Farida Zakariya, who emerged as the best graduating Pharmacy student at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, tells TEMITOPE ADETUNJI about her academic journey
Who is Farida Zakariya?
My name is Farida Zakariya. I’m from Kwara State, from Ilorin West precisely, but I was born in Kaduna and I live in Kaduna. I’m 24 years old. I have four siblings. I’m the fourth in a family of five. I love reading novels and cooking. Sometimes, I’d spend days watching YouTube videos and reading up on new recipes online so that I could try a new dish. I’m currently doing my one-year mandatory internship at a university teaching hospital.
Can you describe how you felt when you saw your results?
Seeing my results made me happy and it made me work harder. No matter what I got, I was always grateful to see my hard work yield something good.
What were the things that attracted you to pharmaceutical science?
Initially, I chose pharmaceutical science without knowing anything about the course. I knew I wanted a medical course, but I wanted something where I could avoid blood. The sight of blood makes me uncomfortable. Over time, I began to see the beauty of pharmacy. The fact that it goes beyond dispensing drugs to patients made me glad that I chose this path. I got to understand drugs down to their smallest component, how to combine different things to get drugs that work wonders, and a lot more.
The most interesting thing is knowing that you have endless career opportunities to choose from. I don’t necessarily need to work in a hospital or a community pharmacy. I can actually go into the industry aspect and make drugs, or explore the regulatory part and work in drug-related organisations or do research. There’s just so much to choose from. If one aspect doesn’t work for you, you can always port to something else. There’s now technology in health that’s blooming in Nigeria now. So, if all the other known ones aren’t it for you, you can venture into tech and still get to use your pharmacy knowledge. Although I find it sad that we still haven’t unlocked all the limitless potential paths available, it’s an amazing profession. You get to dream big and achieve big things once you are willing to try all possible paths.
Beyond the general knowledge of pharmaceutical science, which areas are you interested in the most?
I’m interested in pharmaceutical research, particularly cancer drug discovery and design. Pharmaceutical science is so broad. I know some people think it’s just limited to giving patients drugs and telling them how to use them but it is so much more. You get to work with plants, analyse them, do lots of extractions, and know if they have medicinal purposes and what exactly causes that effect. There’s the chemistry aspect where you learn about drugs, their structures, and how to manipulate various plant components and synthetic components to make amazing drugs. Then there’s also pharmaceutics where you’ll try to make drugs into different forms like injections, tablets, etc, as well as pharmacology where you try to understand how the drugs we take act in our body and how our body responds.
Why are you so particular about pharmaceutical research and cancer drug discovery and design? Do they have anything to do with a personal or family experience?
I’ve always loved research but I’m going for cancer drug discovery and design because of a close family member who died of cancer. I just feel as if I need to make my own contribution to cancer research. It’s painful watching someone you love waste away slowly and painfully. It gives the feeling of being powerless. Cancer is a terrible disease and I want to be part of a possible cure someday.
You must have won a few awards on account of your success, can you tell us about them?
Yes, I’ve won numerous awards. Some from the Pharmaceutical Association of Nigeria Students, ABU chapter, and Pharmaceutical Muslim Students Society of Nigeria. Last year, I won a national competition organised by Shalina Healthcare named Shalina Young Talents Award. It was a competition that featured the University of Lagos, Obafemi Awolowo University, University of Ibadan, University of Nigeria, and the Ahmadu Bello University. I came first and I earned the title, ‘Best Pharmacy Brain in Nigeria’. Recently, during my oath taking, I got an award from the faculty, Board of Fellows of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria and the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria for being the best graduating student. Also, I earned numerous awards for graduating as the best in all the six departments in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, ABU, Zaria.
What was the experience like in your first year?
My first year was bland. It wasn’t really focused on academic work. I spent most of my time watching movies and attending events organised by the PANS. It was more of exploring than reading.
What motivated you to work towards graduating with a distinction?
I wanted to beat my brother’s Grade Point Average of 4.95 after seeing my first semester result of 4.41. I like being the best in whatever I do, so I kept trying till I beat it and I just kept it up till I finished with a 4.82. Being myself worked for me. I tried to understand my triggers, things that made me happy and fulfilled, and those were the things I tried to do. I don’t inconvenience myself or go against my values to achieve anything.
What role did your secondary school foundation play in your success?
