[IPSF AfRO] Personality of the Month - October 2019


Juliet Obi is a name many have associated with international pharmacy. It is therefore a privilege to have her as our Personality of the month. In this interview with the IPSF-AfRO Media & Publications subcommittee, Juliet shares her experiences with IPSF and FIP, especially how IPSF may not have had her first Nigerian President-Elect, if not for the bold and stretegic step she took years ago. Do enjoy!


RMPO: Hello, Juliet. I am Taiwo Olawehinmi, a representative of the IPSF-AfRO Media & Publications subcommittee. Thank you for granting us the privilege of interviewing you. Juliet Obi is a name that is readily associated with IPSF and FIP. Beyond this, who really is Juliet Obi?

Juliet Obi: I was not aware my name is readily associated with FIP but i'll take that compliment (Lol). Juliet is a last girl child, out of six children, who is really grateful for having a family and friends that are so supportive and who remind me everyday that I can achieve literally anything I want to achieve. Basically, I try to live my life with a mental note in my head that I can influence someone positively with all the support and opportunities I have so far. That really is Juliet in a nutshell but there is obviously much more that we can't finish talking about here!

RMPO: Certainly, the enigma 'Juliet Obi' cannot be encompassed in only a few words. I agree. (Smiles) I am aware that although you are Nigerian, you studied in Ghana. You have also travelled to a number of countries. What role has cultural exposure played in your education and lifestyle?

Juliet Obi: Haha, thank you!. . . Yes, you are right! I did get my Pharmacy degree in Ghana but I am full-fledged Nigerian, I promise. Haha! I have also had the opportunity to travel to a number of countries while I volunteered with IPSF. I'll say the biggest impact cultural exposure has played in my education is helping me think out of the box and making me realize that there are limitless opportunities out there waiting to be grabbed. For example, I knew I really did not want to practise hospital or community pharmacy while I was in pharmacy school but I was not sure what exactly I wanted in terms of alternate careers. My love for R&D was ignited at the very first IPSF congress I attended in Egypt in 2012, after I had attended a scientific workshop by a guest speaker. In terms of my lifestyle, the cultural exposure has for sure helped me learn how to work with people from all walks of life, and how to deal with difficult situations when they present themselves.

RMPO: Interesting! There certainly is no limit to the impacts of cultural and international exposure, is there? ?

Juliet Obi: Absolutely none. I'll say getting that exposure is the most expensive thing you can get for yourself if you ask me!

RMPO: For many young people, Pharmacy students especially, they desire to travel, but funds seem to be a barrier. This limits them. I guess you were/are the financially loaded one then. (Smiles)

Juliet Obi: I was actually waiting for you to mention this and you are right. To be completely honest, I count myself lucky to have been able to afford some of the travels (the travel expenses were reimbursed while I was on the Executive Committee) and I am fully aware not everyone is able to afford them.

RMPO: I guess I'm right on track. Waoh! Lucky you then. IPSF remains a huge part of your success story. How did you venture into IPSF? What specific impacts have you made through IPSF?

Juliet Obi: Okay, this will be a long response but i'll try to make it short (Lol). I actually got to know about IPSF in my third year of Pharmacy school (so not super early). I knew about IPSF just like every other person does. The contact person for GPSA, Ghana at that time told us about a conference in Egypt. Myself and my friends decided to attend (personally because I wanted to see the pyramids at that time!) and then I caught the IPSF bug. I thought IPSF was great so I decided to attend the Leaders-in-Training and the AfPS in Tanzania in 2013 and I decided professional development was what I was interested in. I applied to be a committee member and the history continued. Personally, I think I have made a number of impacts but one that I am really proud of is being one of the key persons who got Pharmaceutical Association of Nigerian Students (PANS), Nigeria to regain their full membership status with IPSF. I really wanted to see this happen as I studied in Ghana but Nigeria was not present in IPSF for my first few congresses. I decided I was going to do all I could to help PANS become fully active in IPSF when I returned to Nigeria.

