#CareerAdvice – Developing your resilience gap!

In our journey as aspiring professionals, we will face a lot of challenging situations. How do you deal with the pressure that comes with achieving your personal as well as professional goals?  Do you react impulsively or respond resiliently. We stumbled across this article by Uche Ezichi and he has graciously given us permission to share it here. I believe this is an important lesson to us all.

When I left my investment banking career, I was thrilled to join the Goldman Sachs (GS) HR team. Considering their performance, what better place to start my new career of developing leaders. So what went wrong? Nothing really changed with GS. My team remained the same, 100% dedicated to their job and willing to give 120%. The issue was with me.

Isn’t it funny how when we are not happy about our situation, we sometimes complain and expect our organisation or team we joined to change for us?

#APHEvents – Networking; A Powerful Tool for Professional Success

The Aspiring Professionals Hub (APH) recently convened a workshop on networking with delegates comprising, students, University staff, members of public and diplomats who were in attendance at the Educational Forum which formed part of the activities marking the Inaugural Africa Week programme at the University of the West of England, Bristol.

We chose the area of networking as we realise how important it has been in shaping our career journey and is one of our mantras in the Hub.Our goal is simple – to demystify networking and to make it “real” for our audience especially those in the early stages of their career who might not have had the chance to network and for those who have, how to do so effectively.

The key to effective networking is to know what it is and what it isn’t– which we defined previously as ‘the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business’ We took this a step further by defining it as ‘the process of knitting together ideas, people and situations to create opportunity.’ 

Networking is about building relationships. We discussed the importance of networking and offered some tips to get our participants started.

Preparation – you should always be prepared to network and prior to attending an event it is important to ask yourself some questions such as;

o   Who will be at the event and who/what organisation(s) do they represent?

o   Is it a formal or an informal event and if so, how should you cater for your appearance – would you need to wear a suit? Would dressing informally affect your ability to engage with any high profile delegates?

o   What would you consider as personal success for you at the end of the event?

We also stressed the importance of having business cards. These are very cheap to purchase these days and having your role i.e. what you do and what you can offer, your contact details including a phone number and email address which you can be reached on is what you need to begin your networking journey.

 

Finally, we highlighted the importance of follow up. This can be arduous and often easier not to do but when done correctly it is generally seen as a polite gesture and more often than not, people do respond when you follow up after discussing and exchanging contact details with them at events.

So next time, how about a “Hello……, it was nice to meet you at…..”

We had a really interactive audience and enjoyed the activities where our delegates got the chance to plan their next networking activity. Hopefully we have met our mission of ‘engaging and equipping’ a few more professionals who will utilise the knowledge they have learnt for their development.

You can see some pictures from the event here

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Photo credit – Olivia Dixon

To find our more or read our previous articles on networking click here.

If you would like the Aspiring Professionals Hub (APH) to run a similar workshop for your organisation, please contact us – info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com.

Finally don’t forget to join the conversation by leaving a comment, also feel free to share and subscribe to our network

#CareerChat – What Does It Mean To Be A Good Leader?

leadership-article
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Are we born to lead or follow? Are there any certain, genetically determined traits found in some people that naturally puts them in a leadership position? In today’s post, Dr Monika Stuczen shares her thoughts on what it takes to be a good leader and simple tools that make for effective leadership. Enjoy reading!

I was born into an average working class family and grew up under communism in my country. I can’t say that my parents or the society helped me to become a confident child. I was rather treated like someone without any rights to speak, especially at school. If you spoke out loud, it was seen as a lack of respect towards adults and teachers so we always kept our thoughts and opinions to ourselves. As a young person, I was so shy that even a trip to the shop was a challenge because I had to speak and ask for what I wanted. I so hated this feeling of shyness and over years was trying to do everything to overcome it by exposing myself to many challenging situations which required me to be more open and take a lead.

Why you should join a professional society!!

Societies IIOne of the first questions I (Emmanuel) ask when approached by anyone seeking any form of career advice is whether they are members of any professional societies or professional bodies in their subject areas or career interest areas. Just for reference, the terms “professional societies” or “professional bodies” are often used interchangeably.

I have to admit, at times I get a blank look like errrr…and often it tends to be a NO answer and a funny look like my question is a silly one.