My performance in secondary school was excellent; I was always among the top three. The system doesn’t even allow you to slack. If you slack for a term, you’ll find yourself at the bottom, because my classmates were exceptional. My academic foundation in secondary school was helpful. I attended the Nigerian Defence Academy Staff School, Kaduna. We had excellent teachers. It is a Federal Government school and teachers could be moved from the secondary school to the tertiary school. So, you can understand that they were really good and had excellent academic results. I only took the Senior School Certificate Examination. I wasn’t confident that I didn’t need the National Examination Council exams, but my result came out good.
My most memorable moments were with friends; times when we got to laugh, have fun during social events and create memories. Those were my best moments. In addition, I acted as a cohort leader for a year and I was also the regional leader for all the northern schools in Nigeria at The Venture Matrix for The Future of Africa.
What were your toughest moments at ABU?
My toughest moment had to be the stress and how demanding the course got with time. It got so tough that I wanted to leave at 400 level. I don’t think I’ll ever go through the kind of stress I went through in school. It was terrible!
Some students will think you had to read at all times to graduate with a distinction, what was your reading schedule like?
I’m a planner so I had to plan how I spent every minute. I don’t read school books all the time. I split my time between reading school books and novels, watching movies, and interacting with friends. I tried to read daily though, mostly at night and on weekends. I never read overnight because I love sleeping a lot! Plus, I find comfort in reading in the hostel. I tried reading in the library once and I didn’t like the silence. I preferred reading in the hostel on my bed. There’s a mix of noise and silence. It keeps me focused.
How easy was it for you to graduate with a distinction?
It wasn’t easy at all. Pharmacy school is so stressful, so graduating with distinction takes beyond average effort and devotion.
Did people say certain things to discourage you?
I wasn’t discouraged. Instead, I got a lot of encouragement from friends and family members.
What role did your family play?
My family supported me through it all through words of encouragement from my parents and siblings, constant financial support and random gifts from my parents when I do well. It was really nice. My parents, Mr Abdullahi Zakariya and Mrs Rukayat Zakariya, are amazing. For education, they’ll do absolutely anything to make sure that my siblings and I get it. They are my support system and they always want to see me excel. My parents trust me and I try to do things that’ll make them not be disappointed in me. So, anything that falls under the disappointment category, I won’t do it.
My dad is late. He died last year but throughout his life, he was always proud of my academic performance. My mom is super proud of me and my academic excellence gives her immense joy. My mom is intelligent. To date, she reads more than I do. She has this love for knowledge that I always want to emulate. My dad had a very powerful memory. So I’ll say I’m a mixture of both my parents. They are really intelligent. My mom tutored me in Maths, Physics and Further Maths all through my secondary school.
Also, my friends provided support both emotionally and physically. We were mostly going through the same stress, so we understood each other and that created some form of kinship. It was amazing having them there for me as I was for them.
Did you have mentors?
I didn’t have mentors but I had lecturers I looked up to. They rooted for me. When I had issues, I’d go to them for advice and they’d always cheer me on.
How did you cope with social distractions on campus?
University gives freedom. So, I had to consciously avoid bad influences, unnecessary hanging out and anything else I felt would take up too much of my time. I wasn’t in a relationship. It was too much baggage. I was okay with friends and I made time for them for fun; beyond that, a relationship was just too stressful for my schedule.
Were you in a relationship or did you turn down offers just to focus on your academic work?
I rather preferred friends being in a relationship. It’s lasting and less of a distraction. I think a relationship is a distraction. While schooling, I’d see people spending hours on phone calls, going out every night to chat with their partners and random dates, and it’s just too much of a distraction. I always wondered when they would find time to read. Although people are different, I felt it was a stressful lifestyle. I had lectures from 8am to 5pm on weekdays with only an hour’s break. I’d get back from class tired with loads of assignments, presentations and practical reports to complete. I also needed time for myself and friends, and sleep time. Being in a relationship would have been too much load.
Apart from the academic work, were you involved in other activities?
Yes, I was involved in Student for Sensible Drug Policy, an association that advocated for better drug policies, and harm reduction advocacy among other things. I was also involved in coding and UI/UX.
Will you say you are social?
No, I’m not social. I’m an introvert but then I still have friends that I hang out with once in a while and I like attending any show organised by PANS or corporate organisations within the school.
What are your aspirations, having graduated with distinction?
I want to be a world-renowned pharmaceutical researcher. I love drug discovery and design. There’s this thrill about being able to design drugs.
What will you advise students to do to achieve academic excellence?
There’s no template to achieving academic excellence. Just be you. Everyone knows themselves better than anyone knows them. So do what works for you. Understand yourself and read in whatever way favours you. There’s really no template to getting good results. I believe if people work hard enough and do things that help them understand better, they can make excellent results. You don’t really need to read for 24 hours or seven days to pass.