Bernadine Idowu-Onibokun

Born in the UK to Nigerian-born parents, Bernadine discusses the importance of education in her family. It was this resilience and mentoring from a young age that would develop into her own involvement with mentoring programs for black people in STEM. She studied at Kings College London.

Early life and Childhood
So my mother was a deputy head teacher in Nigeria. And, um, coming over here and she decided to do law. Um, she would always remember what it was like when she was teaching her students. We were all growing up. Um, father worked here and abroad. Um, so my mother was the main person bringing us up and the two things she taught us was our faith and our education.


I always remember from a very, very young age, my mom constantly telling us all that if we want to succeed, we're going to have to work 20 times harder than the white man. Now that to me meant just you just work hard. We worked very, very hard, and I think that work ethic to me and my siblings has made us what we are today, made it to professionals we are today. And we're all doing fantastically well and that's just because of the mentoring and support our parents gave us, particularly my mother.


Health Career

So how it was when I came to Kings College hospital and back in the day, it was very unusual to see a lot of black people at Kings, we're talking many years ago. And I remember being one of six black people in my year of over about a hundred, I think, doing our degree, but we felt privileged. We were proud that wed got into Kings and, you know, we aimed to do as best we could and get all the support we could.


I just always wanted to work behind the scenes and just do research, because I remember saying, “Any research I'm doing, I want it to be something that will help a patient”.


So, whatever I learn will be translated into patients, um, and to help cure them. Um, and I've been very, very fortunate in that everything I have done has been published and, in some cases, yes, it has been translated to patients and it's had made. So, that's all I've ever wanted to do.


Activism

The second one was, I've worked with several, but I'll just tell you two or three. The second one was, um, this Open Doors program. So it was that the initiative was actually in place before I started. Um, but I was the one that actually implemented it. So in terms of encouraging people who have contributed or had certain achievements, BME communities, at Kings to showcase themselves. And that included having a picture of themselves on a website. And, um, then writing about their experiences. The pictures were then put on doors. All around the different campuses.

And for me, I think that validates individuals coming to Kings believing, seeing people that look like them that, yeah, they do belong. The feedback was, it was blown off the roof. We did it in all the buildings we had before we acquired the Bush House, Kings buy the Bush House, and now the project was extended into Bush House.


And a final one I'm going to talk about is, um, BME early career researcher conference. So again, um, we're looking at what's happening to post-doctoral researchers. Once they get there, a postdoc position. Are they making a transition to become a lecturer then going up the ladder? Most postdocs, including myself with postdoc, for so many years, where we see our white counterparts getting positions.

Now it could be because we don't have the skills and resources. We don't have the mentors to help us on our journey. So, then I thought, okay, "What would I like?" And then, "What would other people like?" A lot of groundwork went into it, which I won’t explain because of time, but just to say, um, I put everything together, um, and we did the first from, let me see, what was concept to  the actual conference. I designed, developed, found the people and the first one was done in April, 2017. The feedback was crazy. And now that now remains a yearly program.


The only group-- No, not medical, per se, but the only group I have is my charity. Um, which is called Youth Against Crime, not Crime Against You, and our strengths are mentoring, our weakness is fundraising. Uh, were going to actually be 10 years this year. And I guess with that, we've been collaborating with other organizations, uh, to bring awareness to, um, events within the community situations within community. And we get community people come in and educate, empower, inspire myself and my young people.


And going into schools and just putting up your title, "I'm a black female award winning scientist", before you start speaking, you see the girls going [clicking] excited. They’re really excited, and I’m thinking, "Is it, is that so powerful? My goodness, I need to keep doing that." So fortunately, at my new post now, I'm encouraged to do this outreach as a STEM ambassador.


Advice to young people

Believe in yourself. Get a mentor. Get a mentor. Do not look at the situation and think there's no hope for you. Please don't do that. Do not look at crime thinking that's the only way you're going to go. Don't, don't believe that. But the moment you see somebody that knows, that can help you along the way, attach yourself to them. And it's just mentoring. Believe in yourself and help somebody to make your dream become that reality, that’s all I would say.