My experience in China-a young Nigerian academic at SIAT
Recently, I was appointed to the rank of Associate Professor. Meanwhile I gained a wealth of experience during my Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, courtesy of the CAS-PIFI programme at the Center for Neural Engineering, Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences.
As a young Nigerian academic who is enthusiastic about advancing science and technology through Artificial Intelligence concepts with a goal of providing affordable and lasting solutions to real-life problems, shortly after obtaining my master’s degree I received a CAS-TWAS Presidents’ fellowship award in 2014 to pursue a PhD at the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS) under the mentorship of Prof. Li Guanglin.
I considered it a big opportunity to pursue a doctoral degree as well as my scientific dream outside the shores of my dear country of Nigeria mainly because I was curious to experience science and education in other parts of the world. Remarkably, at that time, China had the fastest growing economy with lots of emerging technological tools and devices. Shortly after arriving at the International College of UCAS (IC-UCAS) located in Haidian District, Beijing, on September 5, 2014, I completed the official registration for my PhD admission (I signed up for a total of five courses including three Chinese and two Professional). Interestingly, the mix of learning about Chinese language and its rich cultural heritage truly made my experience at UCAS exciting. The teaching style adopted by my teachers at UCAS helped me to gain a lot of experience from the courses within a relatively short period of time, which I suppose accounted for my receiving excellent grades after the completion of the courses. It was challenging but worth it because by the end of my courses I had acquired a reasonable degree of knowledge that was helpful for my PhD research work. This style of instruction simply reflects the connection between teaching and research in China’s educational system, which enables one to learn a great deal within a relatively short time-frame.
Upon successful completion of my PhD courses in Beijing I joined the Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (SIAT-CAS) in January 2015, and immediately commenced my research work under the supervision of Prof. Li Guanglin. Motivated by the need to develop the next-generation rehabilitation robot control mechanism for motor function restoration in the constantly increasing range of people with limb disability, I focused my research on understanding the biomechanics of upper extremity motor function and how related movement intent could be adequately decoded from biological signals. I have done a number of related projects, one of which was to resolve the adverse impact of mobility. That is, a systematic framework was firstly designed to investigate the adverse impact of mobility (a critical issue that has not been examined before now) on decoding multiple-patterns of targeted limb movement intents. The investigation was conducted based on surface electromyogram (sEMG) and accelerometer mechanomyogram (ACCmmg) signals acquired simultaneously from six upper-limb amputees across a static scenario and three non-static scenarios, which performed seven classes of pre-defined limb movements. The experimental results obviously indicated that mobility could substantially affect the overall performance of multiple degrees of freedom of upper-limb prostheses. Interestingly, with the aid of a Dual-Stage Sequential technique which I proposed, the adverse impact of mobility on decoding multiple-patterns of targeted limb movement intents was significantly mitigated, making it the first study to address such a problem to the best of my knowledge.
There is no doubt that I faced several challenges during my PhD research period, to the extent that I thought quitting would be the best option, particularly during the first six months. However, as I was strongly encouraged by my zeal for scientific research and had the support of my family and my team, things began to take shape as time went on. Interestingly, two of the feature extraction methods I proposed are currently being utilized in my research team and also by notable researchers in my field around the world. The relevance of my works generated several awards and honors including a distinguished PhD dissertation, a best academic paper award, excellent foreign student as well as excellent international graduate awards, among others. As a Postdoc Research Fellow, I have been privileged to receive a number of research funding awards including the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) and designation in the CAS President’s International Fellowship Initiative as Principal Investigator. I have equally had the privilege of co-investigating a number of international collaborative research projects, and I was also honored with the 2019 IEEE outstanding young investigator research visit award. As part of my research output in the last four years, more than 50 scientific articles have been published in reputable peer-reviewed international Journals (SCI-indexed) and conference proceedings (EI-indexed), and more than 30% of the articles are first author papers.
Aside from academic research, my family and social life have been worthwhile since I arrived in China. I am married to Mojisola Grace Samuel (Nee Asogbon), who is currently a third year PhD student here in SIAT-CAS, courtesy of the Chinese Government Scholarship (CSC) programme. In fact, we are blessed with two beautiful daughters (Oluwatosin Glory Samuel and Oluwabusola Gift Samuel), both born in Shenzhen, China. Balancing work and family life comes with a lot of challenges but I would say it’s been an amazing experience thus far.
Finally, it is worth noting the sponsorship opportunities granted to me by the CAS-TWAS President’s fellowship and the CAS-PIFI initiatives were very much instrumental in all of the above mentioned achievements and others from September 2014 till now. Therefore, I say a big thank you to CAS, TWAS, UCAS, SIAT, my supervisor Prof. Li Guanglin, friends, well-wishers, and above all my family and God Almighty. I do hope CAS will continue to provide young talented academics with the opportunity to pursue their dreams.
(Oluwarotimi Williams Samuel, PhD, Associate Professor, obtained a doctorate degree in Pattern Recognition and Intelligent Systems from the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing in 2018, courtesy of the CAS-TWAS president’s fellowship, receiving several distinguished honors and awards during the program.)