Ep.1: Meera Bharadwaj

[1] Choosing a Programme

In order to choose a programme, Meera started with listing down the subjects that she studied and the subjects that she wished to learn about in-depth in her postgraduate study. She then looked for courses that offered a combination of the two lists. Looking at the semester-wise breakdown of the subjects offered on the course website, she was able to gauge how well the courses aligned with her interests. 

[2] Experience

Given that applicants from India will be competing with applicants from across the globe, it is essential to have some experience in the field that one is pursuing. Especially within the field of research, given the poor attention provided to research in the Indian education system, it is imperative to gain some research experience elsewhere to demonstrate some level of research skills. 

Experience can be gained through internships, personal research projects, assisting with research projects, owning a business, etc. The key is ‘transferable skills'. While demonstrating your experience in your CV and SoP, it is important to show how the skills you picked up from different experiences will be applicable to your postgraduate study. 

Having previously worked as a Research Associate with the Ministry of Rural Development, Meera believes that research experience does not only help create a more successful application but also proves to be helpful while pursuing your postgraduate study because it helps one get a better understanding of the more practical aspects of what is taught in undergraduate studies. 

[3] Writing Sample

Through the writing samples, colleges assess two essential attributes:

 i) knowledge & research - a writing sample demonstrates an applicant’s research skills as well as their knowledge on that subject, but on a foundational level

ii) writing skills - a writing sample can be used to judge an applicant’s ability to articulate their findings and arguments in a structured manner. 

Meera recommends writing on a topic that one is most confident about. She starts with writing down everything she knows about and has previously researched for a particular topic. This gives her an idea of what she knows and how she can structure it into a research paper. She then structures the information by categorising them into - introduction, findings, recommendations, conclusion, etc. This process worked best for her, but she says that writing a sample is a process of trial and error and it varies from person to person.  

[4] Statement of Purpose

“One thing that I wished someone had told me before writing the SoP, (is that) it’s not that difficult, it really isn’t. Writing the SoP is not difficult, I think the difficult part is refining it and making it a good SoP for a university.” Meera stresses the importance of editing and refining the SoP to bring out its essence. She recommends reaching out to 2-3 people from different walks of life (perhaps a friend, a professor and a professional acquaintance) to edit and provide feedback on your piece on a regular basis. Not only does it bring in more perspectives on your work, but also helps ease the pressure that is often built around writing an SoP.

She also says that writing about your experiences and what you learnt from it in an authentic way is imperative. An SoP should reflect one’s ability to learn from their experiences, not only in an academic or professional capacity but also on a personal level. 

 

[5] Letter of Recommendations

The ideal professor to write an LoR is one that knows the applicant well and is familiar with their strengths, interests and goals. This ensures that the professor will write a genuine and customised letter that describes the applicant well. It is also important for the referee to belong to the discipline that the applicant will be pursuing or in a related discipline. This helps add more credibility to the applicant’s abilities relating to that particular field. 

[6] English Language Tests

Resources for studying for language tests such as books, study techniques and schedules, sample papers, etc., are abundantly available online. Joining study groups and forums on social media websites like Facebook and Reddit can also prove to be helpful because one can clarify doubts and share resources. More importantly, being part of a community of students going through something similar can also help alleviate stress and boost one’s confidence. 

[7] Scholarships

Apart from scholarships provided by universities, there are many scholarships provided by independent organisations. It is thus crucial to do a thorough search for such scholarships. 

There are scholarships also available for specific purposes such as - the visa process, living expenditure or with specific criteria such as for applicants playing a particular sport, belonging to student forums or engaged in any other extracurricular activity. 

It is also helpful to list down all scholarships that you are eligible for and all the documents that are required for the application. 

 

[8] Expenses & Managing your Finances

Apart from the tuition fee, other expenses incurred include - application fees, visa costs, travel costs, accommodation, etc. Some tips to minimise costs, as recommended by Meera - 

  • University forums on Facebook and Reddit are rich sources of information. Not only do they provide information about the costs involved but also on ways to reduce said costs. 

  • Get a job at your university. It is ideal to get one before you get there by looking for student jobs on the university’s website.

Make use of student discounts that are usually offered by bookstores, restaurants & cafes, public transport, streaming services, etc. University Student Councils provide adequate information about it.