Earning a doctorate degree is a remarkable feat in the life of a scholar. When that exploit is now achieved in flying colours, so much so that one is chosen to be the valedictorian for one’s graduating cohort, then, indeed, one’s joy knows no bound at the landmark accomplishment. This is the story of the affable Dr. Emmanuel Jesuyon Dansu, a brilliant mathematician and teacher of mathematics at the Federal University of Technology, Akure. The illustrious and suave Badagrian, who is unequivocal about his aspiration to match Kofi Annan’s feat of becoming the Secretary General of the United Nations, recently earned his PhD at Tohoku University in Japan.
In this interview which was facilitated by CityMood Publisher, Mr. Sewhude Akande, Dr. Dansu discusses his recent feat and the experiences that came with it with Ṣeun Williams, a doctoral student of the Graduate Institute, Geneva in a string of email correspondence. Here is the unabridged transcript, which is as insightful as it is exciting. Do take a read.
SW: Hi! Tell us a bit about yourself, please.
EJD: I am Emmanuel Jesuyon Dansu, born in Ajara Vetho, Badagry, Lagos State in 1982. I attended Imole Ayo Nursery and Primary School, Ajara Vetho, Badagry (1988-1989) ; Local Authority Primary School, Ajara-Iluda, Badagry (1989-1995) where I emerged as the Best Pupil in Lagos State in 1995; Badagry Grammar School, Badagry (1995-2001); Federal College of Fisheries and Marine Technology, Victoria Island, Lagos (National Diploma, Marine Engineering, 2002-2004); Federal University of Technology, Akure [FUTA] (Bachelor of Technology, Industrial Mathematics 2005-2010; Master of Technology, Industrial Mathematics, 2012-2014); and lastly, Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan (PhD (Information Sciences) with focus on Mathematical Biology and Sociology, 2017-2020).
In between my bachelor’s and master’s studies, I went for national youth service in Katsina State from 2011-2012. While on my master’s programme, I was retained in the Department of Mathematical Sciences in FUTA as a Graduate Assistant because I finished with a First Class. After the master’s programme, I became an Assistant Lecturer. I travelled to Japan in April 2017 after winning a generous scholarship sponsored by the Government of Japan. I just graduated from the PhD program.
SW: Congratulations, Dr. Dansu. In what field did you earn your doctoral degree?
EJD: Thank you. I earned my PhD (Information Sciences) in Computer and Mathematical Sciences, more specifically Mathematical Biology and Sociology.
SW: What was your research about? What did it entail?
EJD: My thesis, which is titled ‘Population dynamics modelling for the effect of collective behaviour on information spread,’ considers why and how information spread among people especially in this Internet Age. We tried to model the psychological and sociological motivations for information transmission within populations. Generally, my research interests lie in the mathematical modelling of population dynamics in biological and social systems with applications in ecology, epidemiology and sociology.
SW: What motivated your interest in the topic?
EJD: Following events like the 2016 American elections and Brexit, issues about fake news, mis-information, dis-information and mal-information became matters of serious concern internationally. After my first PhD project which was about the cascading spread of diseases between visitors and their host communities, my professor and I went ahead to model information spread which is widely known to bear some resemblance with epidemics and pandemics like the coronavirus currently rampaging the world. In fact, the spread of misinformation has come to be described with terms like information disorder, infodemics, among others.
I remember times when I got really emotional about sharing information on Facebook about happenings in Nigeria. Many a time, I didn’t bother verifying the sources before sharing and my friend, Mayokun Adekola, was always around the corner to hold me accountable for sometimes falling into the trap of contributing to the spread of sentimental information. All these put together inspired me to delve into that line of research using Maths as a tool since relevant literature keep pointing to the need for multidisciplinary research in promoting information literacy.
SW: What did a typical day or week look like for you as a doctoral student?
EJD: Typically, I had one-on-one research discussions with my professor once a week. This made the whole process so smooth that when I was done, it was almost unbelievable. Meeting that regularly meant that nothing was left lingering for too long. Added to that is the fact that my professor was highly democratic which meant that I had free hand to do many other things. For instance, my wife and I did postgraduate studies while raising two kids and being fully committed in church activities. I also had time to be actively involved in social organizations where I held various leadership positions. Not having to show up on campus daily was such a huge blessing too as there were no experiments that I had to undertake per se. All I needed, as a mathematically inclined person, were a pen, paper and my computer. As far as I could carry out my weekly research tasks, I had the liberty to have a rounded experience.
SW: You have publicly shared the inspiring story of your earlier repeated attempts at securing postgraduate scholarships several times (and it can be read here). Could you, however, tell us about this last scholarship and how you secured it?
EJD: The Japanese Government MEXT Scholarship came at a time when I had already gotten used to receiving rejection mails from scholarship applications. It all started when a Japanese professor visited FUTA after I had completed my master’s studies and I was an Assistant Lecturer. The purpose for which he came was not directly in line with my research aspirations but I just decided to attend the event.
Interestingly, at the event I met his host, who happens to be my academic mentor, after a long time. I told him about my endless search for a PhD position abroad and he was convinced that Japan was the perfect place for me. So, he connected me with a FUTA alumnus and lecturer who had studied in Japan who in turn connected me with another FUTA alumnus and lecturer who was still studying in Japan at the time. With their motivation and guidance, I was able to apply for the MEXT Scholarship and, fortunately, I secured it.
SW: How was the experience of moving to and living in Japan? The weather, culture, cuisine, language and society in general?