Reflecting back a few years, when I worked in industry, I was not an active member of any professional societies thus, I never got involved in any professional activities with my peers outside the work place. This changed when I embarked on a PhD and advice from my wonderful mentors.  Having attended many conferences and society organised events to date, it is clear that society membership and society events are not limited or restricted to professionals from any individual field i.e. it is not only for people in academia or research hence, it is imperative for any student, early career or mid-career professional to take joining societies as a very key element in career development and positioning.

As with everything else, there are usual challenges and sometimes grumbles when people talk about joining societies. In this post, we talk about thing to be aware of when joining a society and the opportunities you can get from being a member.

But there are many societies,  how do I know which to join? – this is often the comment that I get in the discussions about joining societies. Yes! There are indeed several societies in the different subject areas which does create some confusion. In an ideal world, many would be happy getting involved with the different societies, however the reality is different. This is because membership of the societies come at a cost (annual membership or joining fees). This sometimes serves as a deterrent for some to join professional societies however in our experience, the benefits far outweigh the cost implications of membership.

However, think about it like joining a gym, we’d all obviously like gym memberships to be free, but to use the facilities, to have the social interactions and to be part of a group with a common goal of fitness and health you had to pay a membership fee didn’t you? The professional societies obviously do not work like gyms (maybe the worst analogy!!) but they provide helpful and very useful activities and opportunities that members greatly benefit from.

Before you join – to help you decide on what society to join, the first thing we’d advise you to do is look through the pages of the society website. Where there are no functional websites for the society (not a good indicator!!), find someone who is an active member of the society and enquire about the activities and benefits of the society generally and also what the individual has benefited from the group. Keep in mind the interests of people joining these societies are not always the same and tend to be for different reasons. Thus, try and identify what would you would like from the society before forking out membership fees to join any society.

Once you join – now this is the important part, the easiest part is joining the society, the harder part is navigating through the society and having real benefit from your membership. It is important you have an understanding of how the society functions and the different activities as well as opportunities that you can take advantage of as a member.

We will now briefly highlight some of these opportunities……

Conferences and workshops – every functional professional society runs at least one conference annually or two years (dependent on the size of the society as well). Some societies run an annual conference for all members and smaller local meetings and workshops which are open to members in different regions. This is a good place to take advantage of things like discounts on books, new and existing technologies and freebies. For many, this is a chance to unwind whilst interacting with other professionals in their field of expertise. I (Emmanuel) love attending conferences as it not only offers me a chance to showcase my research, I also get to listen to and see new and ground breaking research in my field whilst developing new networks, collaborators and many new friends.

CPD – the added advantage of joining professional societies is the ability to have some level of professional development. These could be in the form of courses or attendance at seminars and conferences and is useful for professional progression or career development.

Career and mentor events – this is fast becoming a key part of the activities of many big professional societies. For example, the American Society for Microbiology at the annual general meetings hold career workshops for students, PhD and Post-doctoral members. At these events, different employers especially those from major organisations including Biopharma, National institutes, Universities, Marketing and Commercial speak to the delegates and offer free advice on careers and offer mentoring which the delegates find incredibly useful.

Collaboration – this is a key part of society activities and active membership. If you are already a member of a professional society then ask yourself this question. How many functional collaborations have you made as a member and how many of those are active? Being part of a professional society means you have better access to different sectors within your field and you should make use of this. If you are a student and seeking opportunities for the next phase of your career then you are in a good position where you also have access to key employers in your field who are always seeking great talents and in our experience comment on the enthusiasm and zest of young individuals who make the effort to attend conferences or engage with them at society sponsored events.

Grants and awards – I tend to refer to this as a “mini lotto”. You pay £2 with the hope of winning millions or at least more than £2 if you have that magical pen. Well professional societies offer grants and awards which enable members attend events, conferences and support members who have ideas or initiatives that are a beneficial and of relevance to other people in that field. Memberships grants could be anything from support for travel costs to thousands of pounds/dollars to attend major events or for international capacity develop activities. Both Amara and I have benefited from some of these grants such as the Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM) conference studentships which enabled us attend the annual summer conference in different cities in the UK and Ireland for many years.