RMPO: Waoh! It's great to see that your impact in Nigeria has yielded tangible fruits. IPSF now has her first Nigerian President-Elect. Thank you, Juliet. You served on the advisory board of IPSF. You were a biotechnology liasion officer for FIP-YPG, amongst others. Could you share other leadership positions which you currently hold or have previously held? How is it that you wear so many hats?

Juliet Obi: Yes, I did serve on the IPSF advisory board for the 2018-2019 mandate. I also served as the Biotechnology Liaison Officer for FIP-YPG. The BPS section of FIP just went through some restructuring, so some Special Interest Groups (SIG) were consolidated and/or renamed including the Biotechnology SIG which is now under the newly formed SIG called New Medicines. I am lucky to have been appointed a focus group chair for Biologics, for the newly formed SIG and that's pretty much the active position I am holding now. I also take on other leadership volunteering positions on the side. Currently, I am serving as a mentor for high and middle school students in the city where I currently live in. I do not think I wear many hats (Lol). I think I wear one big hat, which is availing myself to share my knowledge and to learn a lot from others, only that I am doing it via a number of platforms.

RMPO: Interesting! ? A very very big hat it is. ? So how do you juggle it all with school and the rest of your life? ?

Juliet Obi: (Lol) That is a very very good question. To be honest, it is hard most of the time juggling volunteering and leadership duties with school and personal life but I try to be very disciplined with my time and try to assign specific times to tasks on a daily basis.

RMPO: From a Masters in Pharmaceutical Sciences to a current PhD in same, what motivated your interest in Pharmaceutical Sciences? What is your specific field of interest in Pharmaceutical Sciences?

Juliet Obi: My interest in pharmaceutical sciences if I remember well started while I was in Pharmacy school. I really loved Pharmaceutical Chemistry and wanted to learn more about the research and development aspect of drugs. Also, knowing that many developing countries like Nigeria are still lagging behind in active R&D, I decided to get the proper education I would need to be a research scientist and hopefully one day contribute to the improvement of R&D in Nigeria. Currently, I am interested in Proteomics which involves the use of -omics/big data and mass spectrometric methods to study proteins that contribute to the development of specific diseases.

RMPO: Fantastic! We certainly do need indigenous research, development and production of more drugs in Africa. The amazing thing I noticed here is that your actions are motivated by the interest for the greater good of everyone, especially Nigerians. That's totally patriotic of you. As a full-fledged Nigerian that you say you are, what do you love most about Nigeria? What is the Nigeria of your dreams?

Juliet Obi: Thank you very much for your kind words. I definitely love Nigeria most for its people. Nigerians are generally happy people and happiness is key. The Nigeria of my dreams is definitely one where you are given 100% support from the government to pursue your goals and become the best version of yourself. I will say nothing more on that. (Lol)

RMPO: Hmmmm! We definitely have a long way to go in a actualising the Nigeria of your dreams. ? As the former IPSF chairperson of Professional Development (PD), how would you describe your achievements in that regard?

Juliet Obi: I think I did my best to contribute new ideas in the professional development portfolio for IPSF. With the help of my amazing committee members, we were able to come up with revised and new guidelines for almost all the PD events and we started the IPSF Inter-regional Patient Counselling Event (PCE) and Clinical Skills Event (CSE) competitions which have come to stay. Also, we were able to organise more Trainers Development Camp (TDC) events during my mandate to graduate more trainers in IPSF, with two of those TDC events held in AfRO (in Nigeria and Kenya respectively). So I would say I am glad to have been able to achieve all those during my mandate as the Chairperson of PD.

RMPO: From IPSF to FIP..... What was the transition like? ? What made you to gun for the bigger fish? ?

Juliet Obi: It was not really a transition from IPSF to FIP. I am still exploring opportunities in FIP but for now I am using FIP-YPG as a medium to learn more about the pharmaceutical sciences since that's my current interest. So I would say the transition is still ongoing. . . Well, I am not getting any younger and I am out of Pharmacy school and trying to build a career for myself so it is only normal to aim higher. (Lol)

RMPO: Many pharmacy students in Africa (especially Nigeria) are challenged by your exploits in international Pharmacy. Could you share with us your long-term career goal(s)?

