How Women in STEM can Balance Academics, Career, with Family- Temedie-Asogwa

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Pharm. (Dr) Tarilate Temedie-Asogwa, is a clinical pharmacist and PhD student at the University of Houston. With a diverse professional background, she has excelled as a lecturer, award-winning clinical pharmacist, retail pharmacy expert, & skilled product manager. As a dynamic thought leader, she was invited to speak during the commemoration of the 2024 International Women's Day, organised by the Pharmaceutical Association of Nigerian Students (PANS), University of Port Harcourt.

Her unwavering commitment to empowering women in STEM was evident in her impactful presentation during the programme themed “Inspiring Inclusion.” Her valuable insights into balancing academia, career, and family life served as a beacon of encouragement for women facing the complexities of their professional and personal journeys. The vibrant young lady narrated her life story including challenges and the strategies she employed to overcome the hurdles encountered in her journey so far as a mother, clinical pharmacist, public health professional, and woman in academia to inspire younger women to keep evolving to the highest version of themselves.

Journey to exam hall ended in the labour room

Temedie-Asogwa began by telling the students how she had been a student virtually all through her life and had combined this with her family responsibilities and her career as a pharmacist. Years after completing her Bachelor's degree in Pharmacy, she went to Nnamdi Azikiwe University to obtain her master's degree, then to the University of Benin for her PharmD, and now at the University of Houston for her PhD in Pharmaceutical Health Outcomes and Policy.

She shared a story of the hurdles she faced pursuing her master's degree in a city four hours away from where she worked and lived as a young girl starting a new family. She recalled the moment she was on a trip to take her final exams while also anticipating becoming a mother for the first time. However, her plans took an unexpected turn when she went into labour halfway through her journey to school. She was compelled to reroute to the hospital, where she had her first son. Reflecting on the experience, she humorously remarked, “Going for exams, I ended up returning home with a baby instead, which of course was a bigger blessing.” She expressed gratitude for the unwavering support of her family, particularly her spouse and mother, whose assistance was indispensable during this memorable event.

Admonition to women on balancing career, family & academics

The clinical pharmacist went on to admonish the audience saying “career, family, and academics are intertwined and as women today, we are faced with the challenge of juggling successful careers, family responsibilities, and academic pursuits. Finding a balance between these aspects can be tough, but with setting good goals, support, and proper time management, it is achievable.”

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Notably among the much advice she provided was the importance of finding support systems for each area. She said, achieving balance requires careful planning and organisation, proper time management, effective communication, and setting boundaries to prioritise tasks and responsibilities effectively. She provided several practical examples of situations in which she had used each of these strategies to navigate through challenges she has encountered.

The PhD student reiterated the importance of effective communication skills, urging students to refine them as they are invaluable assets in both personal and professional realms. She stated, “Over the years, I have dedicated myself to honing this skill, and it has truly been my lifeline. She went on to illustrate a time when her child had an emergency on the day of her major exam, but through effective and timely communication with the instructor and all parties involved, the situation was handled fairly, enabling her to successfully complete the course. She added that because she is able to communicate effectively with her family and friends, understanding was reached, everyone was extremely supportive, and no one felt neglected. Encouraging women to dismiss the notion that children are too young to comprehend, she emphasised the importance of continuously engaging with their young ones. “I talk to their babies’ right from the womb and I keep the communication line open between us, which helps to build trust and foster a strong connection” she said.

Role of divine assistance in women’s success

She concluded by humbly attributing her achievements not only to her efforts but also to the grace of God upon her life. She expressed that amidst all challenges, God has been her ultimate source of strength, hope, and peace. Quoting the words of Apostle Paul in the Bible, she reflected, “Though I work really hard, yet I wouldn't say all my successes so far are solely by my efforts but indeed by the grace of God.” The audience was deeply inspired, leading to several questions from students seeking advice on navigating their unique challenges.

