27th October 2020 Colombo, Sri Lanka

Chevening: An all-inclusive approach to post graduate studies

Adilah Ismail Chevening Scholar 2017/2018 MA Critical Media and Cultural Studies

I have a post-it note pinned to my corkboard. It has the line “You seem to choose safe paths, avoiding any challenging, provoking arguments” scrawled on it. It’s a comment by one of my university professors at SOAS on the first assignment I submitted as a postgraduate student and Chevening Scholar.

It’s not one of those feel-good, inspirational quotes that you’d pin on your wall but hear me out. When I first read the comment on my assignment, I immediately jotted it on a post-it and spent the rest of the academic year working to become bolder with my writing and thinking. The note is a reminder of the skills my postgraduate education gave me and the impact it had on my learning, writing and personal growth. It serves as a reminder of how far I have come.

What drew me to the Chevening scholarship was its all-inclusive approach to postgraduate studies.

I am borrowing from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and am going to extend her premise to students engaging in any kind of scholarship, irrespective of gender. She wrote that to engage in creative work, you need a room of your own (an analogy for “the power to think for oneself”) and a stable income (“power to contemplate”). With a little imagination, Woolf’s words can be extended to anyone hoping to pursue their higher studies.

When you are given the space and material conditions to learn and grow, the possibilities are endless and the scholarship recognises this. The Chevening scholarship covers your tuition and includes a living stipend, easing the financial burden that is incurred when you pursue graduate studies overseas. Studying in the UK opens you to diverse people and environments, offering a space for constant learning. A notable feature of the scholarship is that it doesn’t impose restrictions on what you can study, provided the course is a yearlong one at a university recognised by the scholarship programme. During our year, we met scholars from all over the world studying everything from film, literature, business, law, anthropology, medicine, marketing and heritage studies.

I was also grateful for the networking opportunities and emphasis on well-rounded student life outside the classroom that the Chevening advocates. As an introvert, I got comfortable with networking and meeting new people. To date, some of my dearest friends are those I met through the network. My time as a Chevening Scholar in London was a period of growth, exploring and immense learning. It pushed me out of my comfort zone in so many ways and I feel privileged and grateful to have had the chance to be a student again.

My starting point with everything is to make lists. So I broke down both the scholarship application and university applications into two categories and began listing the tasks for each. Having a large goal broken into smaller chunks makes it less daunting. Having timelines for each also made me accountable to myself.

Before I attempted to write my application, I took time to reflect on it and to ask myself a few questions. Why was I applying for the Chevening scholarship? Why was I choosing the UK? What were the areas of study that excited me and I was passionate about? How would they be useful for my work trajectory? What were the key milestones in my career that would interest a scholarship panel?

Scholarship applications can be intimidating and nerve-wracking. I know everyone’s approach differs but here are some general tips to help you navigate the application and interview process.

1) Take the time to reflect on the questions as well as your motivations for applying for the scholarship and your career plan. Thoughtful answers in an application stand out.

2) Edit and revise your application drafts a few times before submitting. Do a few rounds of proofreading. It’s amazing how many typos will lurk despite multiple re-reads.

3) Keep your answers simple and coherent. Elaborate jargon does not make a better application. Try to be as authentic as you can, showcasing your personality and what makes you unique. Everyone has a story and only you can tell yours.

4) Research your universities. Have a look at your course of choice, list of lecturers and the syllabi. Reach out online to recent alumni and inquire about their experiences to assess if it would be a good fit for you.

5) If you reach the interview stage, do give advanced notice to the referees you have reached out to for recommendation letters and be mindful of their commitments. Choose people who can best speak to your professional and personal strengths. If you can, collect about 3 – 4 recommendation letters and submit the strongest.

6) During the interview stage, be prepared with specific examples to demonstrate practical applications of your skills and expertise, how the scholarship will benefit you, why you have chosen a particular course and how you can contribute to your country.

Ex: Instead of simply telling a panel, “I have leadership skills”, give them examples of instances where you have demonstrated these qualities. Or for instance, if you’re switching career fields, outline why you are doing this and how it will impact your future work.

Good luck.

Adilah Ismail

Chevening Scholar 2017/2018

MA Critical Media and Cultural Studies