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Matabe Eyong, research chemist: courage and conviction pay off

An unconventional career
Matabe Eyong

As a young woman growing up in West Africa, Matabe felt compelled to pursue a career in science, despite the obstacles she faced: “Where I come from, it was a common belief that women can’t pursue a career in science or engineering. Science was a ‘man’s role’.

 

”As the only girl in her family, Matabe felt determined to prove herself. “My five brothers all went into science and engineering, which strongly influenced me in my career and made me want to become a better scientist.”

 

Finding the right path

Matabe’s deep-rooted aspiration motivated her to relocate to the US to study. She graduated with high honours in chemistry and biology from Northern Illinois University, after which she began her career first in the cosmetics industry, followed by the food industry, where she worked as an analytical chemist.


This was not the right fit for Matabe however, so she decided to explore oil and gas. Matabe worked in Citgo Petroleum’s Illinois refinery for three years until the birth of her son, after which she needed a change. “Having my son, I was no longer comfortable working in a refinery environment. That’s when I decided to go into research, and that’s how I came to BP.”


Starting out in research at BP

When she joined in 2010, Matabe worked on developing the method for testing international crude oils – a tough but rewarding role: “We had crudes from Russia, China, and Canada, and they were all different. I ensured all were compatible with the technology that we use. It was a challenging but memorable career highlight.”


She’s enjoyed a diverse career path since joining, enabling her to explore a range of challenges. Matabe now works on a project converting sugars into renewable plastics, which involves designing methods to test equipment, as well as risk management and training new technologists in her team.


Speaking about the support she’s received along the way, Matabe shares: “numerous great mentors have encouraged me, coached me and have truly fostered my career. These are people you can talk to, people that can bring you fresh ideas and work with you. When something goes well, you don’t take it as a personal achievement – you take it as a team achievement.”

 

Advice to her younger self: be who you are

When asked what advice she would give to her younger self, Matabe shares: “I would give her a big hug and tell her to work hard and be who you are, not who you think you should be”.


This links to the shared values at BP, which continue to inspire Matabe day-to-day. As she describes, “we are encouraged to respect the opinions of others, regardless of whether you agree. We speak out if something is wrong, and we are expected to have courage. This really resonates with me, as I know from personal experience that courage and conviction always pay off.”