Toyin Jegede is a trailblazer who has been named an "Engineering Hero" by Nigeria's professional women engineers association.
“Coming to Leeds was one of the best decisions of my life,” says Toyin (PhD Engineering 2018).
After completing her first degree in Metallurgy and Materials, at the University of Lagos, Nigeria, she remained at the University, joining the technical staff. “I always loved researching, reading and working in the lab – and had always wanted to take it further. One day I simply decided to apply for a PhD. One of my professors at the University of Lagos had studied at Leeds, and he recommended it – both for the quality of its teaching and research and for the support it would give me as someone with a disability.”
Toyin secured a Commonwealth Scholarship under a British Government programme. Such scholarships, available only to talented and motivated students from the Commonwealth’s least developed countries, are aimed at those who otherwise couldn’t afford to study in the UK.
But even with this vital funding secured, it was a big step for Toyin: “It was my first time in the UK – and it was difficult at first, particularly getting around in the snow.”
But she soon settled into her studies in the School of Chemical and Process Engineering: “The support I received in Leeds, both academically and with my disability, was absolutely fantastic.” Her thesis, ‘Metastable Liquid Phase Separation in Co-Cu Alloys’, examined the properties and features of new structures in immiscible alloys which can be designed for specific technological purposes.
Following her graduation, Toyin returned to the University of Lagos: “One of the conditions of the Scholarship is that recipients are given study leave from their work – and must then return to their institution for the same period of time that they have been away,” she says. “So I’ve been busy working, writing the chapter for a publication and on other research activities.”
Toyin has also been inspiring others to follow in her footsteps. She established the University’s collegiate branch of the Association of Professional Women Engineers in Nigeria (APWEN), running events and activities for female engineering students to encourage them to progress. “In Nigeria, few women go beyond Masters Degree level, and it’s even more rare to see a woman with a disability in engineering.
“Basically I’m saying to people: ‘I’m an engineer, female and physically challenged. It’s not easy, but I get by.’”
The power of that message is so strong that APWEN conferred on Toyin its Engineering Hero award ‘For breaking the glass ceiling as a physically challenged trained and registered engineer’. And she was also recently shortlisted for the 100 Most Influential Female Engineers in Africa Awards by the Federation of African Engineering Organisations.
Even so, she knows that she must now move on if she is to push her research further. “This kind of research is impossible in Nigeria. Even in England, only Leeds and Cambridge Universities have the kind of facilities and apparatus needed for this work.
“It was really humbling to be nominated for these awards, but I get more pleasure from working hard, keeping up the pace – and helping others to succeed.”