Committee activities – want to bolster your CV?  Join a committee!! Within the societies, there are usually several committees such as student committees, organising committees for conferences, editorial groups etc. where possible, get involved with a committee within your professional society after you join. This is not only beneficial, it is rewarding and you can develop yourself a lot more than as a by-standing member.

Networking & Friends – We have discussed networking in some detail and would suggest you read our previous posts. Joining professional societies would undoubtedly enlarge your scope for networking and as we mentioned before, the aspiring professionals’ hub was a child of networking at a professional society event from many years ago. Also, in these professional societies, you will find many people like you, looking to interact and engage with others. We have had many contacts that have become friends and we have shared many great times and memories as a result.

So what are you waiting for? Join a society today and reap the benefits that are widely available to you in your field and area of expertise or go make a friend or two.

Would you like to share or discuss your experience with professional societies, please  leave your comments or sending in your reflective pieces to be published here. Please contact us via info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com or@AspProfHub. If you enjoyed reading this article, please share and follow! 

So You Want to do a PhD? – Your Survival Guide (Part II)

il_fullxfull.526482391_iox2Despite the fact that more PhD candidates are successfully completing within the allocated time, a significant proportion of PhDs do not graduate. We were overwhelmed by the response and feedback to the first part of this guide where Amara discussed some pointers to support current and prospective PhD candidates in navigating the journey towards successful completion. In this article, she shares more food for thought that can help you to not just survive your PhD but enjoy and enhance your experience.

Begin with the end in mind – You’ve committed or are committing the next few years of your life to undertaking extensive research on a specific subject in order to make an original contribution to knowledge within your discipline. Having a mental picture of what the ‘end point’ of your research study looks like will help you persevere through the tough times. On a personal note though, what does completing your PhD look like? What do you want to get out of completing a PhD? A specific job title? A career? A great salary? Improved skill set? Recognition within your discipline etc? All the above? How does this fit in with your life and career goals?

Avoid viewing a PhD as just an end but more as a means to an end. Embarking on a PhD with a personal end point in mind will enable you keep the next few years in perspective of the big picture of your life and career goals. Furthermore, you will recognise opportunities outside the sphere of your research study that can fast-track your progress.

Write now, write better! – Writing is an essential skill you need in your PhD survival toolkit. It isn’t a PhD if it isn’t written up! Regardless of discipline or research topic, all PhD candidates are de facto writers. You will be writing research proposals, progress reports, journal articles for publication and the mother of them all – the thesis. Writing is unavoidable, so how do you feel about it? “But I’m not a natural writer and I find writing difficult.” Welcome to the club. Even international best-selling authors find writing difficult sometimes.

The most important thing to do if you can’t write is to…write! I cringe when I look at some parts of my PhD thesis. Hindsight is always 20/20! I am a better writer today because I have continued to write. There is no magic potion, you get better at writing by writing. Just like learning to drive or swim. You can attend writing sessions and be given all the tips in the world but you still have to write. In my academic writing coaching sessions, I am constantly telling my students that – ‘It needs to be written not perfect.’ No one can edit a blank page. If you are not happy with your writing skills, do something about it. Do not leave writing to the final year, this is a recipe for unnecessary stress. besides writing and submitting small pieces of work to your supervisory team enables you to create more opportunities to get feedback on your writing which you can learn from. If you are on Twitter follow #acwri and #amwri for more writing tips

Who’s on your team? – We all know about the isolation that occurs while undertaking PhD research so please do not underestimate the value of a support network. I would not have made it without my team which consisted of mentors, colleagues, family and friends. It may be emotional, academic or financial but at some point, you will need some support. I was speaking to some international PhD students who shared their struggles of managing their research workload in a new country without friends or family. If you are in a similar position, find out from your Graduate or Research Office if there are any peer support networks for PhD candidates and get involved. If there isn’t one, why not start one yourself? I have discussed the importance of mentorship in career success and the same is true for PhD candidates. I would advise that you choose wisely though.  Be careful about the people who you allow into your private space and learn to differentiate between critical thinkers and critical people.

Take time off – This may come as a shock but you are allowed to have some time off. One of the best proverbs I have ever read goes –

‘Using a dull ax requires great strength, so sharpen the blade.’

