The European Ceramic Society
YCN Newsletter 15 : Story of Isaiah A Moses
Isaiah is a postdoc at Penn State, USA and his research involves data science and development of machine learning models to characterize 2D materials experimental samples.
He has experience in deploying first principles methods in studying properties of crystalline materials and their applications in energy applications and machine learning methods for metal-ion battery electrodes. Even though Isaiah’s research is not directly in ceramics, we would like to include his story in this newsletter as this may serve as an inspiration for those who are facing much larger obstacles than most of us do.
I was born in Nigeria and grew up in a village called Ndanaku. My village is in Patigi Local Government of Kwara State, a north central state. I was born into a family of eight siblings. Both of my parents had no formal education. They were, however, determined to have us all educated. My performance has always been above average compared to my contemporaries. Going beyond the opportunities in my immediate environment, I had yearned to study in better schools in developed countries. That dream tarried but was eventually realized.
I could attend only from the Primary 1 to 6 (equivalent to the United States 1st to 6th grade) in my village and would have to go to the city to continue from the Junior Secondary School (JSS) 1 (7th grade). Proceeding to JSS 1 could not be immediate. I had to wait for one of my brothers, Matthew, to finish Senior Secondary School (SSS) 3 (12th grade). I stayed home to help my parents on the farm and to grind corn, millet, and rice with a grinding mill to raise some money in support of the family. I therefore stayed home for two years before proceeding to the city to start my JSS 1. My maturity and the feeling that I had lost about two years staying home while my agemates proceeded to secondary school made me work hard, cramming my entire few pages of class notes in each of the subjects taught in my school. I was first enrolled in Comprehensive College but transferred to Government Secondary School and then to Titcombe College, all in Egbe, Kogi State Nigeria, in search for a better school where I would have opportunity to study science. I graduated from the SSS 3 in Titcombe College Egbe as the senior prefect and one of those with the best results in my set at the West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE).
I thereafter went to Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria for my undergraduate degree in Physics. The interesting experience in ABU includes the exciting time I enjoyed solving mathematics and physics problems. The wonderful company of friends I kept also made my stay in Zaria a memorable one. Challenges include the limited resources for upkeep which meant difficulty in feeding occasionally.
Let me round up my story with my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) experience. August 2008 to July 2009 was a memorable one-year time for my NYS. NYS is compulsory for every Nigerian after obtaining an undergraduate degree. I was posted to Yobe State, a northeastern state in Nigeria. I was a teacher in a secondary school where I taught physics. What I will not forget is how poor the educational facilities were and, as expected, the backwardness of the students in the school in terms of learning. The number of students in that school should not be less than 1500 but they mostly sat on the bare floor, some on mats that they brought to the school by themselves. The hygiene of the students was also concerning as several of them were lumped together in what should be a hostel for students. It was challenging to teach Physics to my SSS 3 students. Their understanding of the English language and basic Mathematics required to solve problems in Physics were lacking.
What was the education like in Nigeria? Did you experience any difficulties while growing up and studying?
The environment I grew up in presented me with some immediate challenges. They include finance and access to quality education. Needless to state that we had no electricity nor access to pipe borne water in my village.
Finishing from the Primary 6, I could not read nor write in English though it was the medium of instruction in schools. That reflects how poor the instructions we received were. Some of the teachers were not competent themselves. The challenge of the inadequate quality of education I had access to was general for every of my contemporaries growing up in the same environment. There have not been significant lasting improvements in quality of education especially in most ruler areas of Nigeria as I write.
The poor funding for education in Nigeria has led to an incessant strike by the staff in public schools. Just recently, most public universities were on strike for about 8 months, from February till October of 2022. Such was my experience at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria as the academic union of university’s (ASUU) strikes kept us away from school for several months. I was supposed to begin my studies in the year 2002 but that was not possible due to the strike until July of 2003. And then there were more strikes after I started my studies, and I could only graduate eventually in April of 2008. So almost 6 years was spent for a 4-year degree.