On the importance of prayer and daily study of scripture, she explained that prayer doesn't have to be daunting; it's simply having conversations with God, much like talking to a friend. “I can say for sure that prayer changes things”, she said. Additionally, she highlighted the benefits of studying scripture, which helps to counter negative thoughts and limiting beliefs. She suggested printing and posting scripture passages visibly around one's living space as a reminder of their affirming words.

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She again acknowledged the significant role of her faith in navigating challenging times, highlighting her reliance on the Holy Spirit for guidance and strength. “Ultimately, the Holy Spirit has been my constant source of help,” she expressed. “I lean on Him for support in difficult situations, and I'm learning to invite His presence continually, ensuring I don't succumb to overwhelming circumstances.”

Establishing good communication with relatives

When asked about fostering understanding with unsupportive family members, she suggested adapting communication to fit the parent's personality and communication style. By empathising with their point of view and engaging in open, thorough discussions, mutual understanding and support can be nurtured. So, my advice would be to remain patient and initiate that conversation.

In response to a student's question about balancing academic commitments with a social life during university, Dr Temedie-Asogwa, emphasised effective time management and setting boundaries for a healthy balance. She also highlighted the importance of networking, recommending active participation on LinkedIn to cultivate connections.

Female pharmacists can navigate the industry for growth

When questioned about predominantly male-occupied sectors within Pharmacy where female could explore, she highlighted the pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria, acknowledging its gender disparity, with a female to male ratio of approximately 1:3, she still urged interested women to consider it for growth opportunities, citing examples of successful females in the field and the exposure and training it offers.

Coping strategies for studying young mothers

One student expressed concern about handling overwhelming situations as a student-parent, especially during exam times. Dr Temedie-Asogwa shared her formula for coping, which included mindfulness practices, meditation, prayer, seeking support from friends and family, and utilizing counseling services when needed.

As the discussion progressed toward managing stress and its impact on mental health, the students became intrigued and requested further insights. She then shared a personal experience of adversity, recalling a time when she lost three loved ones within a short span during a challenging semester filled with exams and projects.

Despite facing these challenges, she persevered by employing coping strategies that proved effective for her. Highlighting these strategies, she stated that her suggestions were based on personal experience and should by no means be taken as professional advice. She further emphasized the importance of finding individualized methods for managing difficult situations.

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Firstly, Temedie-Asogwa advocated practicing mindfulness, encouraging individuals to identify their emotions and their root causes. She described bringing her mind to the consciousness of her feelings and emotions, promoting self-reflection to pinpoint their source. By recognizing the root cause, she explained, finding a solution becomes easier. She emphasised the importance of self-kindness and self-compassion, suggesting treating oneself as one would a friend in a similar situation.

Next, she recommended frequent meditation to clear negative emotions and foster positivity. She highlighted the benefits of regular meditation in achieving this goal. She suggested accessing free meditation resources available on platforms like YouTube and allocating at least 10 minutes daily to this practice. While acknowledging the challenge of establishing a routine, she stressed the significance of intentionality and discipline in maintaining it despite busy schedules.

Essence of having a supportive network of friends, professionals

In addition, Temedie-Asogwa underscored the significance of having a supportive network of friends and family. She recalled occasions where they offered invaluable assistance, stating, “I have had friends who sometimes cried with me, others who provided encouragement and spoke life into me when I was feeling down. Some even prayed for me, and vice versa. There were times when friends and family members took my kids away for a few hours so I could have a moment to breathe and focus on my studies. I also had a friend who helped pick up my kids from school and cared for them until I returned, allowing me to attend a scientific conference where I presented my research.”

Finally, she stressed the benefits of seeking professional help when needed and finding solace in community support. “Talking to a therapist and connecting with a supportive community can be incredibly beneficial,” she said. “I remember seeking grief counseling at my school's counseling and psychological unit, which helped me navigate my emotions during difficult times.”

Her message sparked a renewed spirit of determination and resilience as attendees left, empowered to tackle obstacles and pursue their goals. Temedie-Asogwa final words reiterated her belief in everyone's ability to overcome challenges and succeed. With a hopeful and empowering message, she urged students to persist in their pursuits, affirming that their resilience and determination would ultimately lead them to triumph.

 

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