Plan ‘breaks’ into your research plan or programme. After submitting my first draft of the final chapter of my thesis to my supervisor, she told me to take a holiday. That was her polite way of saying it was crap. I was stressed and broke and simply tired of writing. I am a perfectionist and totally ignored my advice in the preceding paragraph. My friend took me on a week’s holiday and I came back sharper and ready to face what was coming next. I rewrote the chapter from scratch and her comment was ‘Welcome back.’ Do not ignore the goose that lays the golden eggs. There must be a balance between production and production capability – the P/PC balance as described by Stephen Covey. Doing a PhD is one of the toughest challenges in academic life so give yourself permission to take a break when you need it. I have seen too many stressed, burnt out PhDs who either do not complete or worse still develop more complicated problems. Don’t let that be you.

P.h.D does not translate J.o.b! – This is an area where I wish someone had told me what I am about to share with you. Having a PhD should be an advantage in getting a job, it just doesn’t entitle you to one! I believe this holds true, regardless of whether you stay in academia or leave. The points we make in our article regarding graduate employment are valid whether you’ve achieved a BSc. or a PhD. Majority of PhD candidates will not work in academia – keep breathing! –  as there is a shrinking proportion of openings for full time and permanent posts. However, a significant proportion of PhD candidates are unaware of the full range of career options available to them after earning their degrees.

I was unemployed for over six months after completing my PhD because I had not given any thought to what came next. My ‘begin with the end in mind’ map was very limited to ‘working in academia.’ Oh, that I knew then what I know now! If academia was not an option, what would your career alternatives be? How can you leverage your PhD in the job hunt? What are you doing today that will be of benefit to potential future employers? A friend of mine has just landed her dream job in science policy even before submitting her thesis. She decided early in her PhD that academia was not for her and started doing research for her dream job. She prepared for employment during her PhD – she didn’t just hope for the best.

HeadshotAbout our writer – After completing a PhD in Microbiology and Food Science,  Amara is developing her career in academia – providing teaching and learning solutions in UK FE and HE Institutions as well as conducting research in Food Microbiology. Amara believes in the combined power of education, mentoring and productive relationships as essential tools for building successful careers. ‘Ignorance can hurt more than sticks and stones.’

If you enjoyed reading this article, please share and subscribe to our network! Would you like to share an article in The Hub? We would love to hear from you. Please get in touch – info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com

 

Brand You! – Developing your online social presence.

Social mediaGoogle yourself – don’t worry, no one’s watching and I won’t judge you! Were you pleasantly surprised, alarmed or was everything just as you expected? Most of us think we have no social presence online because we do not have any social media accounts but that can be far from true. If your search yielded no results, is that what you really want? Whether you work in sales or not, we are all in the sales business. We are constantly selling our services – skills, expertise, experience – or products and to do this we need to NETWORK. Think of social media as networking with the biggest audience possible – the whole world. In this article, Amara shares how some of these social tools can be used to boost your professional presence and develop your unique and personal brand.

I  like to think of my social presence as not just how I present myself as a professional (and as a person) to the public but also how I am perceived by that public as well. Every time we interact with individuals or organisations, we create an impression whether we are immediately aware of it or not. This is true whether this interaction occurs face to face or online. Social media has become a powerful connection tool and I am constantly reminded of this by the number of guest articles we have received by people I have never met in person but have had the opportunity to connect with online or have just found The Aspiring Professionals Hub through Facebook or Twitter. 

So where to start? For ‘digital visitors’ like myself, I’ll share some examples of some tools and how we can use them to build an online social presence.

LinkedIn

Do you have a LinkedIn account? If no, why not? In my opinion, LinkedIn is the most important ‘place’ for aspiring professionals to be ‘seen.’ Think of LinkedIn as a Facebook for professionals. Your profile is akin to a CV and you are in control of what you choose to reveal or not. Establish a professional image by using an appropriate picture in your profile – no holiday snaps from the beach please! LinkedIn can be used to build connections with other professionals but just as important, you can follow organisations and join groups relevant to your field. There is virtually no discipline that is not covered by a group and if there isn’t one for you, why not start one? Are you naturally shy and find it difficult to walk up to someone at an event and introduce yourself? Look them up on LinkedIn and invite them as a contact. I always recommend adding a short note to the basic LinkedIn invite message introducing yourself. Be professional.

