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PhD Student in Canada, Bridget Alichie, talks about how she received multiple scholarships

May 3, 2020, jabelle4education.wordpress.com

Bridget Alichie is currently a PhD student of Criminology and Socio-legal Studies at the University of Alberta, Canada. Her research area is specifically in gender studies, human rights, social movement and new media studies.

Before her PhD Studies, she was a lecturer at the Department of Sociology/Anthropology, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Nigeria.  She is also a published author in reputable local and international journals.

Please introduce yourself

My name is Bridget Alichie. I am a Nigerian sociologist.

How did you secure your first scholarship and admission?

My higher education journey began at Nnamdi Azikiwe University (NAU), Anambra State, Nigeria, where I graduated from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in 2011.  Before I left Nnamdi Azikiwe University, I had already taken much interest in the world of human rights issues through the few friends that I met at the university. They introduced me into some training and mentoring organizations such as KIND, Women4Change and WIAFOD and this aroused in me a passion to further my studies quite early. This was why I started to make enquiries about studying abroad from lecturers, NGO workers, friends and anyone I came across and felt that they had the right knowledge, after graduation.

The great minds I connected with during my volunteer jobs at the NYSC and those I met at my PPA at UCTH exposed me to several funded study opportunities for bright young minds abroad. Some specifically mentioned that I would be a good fit for the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission (CSC) Scholarships in the UK. From that moment on, I started researching on the eligibility requirements and factors that can stand an applicant out for CSC applications. I found out that much importance were implicitly tied to applicants who were given to community service and demonstrated the zeal to impact their respective communities in any way.

So, to strengthen these points, I took practical steps during my NYSC in Cross River State by serving as volunteer with Peer Education Trainers (PET) and SFH. By the time I was through with my service year, I felt confident of my experiences and felt ready to face my UK Masters applications even before I was given a lecturing job at NAU.

I started my lecturing job and so had the first attempt at CSC applications in 2013/2014. I chose MA in gender and development at the University of Birmingham, UK. Since the process in the UK best favours you first applying for admission before proceeding to the CSC application, I followed the process and applied for admission and within 2 months, I was granted and received my admission letter. Easy right? But that wasn’t the most important thing about studying in the UK. The most important part is getting the scholarship FUNDING. Hence, with my admission letter I proceeded to the CSC portal and within one week, I had submitted an application without consulting anyone. The deadline then was sometime in January 2014 but by November 2013 I had submitted. I was so confident of all the information, experiences and even the best result I had from my undergraduate study, which I thought were all that mattered.

You want to guess the feedback I got?

At the end of March, I got a rejection email that I didn’t get in. It was like I was among the first list of applicants that were trashed. My world almost came crashing down and I almost felt like giving up. But I didn’t give up. After months of mourning, I went back to the drawing table and started double-checking on why I failed while strategizing on my next steps. I also started watching YouTube videos from scholarship websites like DAAD, CSC, Chevening and few others where past scholars tell their success stories and give helpful tips for prospective applicants. I also sought out some of the old contacts from my NYSC years in Cross River State who gave me the initial advice.

That was when I learnt that one of my main advisers was already on the CSC Masters scholarship at Loughborough University in the UK. I connected with him online and not only did he advise me this time based on his practical application experiences, we forged a lifetime friendship. He advised me to have my application package proof-read by others. Also, that I could try for applications into 2 or 3 UK schools to increase my chances the following year.

With this renewed hope from the new lessons I learnt from my failure, I focused on my lecturing job and braced up for the 2014/2015 applications. To ensure this, I spent so much as between 5,000-10,000 Nigerian naira monthly on internet services to subscribe to newsletters and read more about new choice universities in the UK. I applied at the University of Warwick, University of London (UoL) and Newcastle University (NU) between December 2014-January 2015. I got 2 positive full scholarship admissions into the last two by April/May 2015 and by September, I had chosen University of London because it fit my passion for Gender rights and Development. I then wrote to Newcastle University that I would not be taking up their offer.

How did you secure your present scholarship and admission?

