Inspirational Woman: Matabe Eyong | Research Chemist, BP

Matabe has an impressive academic career – she holds three university degrees, including a Bachelor of Science in Physics, a double major in Chemistry and Biological Science, and a Master’s degree in Physical Chemistry.

Matabe gained experience in various different industries – she worked for cosmetics, food and beverage  and oil and gas companies. Following the birth of her son, she decided to go into research and joined BP.

The main reason for her to pursue a career in science was triggered by the surroundings of her childhood. Growing up in Africa, where science was perceived as a man’s role, and being the only girl of a family with five brothers, she always tried to bridge the gender gap within her family and her surroundings.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

My name is Matabe Eyong and I’m a Research Chemist at BP’s Naperville Research Centre. I’m super proud to say I have my dream job. I wake up every day and I am excited to go to work. I joined the company eight years ago and I’m now responsible for designing experiments, operating small pilot plants, training entry level engineers, scientists, and technologists, and ensuring that all our applications on vessels and valves are safe.

I love science. I like the exploratory nature of my job, developing hypotheses and doing experiments. Even if the end result shows you something else than expected, it is always a useful finding.

Outside of work, I love rock-climbing and sky-diving. I go sky-diving every fortnight, and since my son is tall enough, I have started taking him along as well. I also love to cook – I find that recipes are just like chemical formulations.

I’m originally from Cameroon, in West Africa. When I moved to the United States, I enrolled at the Northern Illinois University and graduated with high honours with a double major in Chemistry and Biological Science. I also recently finished a Master’s degree in Physical Chemistry, while I was working at BP.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

There has never been a career plan per se. I believe people should pursue a career in a field they are really interested in, stay true to themselves but always look for new opportunities to grow. My motivation to pursue a career in STEM was triggered by my surroundings. Where I grew up in Cameroon, it was a common belief that women are less likely to pursue a career in science or engineering. Growing up among five brothers, who all went into engineering and science, I knew that this was what I wanted to do as well. I just wanted to have the same opportunities in life as the men in my family.

After university, I worked across different industries until I found the sector I really enjoyed working in; I started off at a cosmetics company, then joined a food and beverage company until I decided to try out working in the energy industry. After the birth of my son, I decided to leave the refinery environment behind and joined the research team at BP.

So for me, it was more of ‘trial and error’ until I found my dream job, instead of having a perfectly manufactured career plan.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Moving from one position to another is never easy. I would say the biggest challenge was moving to a catalyst discovery lab doing process engineering and analytical chemistry, while managing the equipment. I had to understand the technicalities of engineering and operate small pilot plants. It was a challenging transition for me because I had to learn a lot of new things that engineers do. But every time I went through a challenging time, there was always a positive outcome.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

I believe women need to help and uplift each other more. Women can be very critical of each other at times. I do not believe in competing for what I want, I believe in creating what I want. Abraham Lincoln once said: “the best way to predict the future is to create it”. In order for me to be successful I don’t have to take away from anyone. Of course, there are advantages in looking at your peers for inspiration, but being competitive can bring out fears and insecurities that can end up holding you back, so wish other women well and celebrate their successes with them.

How would you encourage more young women and girls into a career in STEM?

I am a STEM ambassador. I want to encourage girls to be curious, persistent, ask a lot of questions and never be afraid to fail. It’s okay to not know the answer right away. I believe there is still a real mystification around STEM jobs – it’s not all hard hats and overalls. We need to be more vocal about our roles and showcase how STEM is all about solving real world problems. I also think that we need to broaden our audience. If we want to attract more girls into science, we should not only focus on this particular audience, but also on educating other key influencers, such as parents and teachers who play a crucial role in a young person’s career choice.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I would say that my biggest career highlight was my development over the past couple of years at BP. I moved from a research technologist to a research chemist. I have also had the opportunity to work on high profile projects where I helped to expand production in our refineries and looked at BP’s long-term interest. I have also had the opportunity to work with diverse teams in the UK and China, and got the chance to connect with academics to develop a large number of research and development projects. On a personal level: I’m very proud of having raised my nine year old son on my own.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

On a professional level, I’m planning to continue developing new skills to become a technical project leader, broadening my scope in terms of research and development. I also want to continue inspiring and guiding more girls into STEM careers in the US, and am planning to go to Cameroon to educate and encourage young girls in both primary and secondary schools on careers in STEM.

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