Dr Toyin Aseeperi Shares her Journey From Nigeria to obtaining her P.h.D in the US.

By pearl - February 26, 2020

On the very top of my list, of the things I am thankful for, for the 6 years I spent at Intel, are the incredible people I met there. Toyin and I met as professionals working at Intel a few years back. What always strikes me about her, is her willingness to give back to the community and contribute to the advancement of the next generation. Today Toyin talks about her experience moving from Nigeria to Fayetteville Arkansas.  Read on for detailed steps on what it takes to obtain a graduate degree in the United States of American tuition-free with a stipend.    

Dr. Toyin Aseeperi obtained her undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from Obafemi Awolowo University, one of the top schools in Nigeria and moved to the US where she obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Arkansas. She currently works as a Process Engineer at Intel Inc. 

The journey from Nigeria to the USA

I first heard about the possibility of furthering my education in the US, and how it was possible to apply for a Ph.D. program with an undergraduate degree during my 4th year at OAU. It was never my aspiration to pursue a doctoral degree but doing so would increase my chances of getting funded, so I decided to go that route. Funding from the institution was my only option to be able to afford an education in the United States. This degree usually takes 4+ years, so I had to pick my area of research wisely. It had to be a subject that I could excel at, and that would hold my interest to the very end. I decided to stick to Chemical Engineering. My next hurdle was how to pay for the standardized tests and application fees. Luckily for me, I had some money saved up from when I did an Internship in the oil and gas industry which covered part of the costs. I was also fortunate to have friends who believed in me enough to lend me money. Having a support system was a critical part of this process for me. I would not have been able to do this without support from my family and friends. I got into 2 out of 3 schools that I applied to. I chose the University of Arkansas because I had a friend there, and because of the affordable cost of living. Getting my first monthly stipend was mind-blowing-it was probably more than my mother earned as income in a year! 

Steps to come study in the US

I will say the first step would be to figure out if you want a Master's degree or a Ph.D. Then figure out what areas of research you find interesting and select a few schools based on those interests. The next step would be to check out the admission requirements for each school. Every school will be slightly different. Here is a breakdown of some requirements you can expect to see

1. GRE Test Scores (cost about ~$200)
2. TOEFL (cost about ~200) *
3.     Application fees to colleges (These can range from 0 to $200)
4. Statement of purpose.
5. Recommendation letters from professors. 
* Although Nigeria is an English-speaking country most schools will require the TOEFL exam which is a test of English as a second language.

In my experience, you don't need to have an extremely high GPA to apply to grad school. Just be sure to make up for average GPAs with great test scores and a Statement of purpose. Take note that requirements for Ph.D. are usually a little higher than those for a Master's. You can apply directly to a Ph.D. program after your first degree. It is actually very common to do so. 

I realize that the most challenging part of this process for many people will be getting the funds to apply. Unlike when I went through this process, there are currently a few scholarships that will assist in paying for the required standardized tests like the MT Annual Scholarships, which is one that I am a part of. It not only assists in paying for a standardized test but also pairs awardees with mentors, that work with them through the application processes.

Life as a student

I received a monthly stipend that covered my expenses and I was even able to assist back home. Please know that you may not be able to afford fancy cars or clothes, but the time will come for that. You would, however, be able to survive (I dare say even thrive) on the stipend, especially if you pick a school in a city with an affordable cost of living. Make that part of the criteria you use in making a decision. Do your research. In addition, most graduate programs are filled with students from all parts of the planet, therefore you will get the opportunity to meet, learn, interact and adventure with people from across the world. You, therefore, should be open to having your world view expanded and challenged along with growing your academic knowledge.

As a student, you are restricted to only work university jobs at a maximum of 20 hours per week. Research usually counts for most of those hours. You can supplement your stipend by applying for scholarships once you are in the US. A lot of scholarships are merit-based so keep your grades up. In the summer, you can do curriculum practical training and work up to 40 hours. This usually depends on your research professor. 

You have a Ph.D. now- what's next?

Prior to the end of your program, you have the option of applying for Optional Practical Training (OPT) which enables you to work full time without a work permit for a year. STEM degree programs have the possibility of extending for two more years. Once OPT is granted,
you have about 90 days to find a job after graduating in order to maintain your status. So, start looking early. You must be gainfully employed by the 90th day after the start date listed on your EAD Card. (This also happens to be the total number of days allowed for unemployment while on post-completion OPT.) My recommendation is to find a company that will sponsor you for a work permit/or residency if your intention is to work in the States. This usually entails proving that you have a unique skill, so having a Ph.D. makes it easier since your area of research is usually very specialized. You also have the option of sponsoring yourself for residency if you have the funds to do so. 

For me personally post-graduation, I  work as a Process Engineer at Intel. A huge part of my role is ensuring that all the equipment in the fabrication facility is working in an optimal state and to come up with procedures to increase the overall efficiency of the manufacturing process. My workday starts at 7:30am, where I come up with priorities for technicians and serve as the point of contact if anything goes wrong. As an Engineer, I fix problems and figure out how to prevent them from happening again. Often this involves meeting with people in other departments and collaborating on projects and ideas that are beneficial to both teams and the company as well. My job requires a lot of troubleshooting/ problem-solving which I find very interesting.

Few Words of Wisdom

In my first semester, after I just moved to the US, I spent a lot of time doubting myself, and my ability to get things done. I was intimidated by people who seemed more knowledgeable simply because of their confidence and ability to express themselves. Imposter syndrome started from day one for me. I kept thinking someone was going to find out I was not good enough and realize they made a mistake bringing me to study in the US. I think this is very common amongst minorities especially women. When you don’t see a lot of people who look like you, you start thinking you do not belong.
This luckily for me didn’t change the outcome, but I strongly believe it delayed it. I think it is one of the reasons it took me 6 years to complete my Ph.D.
So my advice is to surround yourself with people who believe in you. Find your tribe and open up about your feelings. And believe them when they tell you, you can do it. And you will make mistakes. Everybody does! That truly is what research is about. Stick to it and remember no idea is dumb. it can take several iterations to come up with the solutions that you're looking for! 

Pearl: I really appreciate the time Toyin took to interview with the Double Minority Blog. I know it will inspire someone out there. I encourage you to share this story with your network not only women. The steps in the blog post will help anyone considering coming to the US for graduate school. So Please, Share Share Share!



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4 comments

  1. Wow! Men, so far you've done it, I will do it. Thanks so much for the write up. Very inspiring. Keep the flag rolling.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading Kenny and we are glad it inspired you. Please do stay tuned for more and subscribe. Working on a piece on how to study for the GRE outside of the US.

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  2. Impressive, so relatable and eye-opening! Thanks, Toyin, for sharing. And thanks Pearl for hosting Toyin.

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