environmental researcher and academic from Nigeria said her experience at Lancaster University as part of the Commonwealth Professional Fellowship programme has shown her the importance of combining research with entrepreneurship.

Dr Georgina Erifeta, who works and teaches at Igbinedion University in Okada, Nigeria, spent six weeks at Lancaster Environment Centre (LEC) during February and March as part of the UK government scheme.

She said her main take home was seeing how researchers at LEC not only focussed on the research itself, but also on how to attract grant funding to create change and provide solutions to environmental problems.

“I’ve had an amazing time,” she said. “There was no meeting that was not interesting, and there was no wasted time.”

In her application for the fellowship, Georgina said that she had managed to stay focussed amidst various challenging phases of her life including bringing up children.

“I have worked tirelessly to change the narratives in my family by doing all I can to pursue excellence,” she said. “My professional goal has been to be one of the major drivers in bioresource management with a specific present interest in the conversion of agricultural waste streams into value-added products using indigenous materials while adopting acceptable scientific best practices. My research interest for over a decade while doing my Masters and PhD studies were centred on the health of the environment; accessing the impact of crude oil spillages in soils and in bioindicators such as earthworms using contaminated soils from the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. I desire to go beyond merely defining the problem of toxins in the soil to proffering solutions for clean-up in the future.”

Georgina said she was now definitely feeling the impact of the fellowship after returning to Nigeria.

“I’m trying to put together everything I’ve learned, and the experiences that I’ve had. It was one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had as a researcher. They made it so engaging and exciting and were ready to go all out to make the six weeks so amazing and I’m so grateful. I must have had about 45 engagements in six weeks. They introduced us to everybody that mattered to our research and growth.”

She said her visit to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, and a meeting with the school’s Provost Prof Joanna Newman, who is also Secretary General of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, was particularly insightful. “Because we’re all women, she shared some very personal things about her career journey. I asked her how to weather the storm, and she told me that more women have got to get where she has got to. There has to be gender balance, and women must be the first advocate for women. She had this die-hard personality, and just goes all out for it. Often we face challenges, and we just get discouraged, but Prof Newman was ready to mentor us on this issue.”

Georgina said she was preparing to set up virtual meetings with students in Lancaster and students in Nigeria, to share experiences and knowledge.

“The Fellowship was about change,” she said. “We saw things working in the UK and it is now about how we are able to domesticate solutions to problems back home. One very strong take home for me is that I’m going to start to domesticate these proven models. I’ve seen how students have been so engaged, and I’m going to start to mix my research with entrepreneurship. It’s given me first hand opportunities to interface with entrepreneurship in real time. What I have seen working is researchers being as entrepreneurial as possible and focussed on attracting grants. It’s about creating change and creating solutions but bringing in the grants is so important too. I have seen undergraduate students being encouraged to develop ideas into business models, and I’m ready to take this model back into my own university. It’s also opened my eyes to the importance of having a winning team and pursuing a research team that’s going to do interdisciplinary research. Bringing together different experts from different faculties and seeing how we can begin to attract grants.”

Georgina said she applied for the fellowship because she believed in herself.

“You’ve got to stand up for yourself,” she said. “What I’m going to say to researchers is that they must believe in themselves and push for impact. One thing that was definitely considered in the application is your level of impact. Create impact in your own space and that will bring on a higher level of prominence and allow you to push forward. Be a part of the solution. Highlight problems and deficiencies – that’s what I was doing – I asked myself, what can I do with waste? It is about being part of the solution in my immediate community and solving problems that are community based. Until you’re driving impacts, you’re not actually doing anything. If we’re all able to design projects to solve problems, Africa will become a better place for everyone.”

Georgina said she was very grateful to take part in the fellowship. “I am grateful to LEC and Lancaster University for the time they’ve given us, and for believing in what we are doing,” she said.

“Ruth Alcock, Chris Holroyd, Paul McKenna, and Dee Hennessy took so much time to nurture us and build our confidence. I’ve just had an amazing time at Lancaster University.”

We will be catching up regularly with each of our Commonwealth Professional Fellows over the next 12 months to mentor and encourage their impact journeys.

You can read Commonwealth Professional Fellow Felly Mugizi Tusiimi’s story HERE.

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