Falayi Oluwatosin, 21, was the best in the Department of Physiology, University of Ibadan in the 2014/2015 academic session, having had 6.0 CGPA. She tells TUNDE AJAJA in this interview how she was able to lead others
We learnt you were the only one who had first class in your department. Did you see it coming or it came as a surprise?
I would say yes and no. I didn’t see it coming at first. Just like most people in my class, I applied to study Medicine and Surgery. So, when the admission list came out with my name in Physiology, I was depressed. Getting a first class then was the last thing on my mind. All I was concerned with was getting a good Cumulative Grade Point Average to cross to Medicine. After the first year, I still couldn’t cross. Gradually, the reality that I was stuck in Physiology dawned on me. The usual saying when you don’t get the course you applied for is “The university gave me the course”. So UI ‘gave’ me Physiology. I remember I had to start browsing about Physiology the day the admission list came out. I didn’t know much about the course before then. I then decided that if I was going to be stuck in Physiology, I would make sure I emerge as the best Physiology graduate in my class and that must be a first class. Even then, I still wasn’t certain. My result in 100 and 200 level were far from encouraging. I guess the moment I started to believe was when I had a CGPA of 6.9 out of 7.0 in my third year. Afterwards, I knew it was definitely possible because this was a major improvement from my second year. The way my CGPA spiked was so high and I was convinced then that a supernatural being (God), was on my side. Even though it was Medicine at first, now, Physiology has brought out the scientist in me. When I was young, I thought being a doctor was the only way to impact lives positively but being a physiologist would help me to still achieve that dream and I don’t think I could have asked for a better course.
How would you have felt if you didn’t make first class?
Really, how would I have felt? I would have been really sad. I also would have been fine. I knew getting a first class was not a do or die affair. Meanwhile, making a first class was difficult and very challenging too. After my result in my third year, which was when I had my best scores in my four years in school, I was tempted to relax. Getting a good GPA is easy but maintaining a good CGPA is the hard part. I got distracted in my fourth year, mainly due to school activities and the thrill of being in final year, but I was able to find my way back.
What worked for you?
I guess the only thing I could say I sacrificed was my sleep. I studied myself and I noticed that I tend to be more active at night and I used this to my advantage. But in the end, I can’t really say I sacrificed my sleep because not sleeping as much in school was quite normal for me. On the other hand was my love for movies. It took lots of self control and strong will for me to stop seeing movies and study my book. But I guess it paid off at the end. I would say I have always been a hardworking person, with a very strong drive for excellence and strong zeal for success, and those things informed my actions. I was more of an average student in secondary school, and there was nothing exceptional about my performance, but I knew I had to work harder, and so it was quite easy to pass my O’level exam and the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination at one sitting. Interestingly, my family members had words of encouragement for me but I found that if my mind wasn’t there, it wouldn’t make much difference. Despite the words of encouragement from my parents, I didn’t see improvements in my academics until I made myself believe it was possible, and I worked towards it. My performance at the end of my first year was just satisfactory; I had 5.3 CGPA out of 7.0. Some people might think that was okay but for someone that wanted to cross over to Medicine, that was not good enough. I started having first class from 300 level first semester when I had 7.0 GPA.
How would you summarise what Physiology is about, for the benefit of those who don’t know?
Physiology is the study of the natural science of things. In plain terms, it is the study of the normal function of things. It also extends to the study of other forms of life like cells, plants and even higher animals like humans. I studied Human Physiology and one interesting thing I found about the human system is its integrative function. I know from Biology we learnt the different systems in isolation but their functions are actually intertwined. No system of the body works on its own. To an extent, I knew this, but it never really dawned on me how vital this is. The nervous system, for instance, cannot carry out its functions independently so it requires inputs from the other body systems. This integrative function of the body systems (how the various body processes flow to each other) made Physiology even more interesting for me. Yes, it is as voluminous as one could imagine but I actually enjoyed studying it. Right from childhood, I have loved reading and learning new things especially what directly concerns me, hence my love for Biology. So I didn’t mind the extra pages I had to study. I enjoyed my course.
Since your course enabled you to know how the human system works, did that knowledge in any way help you in your studies?
We learnt that the more familiar the brain is with something, the easier it is for the person to recall that thing any other time. And that helps. I always say that crash reading is okay only if you just want to pass the exam. But for someone who wants to learn, you need to study, not read. I’ve found out that it is very hard for me to forget things I write down. Besides, our brain stores things as images so you can literarily ‘see’ your book on examination day. But that’s only if your brain has been made familiar with it by frequent study. And I would suggest that students should know themselves. What works for someone else might not work for you. The key is not to study 20 hours every day. You might only need to study religiously for two hours every day and you are good to go. Most students just copy their friends and that is where they miss it. However, one important tip that also worked for me was to study what had been taught in class that same day it was taught because I noticed that our brains thrive more on repetitions.
Given the volume of what you had to read, did you have time for other things?
I didn’t socialise much, compared with my other peers. This has nothing to do with the volume of books I had to read; I’m a reserved person, so my nature didn’t allow me to do much of that. I did hang out with my friends a couple of times. About reading, I didn’t really have a fixed schedule. On a typical day, in-between classes, I could look for a quiet place to study with my friend, Yota, and after class, which usually ends most times around 1 to 2pm, I would go back to the hostel to rest. Usually, I read for four to six hours and it could be longer than that sometimes but I never deprived myself of sleep; I slept when I needed to sleep. Yes, there were times I studied late into the night, like 2 – 3am, but I also had days I slept very well. I know the importance of sleep so I didn’t joke with mine. I understand how my body works. I rested during the day so I could study better at night. I used the library quite often and I did make use of the reading room in my hostel very well. Overall, I think students should identify what works for them and maximise it.
Did you win any award or scholarship as an undergraduate?
I didn’t win any scholarship but I won the most outstanding student award in my department in my third year and the ‘Brainbox’ of Physiology in my fourth year. Thank God I was able to combine my academics with being the editor-in-chief of my departmental press since my second year till I graduated. I was also an executive in my fellowship. I really had to find a way to balance all these or I ran the risk of destroying all my hard work.
Were there times people saw you as too serious with academics?
That happened many times. Some of my mates called me ‘book worm’ but only my close friends and family got to see that I could be very playful. Even though I love reading, singing, watching movies and sleeping were also part of my hobbies. When I’m upset, the first thing I do is sleep, which some may find funny. Beyond reading, I went for a few social gatherings, including my departmental dinner in my final year. I was even a part of the dinner committee. I went to see movies a few times with my friends, and I must say I love movies so much.
Were you in a relationship or was it a no-no?
I was in a relationship in my fourth year and it wasn’t a distraction in any way. On the contrary, it actually contributed to my having a first class because he supported me.
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