My Master’s programme in the UK was the beginning of my exposure to scholarship applications. Because I am someone who enjoys testing the waters and garnering experiences, I opted for North America for my PhD, with a Masters degree from UK and a Bachelors degree from Nigeria. Armed with all the right information, I started approaching few schools I wanted in the USA. First UPenn, then Yale and then Stanford. I just go to the faculties I’m interested in online and look up members who are also interested in my choice research area. Then, I use their email that is put online to send them a short draft of the topic I wanted to work on for my PhD, send them my past certificates and ask them if I can work with them. That was when I learnt the shocking truth that US universities only offer graduate admissions to those who have GRE and TOEFL. I thought about the huge expenses in dollars for these two exams and the application fees you’d have to pay on their websites, before you can even be considered for admission or not. So, I stopped looking at universities in the USA.

I turned my searchlight to top schools in Canada instead. I went for Toronto, Alberta and McMasters immediately I realized that they have IELTS/TOEFL waivers for countries whose medium of instruction in schools is English Language. No GRE was needed and studying in the UK seemed to make me aware of how to go through the application process. So, I found supervisors once again and emailed. There were responses from all three universities after about 3 months of waiting patiently and sending a reminder once. Each told me that they’d be glad to work with me and so I applied to all three universities. I paid online application fees into all 3 schools which altogether totalled around $420.

In the next 4 months, I got feedback from all three and once again, I got into 2 universities on a full scholarship. I ended up having to make a difficult choice once again, because both universities are top ranking institutions in Canada and both also offer my interest in gender rights in the area of socio-legal studies. I chose University of Alberta and extended my sincere apologies to McMasters less than one week of receiving the emails of my admission, so they could still have all the time to pick their next best candidate.

How can someone interested in North American universities proceed with the scholarship application?

First, the good thing about North America is that most of the PhD admissions come with funding. So, once you are given admission, it means that you stand a chance of being funded except in few cases where there are lapses, which they will tell you in advance. I followed all the right steps for the application process as I described above.

Here I am today pursuing my doctoral studies and giving all the support I can to others, just like many great minds supported my own journey at the point that I needed it. What my education journey has taught me so far is the need for continuous personal development, and not being overly confident, but always giving oneself to learning and seeking opinions from those ahead of you.

What general advice and warnings would you give prospective scholarship/study abroad applicants?

Don’t sit down years after graduation and brag about being the top of your class or obtaining a 5.0 CGPA during your undergraduate study. Few years after such achievements, they become history and no potential employer, funder, mentor, supporter, will be very keen on them anymore. Instead they will be asking what you have done so far? So, while struggling for scholarships, take on meaningful roles whether paid or unpaid. You can volunteer if you have passion for it. You can publish academic materials. You can start at a job no matter how small. You can start with a graduate study in your home country if you have the money, while working on funded opportunities abroad. I remember going to the University of Benin, Nigeria and buying my Masters admission form in July 2014 shortly after the scholarship application into Birmingham failed. Try your best to always better your CV.

Also, connect with like minds. Seek advice from those who have been there, past scholars and academic staff. Read and seek for information relating to your passion online and importantly these opportunities are highly prestigious and therefore competitive. Don’t expect it would be handed to you on a platter, so work hard at it. Get people to proof-read your applications if need be. Seek expert opinions and seek for good mentorship/friendship in your career journey. I remember when I’d call or chat up few of my friends who were already ahead of me in the game asking them questions or asking that they read through my proposals without shame. Unsurprisingly, both of them are experts in education mentoring today in the name of Jane Nebe who manages Jabelle Educational Services and Adedeji Oluwaseun, who manages GradEdIn on LinkedIn and Twitter. Both are PhD graduates who got funding for both their masters and PhD studies just like myself today. Bless them!

Parting words: NEVER GIVE UP! For the few times you might fail, get up, dust yourself and keep trying. Tough times don’t last, only tough people do.

List of Acronyms

GRE – Graduate Records Examination

IELTS – International English Language Testing System

KIND- Kudra Initiative for Development

NYSC – National Youth Service Scheme

PPA – Place of Primary Assignment

SFH – Society for Family Health

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