Juliet Obi: (Lol) First, I must say I do not have my long-term career goals figured out. I focus more on the short-term and then try to work my way long-term. I am interested in research and development in the pharma/biotech space which is why I am getting a PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences to become a research scientist.

RMPO: Nice perspective ? That means you don't bother yourself with the uncertainties of the future? You make do with and maximise the certainties of the present.

Juliet Obi: Yes, basically. I mean, once in a while the uncertainties bother you but you can't really control that. What you can control is the now, the present and like you said, we have to maximise what it presents.

RMPO: Juliet, what do you do outside Pharmacy? Any hobby or side interest you have been exploring?

Juliet Obi: I do a couple of things outside of the whole career thing (Lol). In my free time, I like to hang out with friends, I love Kareoke and I attend Zumba classes. I also started exploring science communication this year, so I started a science communication page on Instagram to share what I do in the laboratory and other in-betweens.

RMPO: Zumba! Nice. It would be great to see you simplify the deep science you are involved in. ? Please share your Instagram handle with us. ?

Juliet Obi: (Lol) That is the whole point of the page. My scicomm instagram handle is @queening_in_science. Thanks a lot in advance to all those who are going follow the page!

RMPO: If you were to offer words of advice to pharmacy students and young pharmacists, what would they be?

Juliet Obi: I'll keep it simple. The pharmacy profession is continuously evolving, so don't limit yourself and strive to keep learning and one day you'll find the one thing you are passionate about to help you achieve your career goals.

RMPO: "Strive to keep learning. . ." Apt! You are a CURE mentor at your current institution, the University of Baltimore, Maryland (UMB). Could you share with us what this current portfolio entails?

Juliet Obi: So that is the volunteer mentor thing I mentioned I was currently doing. The Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences (CURE) Scholars Program was established by the National Cancer Institute to prepare sixth- to twelfth-grade students in Baltimore for competitive, lucrative, and rewarding research and healthcare careers at the University of Maryland, Baltimore and other health institutions in the region.

RMPO: What role has mentorship played in your life?

Juliet Obi: It has made me understand I can never do everything alone and if you want to go far in life, you need to bring people up with you while you rise. I have mentors who I learn a lot from, so it's a two-way street as I also have certain areas I need to strengthen in my life.

RMPO: I think there has been a lot of talks on mentorship but very little effective mentorship. How should mentorship play out?

Juliet Obi: Yes, mentorship needs to be a two-way street as many people perceive it to be a mentor sitting a mentee down and teaching him/her line by line how to do things. Most of the mentorship responsibilities actually lie on the mentee. A mentee needs to know what he/she wants to gain from the relationship, communicate that effectively to the mentor then, they work together to achieve that. That's effective mentorship to me.

RMPO: Interesting! ? I totally agree with you that mentorship should be a two-way street. Could you share with us persons you admire (pharmacists and otherwise)?

Juliet Obi: This is a hard question (Lol) because I admire just about anyone who tries to do things with the goal of influencing others positively. But currently, I do admire Dr. Toyin Tofade, the dean of Howard University School of Pharmacy. I see all she does and she really takes her time to attend FIP-YPG events which shows her passion to share her knowledge with young pharmacists. I also admire other people like my former supervisor for my Masters thesis (She is amazing!). Dr. Karen Glass is her name. These two are only a few of many people I admire.

RMPO: Great! Great! I agree that this has been an incredibly 'long' interview, but I enjoyed every bit of it. (Smiles) Thank you so much for your time, Juliet. It has indeed been a great time speaking with you. Thank you for the motivation that you provide Pharmacy students and young Pharmacists. And thank you for the amazing exploits you are making in the profession. IPSF-AfRO certainly wishes you the best in your career. Cheers!

Juliet: I also had a great time and it was an absolute pleasure having this conversation with you, Taiwo! Thank you very much! It is always a pleasure! And you are doing a great job representing the AfRO Media & Publications subcommittee. Well done!

RMPO: Thank you. Thank you very much.

This interview was conducted by Taiwo Olawehinmi, on the auspices of IPSF-AfRO Media & Publications subcommittee. We do hope you gleaned a lot from Juliet Obi's experiences in IPSF and FIP.