EJD: Before moving to Japan, I did some research to prepare my mind for what was ahead. However, there were still shockers as anyone would expect. As for the weather, it is subtropic and quite unpredictable. Each of the four seasons has it’s not-so-interesting part: Due to high humidity, summer in Japan can be hotter than the hot weather in Nigeria; fall is characterised by cold breeze and typhoon; the snow during winter, though not so bad, still poses some challenges for mobility; while spring is about the fairest by my reckoning.
One thing that fascinates me about Japan is the dexterity with which culture and traditions are blended with modernity. The skyscrapers are as ubiquitous as the Shinto shrines and Buddha temples. Age is critical in the culture: it determines where you are placed in the society.
The cuisine is superb, though I had to reconstruct my ideas of tea and soup. The closest thing to the Japanese soup in the Nigerian setting is pepper soup. With rice as a staple food, you don’t put your soup on top of it as I was used to, rather you accompany your rice with the soup by drinking it. I particularly like the generous use of fruits and vegetables in the Japanese cuisine.
As regards the language, I went with the passion to learn so fast that I would be able to translate English/Japanese during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. However, I quickly discovered that achieving that feat would require that I did nothing apart from studying Japanese. I was not surprised to later discover that the language is one of the most difficult to learn in the world. To be certain, I definitely have a penchant for acquiring language skills as I have varying levels of command in Ogu, Yorùbá, English, French, Hausa, Igbo and now Japanese. Overall, my experience in the Japanese society has been a potpourri of lessons.
SW: Beyond academics, what other activities did you engage in during the programme? What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
EJD: I am always interested in international development as I have my eyes on the UN. As such, I was deeply involved in international organisations. For instance, I was Deputy General Secretary and later General Secretary, African Association of Miyagi (AFAM); Social Manager, Tohoku University Foreign Students Association (TUFSA); and Curator, Maths Salon TEDxTohokuUniversity. I had a great time working with friends from all over the world. In my free time, I like to surf the internet for random stuff and listen to all kinds of music depending on my mood.
SW: What are some high points or memorable moments of the PhD programme?
EJD: All the conferences I attended during the programme were memorable. They include the Japanese Society for Mathematical Biology/Society for Mathematical Biology’ conferences in Hokkaido, Japan (2017); in Sydney, Australia (2018); in Tokyo, Japan (2019) and, virtually, in Nagoya, Japan (2020). The Sydney conference stood out for me as it made me see the extreme importance of Twitter to early career researchers (ECR) like me. The thesis defence on August 27, 2020, the graduation ceremony on September 25, 2020 and the hype that followed are quite memorable too.
SW: What are some low moments of the programme? What was most challenging about it?
EJD: I would say the lowest moments were the times my deficiencies were highlighted during my presentations. The maths experience in Nigeria is more about solving problems and leaping for joy. However, in Japan, I discovered getting solutions was not enough; I had to explain the meaning of my results in some depth. Another issue was about visualising equations. Though I could sketch curves, just imagining what equations look like without plotting was another level. I still have a lot of catching up to do on that.
SW: How were you able to pull through in the programme excellently? What were your support systems? Which skill sets, behaviours, etc. helped you?
EJD: One key was that I was highly motivated about the research I pursued. It would be very counter-productive to embark on a PhD project that one is not passionate about. That motivation was the fuel that kept me going even in the face of discouragement.
My professor, Hiromi Seno, was, in some sense, my study partner. He was really down to earth and I had no issues at all telling him things I did not understand. Having my wife and kids around was also very helpful. During times of fatigue and despair, the encouraging words from my wife and the playful skitter of the kids really had therapeutic effects. Our church community at the Faith Community Baptist Church, Sendai was extremely helpful too. We hardly missed home because of the wonderful people in church led by Pastors Caleb and Christina Chan who are Singaporean missionaries in Japan.
Talking about skill sets and behaviours, I think my openness and willingness to learn new things came in handy. I was also able to handle criticisms in such a way that they inspired me to do more rather than make me break down. I also tried as much as possible not to let matters linger before tackling them. More so, my extra-curricular activities helped a great deal to make me maintain a healthy balance.
“Anyone who is motivated enough can earn a PhD … Doctoral studies are more about passion and resilience, and less about brilliance.”
SW: What would you say makes your university a good place to do the programme?
EJD: Tohoku University is exceptional in the kind of support they provide for international students. There is literally an office saddled with the responsibility of making sure students have a great experience as they study. The support began even before I arrived in Japan and is still ongoing even after graduation. Issues like accommodation, travels, immigration and even problems with supervisors are duly catered for.
SW: What’s next now—short and/or long terms?
EJD: I have two passions bothering on academia and international diplomacy. In the short run, I’ll keep carrying on with my academic career, researching, writing, teaching and serving the society. In the long run, I like to be involved in working with international organizations. In academia, I hope to be an outstanding professor. In the international arena and the world of diplomacy, I want to be the UN Secretary General someday.
“I hope to be an outstanding professor … I want to be the UN Secretary General someday.”
SW: Any other things you would like to touch on?
EJD: I make bold to say that anyone who is motivated enough can earn a PhD. I have many friends who many may feel have no business doing a PhD that are now doctors. I have come to see that doctoral studies are more about passion and resilience and less about brilliance.
SW: How? can people reach you?
SW: Lastly, any parting words or piece of advice for aspiring/young scholars?
EJD: Nigeria seriously needs a new breed of scholars who really care about research works that carry the potential for bettering our society, and teachers who care about the progress of their students. This crop of scholars will be buddies to their students and not necessarily masters.
“Nigeria needs a new breed of scholars who really care about research work that carries the potential of bettering our society, and teachers who care about the progress of their students.”
SW: Once again, congratulations, Dr. Dansu, and thank you very much. We wish you the very best in all your endeavours going forward.
EJD: Thank you so much for this privilege. It has been so engaging indeed.