At 37, after 2 children, Mariam Adedoyin-Olowe decided to get her first degree. Today, she is a PhD holder and a Lecturer in Data Analytics And Research Methods & Project Management.
They say life begins at 40. That couldn’t have been farther from the truth for Mariam Adedoyin-Olowe. Life actually took a rocket launch for her at 34, and all that can be said is, even the expanse of space could not have held her back.
The fifth of eight children, Mariam grew up in Èbúté-Métta, Lagos, when it was still just a quaint little suburb. Growing up, her life wasn’t the easiest in the slightest bit. Her father, a Civil Servant working with NEPA, got transferred to Kainji, leaving her stay-at-home mum in Lagos with the children. Things became even tougher when her father started another family with a second wife in Kainji.
After completing Secondary School in 1987, Mariam took a two-year Diploma course in Secretarial Administration at Lagos State Polytechnic. However, a failed Shorthand Exam prevented her from graduating and obtaining her OND certificate. Despite this, she managed to get a position as a Junior Secretary with the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA). She started to help out with the household finances. The relocation of all Government Ministries and Parastatals to Abuja in the early 90s terminated that career path, and the rat-race to secure another job and support her mother and siblings began all over again.
Mariam got married to Adedoyin Olowe in late 2004 at the age of 34. Now, taking the culture of the Yorùbá people into consideration, being an unmarried woman past your early to mid-twenties pose a whole truck-load of issues. In a society that attaches a woman’s worth to her marital status, being unmarried beyond your early to mid-twenties is deemed a stigma. Women are judged, consciously or unconsciously, for that one shortcoming. Like the Yorùbá say, ilè obìnrin kìí pé sú.
For Mariam, she seemed to have defied the odds and proved society wrong about its stereotype of women and what a Yorùbá woman’s life should be about. But that was just the beginning. Mariam, who before her getting married had been just a Secondary School Certificate holder, decided to get a degree at age 37 and after two kids. Mariam broke yet another mold that Nigerian women are forced to fit into. For many women, life practically comes to a grinding halt after they get married and start rearing children. Pursuing further education or a career of any sort almost always flies out the window. Mariam began pursuing her first degree when her first child was three years old and her second child just two months. She expertly and successfully juggled motherhood and her academic pursuit without either one suffering for the other. Talk about shattering stereotypes.
Another popular saying is that behind every successful man is a good woman. The reverse seemed to be the case for Mariam. She had her husband solidly behind her. He did not only encourage her to pursue her dreams and discover her potential; he actually supported her all the way and even now still supports her as she climbs each step of the success ladder. Not only did Mariam decide to pursue a university degree, well over twenty years after leaving Secondary School, she also went hardcore!
She graduated from the University of Portsmouth in the UK with a First Class in Computing. She didn’t stop there. She went on to earn her doctorate degree from Robert Gordon University, also in the UK and has published several academic papers in the field of Data Mining and Data Analytics. Mariam is currently a Lecturer in Data Analytics and Research Methods & Project Management in the School of Computing and Digital Technology at Birmingham City University, UK. She is also a researcher in the field of Data Mining, Data Analytics and Data Science. This woman, whom society had probably written off once she hit her thirties, now travels worldwide, presenting her research work at academic conferences and seminars. Not only that, she is now a Fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy and supervises and examines Masters and PhD projects of students from across the globe!
It is also noteworthy that in the early part of her PhD program, which she initially started at the University of Portsmouth, Mariam also picked up a Mentoring Certificate from the University and was employed by the University in collaboration with Portsmouth City Council to mentor Year 11 and college students in High Schools and Colleges all around Portsmouth City to prepare them for further education in the University. This she did for 2 years until she transferred her PhD research program to Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland.
In August 2015, with her PhD in the bag and her heart full of patriotic dreams, Mariam returned to Nigeria. She attempted to get a teaching position in several universities in the country. Of course, as it is common in our stereotype crazy clime, being 45 years old and having “no industry experience” clearly put her at a disadvantage and worked against her. Her attempts proved futile, and she began to lose faith in the system that had failed her yet again. The months that followed were filled with a growing sense of hopelessness and disappointment. She gradually became disenchanted with the “Nigerian dream.” She had no choice other than to once again turn to the UK, which now appeared to be her Comfort Zone, and of course, UK grabbed her just on her very first attempt.
Over one and half years after returning to Nigeria, Mariam finally secured a teaching position at the Bells University of Technology, Ota, Ogun state. By this time, however, she had already gone through a series of successful interviews with Birmingham City University and was well into the employment process. Six months after she took up her position at the Bells University, she resigned and joined other eminent Faculty members and researchers at Birmingham City University. She finally felt truly back home.
It is regrettable to think that the Nigerian educational system has lost such an asset. Just imagine the number of young Nigerian men and women that could have been influenced by the knowledge Mariam could have passed on to them and by her inspiring story of grit, guts, and success in the face of tremendous odds.
Like Mariam herself said on her Twitter account, “True strength lies in your ability to succeed in an unfavourable environment. Challenge yourself to optimize your true potential, and stop giving excuses”. So, if at any time in your life, you think it is too late to achieve your dreams, or to even dream up bigger and more daring ones, take another peek at Mariam’s story and pull yourself up by your boot strings. The vastness of space really can be your oyster.