My stay at the University of Ibadan, where I started my MPhil/PhD, was also with some challenges. The major challenge was the electricity. I can remember staying in the office for hours sometimes hoping for electricity. On many occasions, I would go to a Church on campus that usually turned on a generator. Many students in need of electricity to charge their laptops, phones, and rechargeable lamps assemble under a shelter beside the Church. Some chairs were placed there but were mostly not sufficient to accommodate everyone. So, I could use some broken pieces of wood or metal to sit. On some occasions, a group from the church would need to use the shelter, so everyone would have to leave. Such was my experience and is still the experience of many people in Nigeria who do not have enough resources to afford a generator for themselves.
But the University of Ibadan was not my choice place for PhD. I had always wanted to study in the US. Many applications were submitted in about 4 years before I enrolled at the University of Ibadan. I sat for GRE twice before getting competitive scores. After my second GRE, offers were still not forthcoming. My research experience at the University of Ibadan eventually became an advantage for me. I received an offer from Central Michigan University to commence my PhD in Materials Science in the Fall of 2018, in addition to two other Universities that promised me funded positions after their preliminary reviews. I researched the computational exploration of materials for energy applications during my PhD. I had opted for computational studies because I knew how poorly funded research is in Nigeria and the associated lack of facility to conduct research. I felt there might be a better chance of getting some computational studies carried out compared to the experiment. I, of course, had no access to supercomputing facility in Nigeria but was able to engage in a collaboration with a South African researcher who gave me the opportunity to utilize their computing facility.
How did you get to the topic of machine learning?
Ever before starting my PhD, my research interest has been in computational and theoretical condensed matter physics. I opted for the non-experimental research because of the limited facilities available for experimental studies in Nigeria. The specific research I have been carrying out has been mostly influenced by the source of my funding. The projects I started working on during my PhD use first principles methods, precisely density functional theory. And then I ventured into machine learning methods applied to battery electrode materials. My experience during my PhD research and my interest in advancing my knowledge in machine learning research, motivated by its prospect and potential at accelerating materials exploration, made me accept the current position.
How did you feel when you came to the United States for the first time?
I felt accomplished. It was great that I finally got accepted after several applications were denied. I was excited. It was time to realize my dream of many years, studying in an environment where I could be my best.
Is there something you would like to tell those who are in a similar position as you were?
I do have a spirit that says, “it is possible.” I rarely admit that it is impossible. I believe in doing the best I can do, given the circumstances I am in, as I hope for the best in the future. I do not believe in using my circumstances as an excuse for not attaining the best I could be. So, I keep hoping and I keep moving, irrespective of the speed.
What are your plans for the future?
My career plan has been to be in academics. I will be a postdoctoral scholar for a couple of years, and I hope to get a faculty position thereafter.
Also we can include more pictures than we usually do to nicely support the story
Figure 1: Matthew (left) and Isaiah (right). Matthew is one of my older brothers. The picture was taken in my village, Ndanaku. You could see what typical houses look like in the village.
Figure 2: From left to right: Isaiah (head boy), Toyin (assistant head girl), Tosin (assistant head boy), Jolayemi (head girl), Samson (chapel prefect). These were some of the prefects in my secondary school, Titcombe College, Egbe. I had a special tag (red) on my tie as the head boy, the same colour with that of the head girl (Jolayemi).
Figure 3: From left to right: Adam, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. Adam and Ezekiel are my two younger brothers. This picture was taken in my village around the year 2003.
Figure 4: My matriculation picture at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, taken in July of 2003.
Figure 5: My graduation picture at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, taken in May of 2008.
Figure 6: Picture taken with my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) uniform at GSS Mamudo in Yobe State, Nigeria in year 2009.
Figure 7: Picture taken with my wife, Lois, on the day of my successful PhD dissertation defence at Central Michigan University, June 6th, 2022.
Isaiah A Moses
Penn State, USA
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