There are many recruiters on LinkedIn so your dream job may just be a new contact or updated profile away. Remember that all recruiters have to work with is your profile, so ensure you update regularly and truthfully. Joining your alumni’s LinkedIn group can help you develop relationships with alumni working at your target organisations who may be willing to offer advice and mentorship. Don’t ignore your LinkedIn page, share posts that you think are relevant to your contacts and within the groups you follow.

Twitter

Twitter could very well be one of the easiest and quickest ways of establishing connections and developing your online social presence. Using 140 characters at a time you can share what you’ve written, information you find insightful or you can follow that company you really, really want to work for, learn about different industries and global brands. For your professional Twitter account, I would recommend using your name in your handle, for example – @amaratweets, @emmanueladukwu, @AspProfHub) – so people associate your handle with your person. I have been pleasantly surprised when someone I have not ‘met’ before has walked up to me and said hello because they recognise me from Twitter. When writing a bio for your profile, make sure that people can understand what you do and not just who you are.

Whenever I attend a meeting or conference, I use hashtags to share information from speakers as well as connect with other attendees. Another way to interact with people in your discipline is to attend webinars and tweetchats. Don’t be shy, contribute to the conversation. Be nice, reply when people ask you questions or send direct messages, retweet what other people are saying. Don’t worry if you do not have many followers in the first 3 days, it takes time to build a network. This rule applies whether building a network face to face or online. You are building your brand – be careful what you tweet especially if you are tweeting on behalf of an organisation.

Facebook

A lot of us are already using Facebook to connect with our family and friends but it can also be a powerful professional networking tool. As of the first quarter of 2015, Facebook had over 1.44 billion active users and with this, the world can really be your oyster. I would advise that if you want to project your professional social presence using Facebook you maintain two separate personas.  I do not think there is anything suspicious about doing this. If potential employers are going to be checking job applicants on networking sites, it is in your interest to find a way to keep private things private. Alternatively, set your privacy settings to manage what you share with your ‘friends’ vs. your professional contacts.

Build your network by adding contacts, joining relevant groups and liking pages where you can connect with like minded professionals. I am learning how important it is now to not just be a silent observer but contribute meaningfully to conversations.

Blogging

Of course, I hadn’t forgotten. Blogging is a communication tool that can really allow you share your story. Everyone loves a good story, it doesn’t matter if you are sharing something personal or communicating your point of view on recent events. If you are a creative person, you can showcase some of your products on your blog. We all know people who have made millions off blogging. Like I said earlier, online, your potential audience is the whole world!

Know your audience and write for your audience. Don’t be afraid to mix things up on your website. Keep improving. Link your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts to your blog and use social media to disseminate your work.

There are other tools like Google+, YouTube, ResearchGate. You don’t have to be involved with all of them. Find out what works for you and work it!

My rule when it comes to developing my social presence online is to be authentic and true to my values as well as being professional at all times. I try and practice #netiquette. Always have at the back of your mind that when it is online, it is forever. My mantra is, ‘if you don’t mean it, don’t post it!’ Project an image that you are proud of. It can be intimidating living in the ‘socialsphere’ but you can manage how much you put out there. In my next post, I will discuss some tips for managing your online social presence.

I am left wondering what the next decade will bring. Do you think a day will come – if it isn’t here yet – when our online social presence will mean just as much, if not more to employers than our CVs and personal statements?

HeadshotAbout our writer – After completing a PhD in Microbiology and Food Science,  Amara is developing her career in academia – providing teaching and learning solutions in UK FE and HE Institutions as well as conducting research in Food Microbiology. Amara believes in the combined power of education, mentoring and productive relationships as essential tools for building successful careers.

If you enjoyed reading this article, please share and subscribe to our network! Would you like to share an article in The Hub? We would love to hear from you. Please get in touch – info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com

 

Reflections – My journey towards global relevance

Personal development? Professional development? – These are terms that we hear quite often but what do they really mean to you as an individual? Is it simply about developing your skills or does it entail something more? In this ‘Reflections’ piece, Blessing Obinaju expatiates on this topic by sharing her journey of personal and professional development.

