Dr. Adeola Olubamiji makes history as the first African person to graduate with a PhD in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan

Dr. Adeola Olubamiji makes history as the first African person to graduate with a PhD in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan
8 min read

Dr. Adeola Olubamiji is a Nigerian Biomedical Engineer, and the lead Metallurgist/Material Engineer at Burloak Technologies, Canada’s prime partner for highly engineered additive metal and plastic components for demanding applications.

Dr. Adeola Olubamiji setting up a Powder-Bed Laser Fusion 3D printer.

She is also the founder of the STEMHUB foundation, an initiative that showcases and teaches challenging STEM concepts through hands-on and fun-filled experimental activities. STEMHUB organises industrial tours for youth in Ontario’s black communities.

During one of STEMHUB’s industrial visits to Renishaw, Canada to experience 3D printing and CNC machining.

“Besides being a child hawker when I was about 10 years old and having two parents who had no education, life made me ‘THE LAST’”. I am the last of five children, and being last in a home with very little funding did not make me the “princess” like in other homes.”

In June 2017, Adeola made history as the first African person to obtain a PhD in the field of Biomedical Engineering at 110-year-old University of Saskatchewan in Canada.

Dr. Adeola Olubamiji

  • What inspired you to pursue Biomedical Engineering? And why the switch to Material / Metallurgical Engineering?

“Several health impairments and issues of failed diagnosis that faced Nigeria and Nigerians were my motivation to pursue a degree in Biomedical Engineering. With a BSc in Physics with Electronics, several pathways were possible, including Biomedical Engineering. Some of the areas that I am currently experienced in are medical physics and imaging, clinical engineering, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, material science and engineering, material research, and e-health and telemedicine. I am a Biomedical Engineer by training with majors in Physics and Imaging, and Material Science. Physics is the most fundamental of all sciences and engineering principles. Therefore, obtaining a BSc in Physics offered me the fundamentals needed to diversify into any branch of engineering. My Physics and Imaging majors provided me with roots in non-destructive testing (specifically radiography and computed tomography), while my Material Science major enabled me to explore conventional and novel manufacturing techniques.”

  • Tell us about your current job. What does it feel like being a female in a largely male dominated profession?

“I am currently the Lead Metallurgist / Material Engineer at Burloak Technologies (the advanced Additive Manufacturing division of Samuel Sons & Co) in Ontario, Canada. I am also a consultant and the founder of 3D-Tech Centrix, Ontario, Canada: A consulting firm specialising in the development of 3D-printing technology and related manufacturing solutions for use in different industries.

I was raised alongside my 3 brothers who happened to be my first mentors. Therefore, I was a “Tom boy” and competition was the way of life. How you see this issue is up to you, half full or half empty. For instance, sexism and racism are real, but you can decide to use these to your advantage. Being a visible minority (female, black and young) is one of my many advantages in life, especially in engineering. As a black female, if you know your onions, you will stand out, become a change agent, and you will thrive.”

  • You were the first African person to graduate with a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Saskatchewan, Canada. How has this experience, and the challenges you’ve gone through in your career path, shaped you as an individual?

“First, this has gone into the history books for my unborn children and I am thankful to be their worthy role model in life and in death. When you are a trailblazer of innovation, there is no blueprint and mentorship, and you must keep explaining yourself as everyone thinks you have gone insane. In my case, it was expected that I should focus on oil and gas related fields to land jobs. But I saw beyond this early in life.

I had an opportunity to intern at an Oil and Gas servicing company in Lagos during my BSc, but I knew that that was not my future. I was sure that I must proceed to focus on Computer Science or Biomedical Engineering as my Physics degree opened the doors for both. Despite its capability to bring us closer to huge healthcare-related innovations and inventions, Biomedical Engineering is just gaining traction within the African continent, and 3D-printing is just recently being talked about, especially in West Africa. I was featured as the 5th out of 150 black women making Canada better through my contributions to 3D printing and Biomedical Engineering by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, during the Canada at 150 celebrations.

This journey has so far made me realize the urgent need for STEM advocacy and to further educate African children about what is available to them in this millennium aside the usual. Since parents can only offer advice based on their level of understanding, I am pushing to join hands with these parents in raising these children. My aim is to provide African children with role models in STEM that look like them and educate them about the opportunities STEM can offer them. As a result, I have recently founded STEMHUB foundation, an initiative that provides hands-on experiments, excursions to companies, mentorship and scholarship opportunities for African youth in Ontario, Canada. I want to raise an army of young African girls and boys who will bring STEM innovation to life.”

  • In our current world, would you say organisations/industries are more receptive to women in STEM?

“There are organisations such as the Society of Women Engineers that provide support and enable the advancement of our careers as women. I also believe that several organisations mention inclusion and diversity as part of their mandates. Since you can’t be loved by everyone, we must give life a fight and always ignore the background noise.”

  • In a perfect world, you go to school, graduate and get a job. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, especially for most young people in Nigeria. What piece of advice do you have for people in this position?

“Let’s talk about skill acquisition / mentorship problems here. Unfortunately, it has become evident that there is a disconnect between what is acquired in African universities and what is required in the work-force to launch your career. Therefore, most students graduate with good grades but lack the right practical skills required to land them the jobs of their dreams. 

Mentorship is a key solution to this problem and I encourage our youth to stop looking for older and successful mentors and stop paying the money they don’t have to attend seminars by wealthy personalities, but rather seek mentorship from young averagely successful folks who are in the next phase that they aspire to get to. These young mentors will be able to provide the needed guidance and very accurate and timely information about the skills that are required for that moment in time to break into the industry.

Self-education is also a solution. It has also been clarified that the critical-thinking, problem-solving and business development skills required to become entrepreneurs are not acquired in the four walls of our universities. Therefore, despite being full of ideas, graduates do not have the right knowledge on how to develop a business case to sustain and scale-up their start-ups. Although I obtained two Biomedical Engineering degrees, I was able to break into the Aerospace manufacturing space through self-education.  

If you aspire to go far in life, you must invest in yourself through skill acquisition. Through online platforms such as Coursera, EDx, Udemy or even by watching YouTube videos, you can acquire the skills that you need to be attractive to employers, or educate yourself about artificial intelligence, business development, topology optimisation or whatever skill you need. Quit whining and start self-educating yourself as information is power.”