Peter Nelson’s story is not different from a number of Jamaicans who have overcome adversity to achieve academically. However, not many 25-year-olds here hold a bachelor of science, a master of philosophy and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of the West Indies (UWI).
In August, Nelson will add another landmark achievement as he takes one of five post-doctoral fellowships at Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, having been selected from 280 applicants from around the world for the coveted position.
“It was very competitive to get into this institute because they told me they had 280 applications for the five positions, and so it was really tough on them to decide. But one of the things that helped me to get in was the papers I published in international journals,” he told the Jamaica Observer.
However, it is not only the accomplishments that this St. Thomas native has achieved at such a young age that make his story unique. Rather, it is that he disproved the stereotype that a boy from an impoverished community who attended a nontraditional high school and was raised by a single mother who worked as a domestic helper would not beat the odds.
And those who may still doubt his potential upon seeing his unassuming demeanor may be further taken aback by the research work he has done, which has gained international recognition. Already he has amassed seven publications in international journals, including the Journal of Molecular Structure, the Journal of Chemical Thermodynamics, Dalton Transactions and the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
In August 2010, he presented a paper on the Phase Behaviors of Zinc Carboxylates at an IUPAC-sponsored MAM 10 conference, and, in August 2012, he gave a presentation on the Molecular and Lattice Structures of Sodium(I) Carboxylates at the American Chemical Society Conference in Philadelphia. He has also made presentations in the Departments of Chemistry at Mona and at St Augustine in Trinidad and is currently preparing two manuscripts for submission.
Nelson completed his master’s and Ph.D. at UWI in 3 1/2 years, although the maximum time for a full-time candidate to finish is five years and seven years for part-time.
“It was stressful, more mentally than physically, because you can’t get an M.Phil. or Ph.D. in science unless what you have discovered is totally new because there has to be novelty about it,” he told the Sunday Observer.
“Excellence or nothing at all” is the philosophy of life that has guided this St. Thomas Technical High School graduate.
“I did a lot of studies because I realized time is critical for pure and applied science students, and there is no pure and applied person who parties a lot and does well. It just doesn’t happen, especially those doing chemistry as the pass rate in some of our courses is about 26 percent, and so you want to get into that 26 percent,” he said.
Read the full story by Ingrid Brown at jamaicaobserver.com