Finding your feet in the murky waters of global relevance.’ I recently read this article again on The Aspiring Professionals’ Hub. I will refrain from rehashing the entire message of the article because I want to concentrate on these particular points;

Begin with the end in mind – This is our mantra on the Aspiring Professional’s hub. In your field of study, area of business interest or chosen career, is there anyone, business or role model in that position you aspire to be in worldwide? Knowing something about the journey to their attainment or achievement could be a starting guide for you to start a plan for your own global attainment. These days it is not so hard to learn about global figures when you have Google and in most cases these global stars are on social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter or have personal websites.

Have a plan – of your own for that career, design, business or idea BUT with a global audience in mind. For example, if you are choosing a course at University, think broadly about how relevant that course is another country or even worldwide before deciding. If creating a business plan, can that business service a need in another town, state, country, continent beyond your current location? So we suggest in whatever your goals or targets, THINK GLOBALLY.

Finally, personal development is catching fire within Africa. I do remember when I made the decision to pursue a career in academia; I was in my third year studying for an undergraduate degree. I remember the responses I received when I mentioned I was going into teaching. I also remember that to most of my peers at the time, it was the joke of the century.

What is my point?

I was perhaps fortunate to have found my first footing in the murky waters – deciding for myself what I wanted and who I wished to become. It would have been easy to have abandoned that footing simply because it was criticized. Why didn’t I? Well, I wasn’t looking at the immediate moment, I was looking at the end goal, as the article aptly stated, I was beginning with the end in mind.

So, how did I crack on?

I was privileged to have had close relatives who were already in the field. Thus, it was easy to research the steps required to attain the height I envisioned. I devised my plan (including options for any derailment or obstacles) and relentlessly followed it. Of course, nothing ever goes strictly according to a laid out plot – it wouldn’t be life if it did. However, what happens when you have a plan is, there is a calculated margin of what I love to call “happen-stance”: occurrences that take you by absolute surprise, frustrate and completely throw you off your path. I’ am sure that some of you are stomping your feet at this moment and screaming ‘Provide us with a detailed breakdown.’  I won’t tease you longer. For those of you who are Nigerians, you will be able to follow the path more closely. I wouldn’t be an academic if this piece had no schematics. So, here’s the plan and I am happy to say I am currently in the last phase.

Image courtesy of Blessing Obinaju.
Image courtesy of Blessing Obinaju.

So, how has this impacted me, re: global relevance? First, one of my most cited papers as an academic is the very first article I published shortly after my M.Sc. This and the various presentations at conferences during the Ph.D., have been quite relevant to placing my feet firmly on the cobbled stones that help us cross the waters which divide relevance and insignificance. As an academic or an aspiring academic, you can never attend enough conference, workshops or seminars in your field. More importantly, my academic experience and my ability to continuously adapt my plans to fit my goals – despite challenges that the world would always throw my way –  resulted in a book – The DANCE of Life: A guide to living your best life every day. It has also opened opportunities to share my experience as a STEM ambassador for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Network as well as in several other forums.

There were some critical control steps in my plan;

Location, location, location – Even though I gained my Master’s degree from a country other than that where I currently hold lectureship position, there was no debate over whether or not I should return to my home country upon completion of the degree. It was more of a forgone conclusion because I knew I was aiming for a lectureship position in my home country and that position would pay for the Ph.D.

Think long term – Notice that my very first job was a volunteer opportunity (yes, it was in Nigeria!). The point of this was, while I was job hunting for academic positions, the volunteer position which was still an education role, ensured that there was no gap period on my CV and I gained additional work experience.

My candid recommendation

Never underestimate the value of internships and do not overlook volunteer opportunities either. Just be certain that they are related to or somewhat impact on your end goal. It is also important to state that the most invaluable tool to really finding one’s feet within those waters is, an ability to constantly increase your bank of knowledge and not just in your area of certification. Being well-versed and well-read isn’t just an attribute of the rich and affluent – thanks to technology – everyone can be. It only takes being proactive and of course, actually desiring to reach your envisioned peak, whatever that is.

Blessing Obinaju is an Academic Researcher, Career Counselor, Life Coach and Image consultant. She works in the Department of Biochemistry, University of Uyo, Nigeria. She is also the Principal consultant at La Belle Vie, providing life coaching services to individuals. You can find her on Twitter @ObinajuBE.