It was a great challenge to be distinguished among my peers having completed my PhD in a research area currently undergoing rapid development in my country (Nigeria). The need for international experience and collaboration was gradually mounting on me because I had always aspired to do a postdoctoral fellowship with a world-class organization. Though being in contact with a German host offering me a visiting position under TWAS-DFG, it did not meet my aspiration. Therefore, when I received the congratulatory message from my institute that my application for CAS-PIFI Postdoctoral fellowship was successful, I was extremely excited. This is because CAS is a highly reputable academic world-class organization with fellowships on the same global ranking with Fulbright and Humboldt that are second to none. My PhD Professors and other academic mentors were quick to congratulate me while informing me that my academic status has now been highly upgraded for obtaining the prestigious CAS-PIFI Postdoctoral fellowship. The great enthusiasm of obtaining this fellowship uplifted my mind to achieve greatness with this opportunity offered by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).
Experience of working at CAS
Arriving at Beijing to start the fellowship, I was filled with lots of anxious moments not knowing what to expect especially interactions and procedures in a foreign language laboratory. What are the health and safety procedures? What are the chemical disposal processes? How are chemicals and equipment labelled? These and several questions kept disturbing me until the friendliness of the welcome by my research group dissipated these worries. It was interesting for me to note how efficiently the laboratories were organized into various research groups and some left for shared facilities. The online time management for shared facilities was also very admirable ensuring that every group had access to them. My research is about nanocellulose, which involves its synthesis, analysis, functionalization and application. Working on cellulose nanomaterials with professors who have distinguished themselves in this research area was quite tasking since I needed to exceptionally prove my points before they could be considered a contribution. The regular progress reports also brought their own difficulties with reporting schedules coinciding with some challenging experimental periods. Periods when expectations are high but results are not coming but positive and negative. These were the most challenging times. Sorting out materials and apparatus was tiring because of my poor Chinese language comprehension. However, the research team was very friendly as they provided regular assistance. My perseverance turned the challenges to exciting moments when the results started arriving. This rewarding experience at the Functional Polymer Research Group of the Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry (TIPC) gave rise to two academic publications and oral presentations in Japan and China. Doing my postdoctoral fellowship at the CAS institute in a nation known for its great industrial development strides was quite challenging and exciting with many rewarding outcomes. Finally, I am happy about this opportunity and very thankful to the professors for pointing me to the right direction as the research progressed. Our research results have been wonderful so far and I believe we will continue to overcome challenges that may arise in the course of the work.
Life in China
The cool autumn air greeted me around 5pm at the Beijing Capital International Airport after I had made contact with two students from the institute who came to receive me. They took me to an apartment (beside the institute) which was secured earlier for me. The students made me feel welcome as they took me to a nearby mall, where I bought beddings for the apartment and some essentials. Beijing foods and drinks are very unique, enjoyable and interesting. However, I adopted moderation as a key principle when choosing and deciding what to eat as there are lots of things to eat and drink. Some of which I was not familiar with and also not aware how well they would act in my body. In the initial months, I starved several times as a result of not knowing what to eat and where to eat. Despite having brought some food items from my country, I was not able to cook because there were no basic facilities like a refrigerator, water dispenser, cook wares or microwave oven in the apartment. Everything seemed inaccessible as I had to battle with communication. My worst nightmare was the delay in processing my work and residence permit by the exit and entry administration. The three months it took to get the permits were very embarrassing as the police visited me several times at night, disturbing my rest from the day’s challenges. They even affected my concentration in the research. Thankfully, my research team was very helpful and I made very good Chinese friends who helped me understand China and visited exciting places.
Honestly, it is very interesting living in China not necessarily because of the beautiful places but the different way of life. The special interest placed on foreigners, the friendliness and sense of patriotism of most Chinese people, the hardworking and productive spirit embedded in most Chinese are great things to behold. So far, it has been exciting and amazing working in Beijing, doing my best to cope with the harsh environmental conditions from terribly cold winters and hazardous air to harsh sunny summers.
It is very important to commend the organization of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The management of numerous institutes affiliated to them is very impressive.
Expectations for future collaboration with CAS
Doing my postdoctoral fellowship at CAS has made me see the greatness in the organization and how wonderful it is to work with its professional staff members. The present collaboration is very rewarding and I will continuously seek for future opportunities to work with CAS. When the situation permits, I will also be willing to invite CAS members to my university for additional collaborations. With my research, we have already created a niche in lignocellulose nanofibers. Therefore, continuous functionalization and applications are areas for future collaborations.
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