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Please tell us about your background

I grew up in the steel city of Jamshedpur reading Harry Potter novels and secretly nurturing a desire to visit London. But when I took admission to the Birla Institute of Technology (BIT), Mesra, for a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, I had not imagined that my dream would come true one day. I was never a bookworm in school. I would spend most of my time playing games or taking part in dance or theatre.

While in college, I was involved in organising international conferences. I arranged the itinerary of events and managed accommodation facilities for visiting research scholars. However, I didn’t neglect my studies and focused on hands-on application of my academic knowledge. As a vocational trainee, I got involved in the construction of a cold rolling mill in Jamshedpur and a multi-storeyed office building. I’d even offered consultation for construction of rural roads in Jharkhand under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. After graduating, I joined a financial services company.

Can you tell us how you ended up in such an offbeat and uconventional specialization at Imperial college , London?

While doing all these, I also applied to a number of institutes across the globe with the objective of pursuing a master’s degree, which I thought would help me join academics or participate in research. I received acceptance letters from quite a few prestigious colleges, but most of them had no scholarships to offer, except the one from Imperial College, London, and five Erasmus Mundus programmes (scholarships in association with European Union countries). I also managed to get a full Commonwealth Scholarship. The Commonwealth award provides funds amounting to Rs 40 lakh towards tuition, living expenses, medical and travel insurance, to and fro journey, and so on.

I am pursuing an MS in soil mechanics and geotechnical engineering at Imperial College. It involves working with rock and soil that support civil engineering systems. Knowledge from the fields of geology, material science and testing, mechanics, and hydraulics are applied by geotechnical engineers to safely and economically design foundations and retain structures. Since the master’s programme — which I have been pursuing since September — is for one year, the curriculum is stressful but challenging at the same time. Students come here to understand the subject and for them, gaining employment or placement is not the sole aim.

Hence, it is not a big surprise that the world’s biggest employers compete to recruit the best students. Imperial College has students from all corners of the globe. My department has representatives from six continents. However, there are very few Indian students (among the Asians, most are from China). I am the lone Indian in my class of 60 odd students. I stay at Belvedere House, a part of the London Hostel Association. It takes around 10 minutes to walk to my college.

How is London?

Life outside the campus is exciting as it is located in Central London. London, being a truly global city, has people from all over the world. There is hardly any free time available after class for leisure. But I do take some time out to play outdoor sports (such as cricket and badminton). I love to visit the museums around the city. There are so many here and entry to most of them is free!

The food here is a bit of a problem, but I was prepared for it. Most Brits have a taste for fried and spicy food though the Indian cuisine available at numerous “Indie” restaurants is not quite up to the mark. The weather in London is a bit cold, and this year it’s been particularly bad — windy and stormy.

How did you make it?

Getting admission to Imperial College is not difficult. Unlike most Indian colleges, it looks for a collective set of skills which sets an applicant apart. Some undergraduate research experience, good grades, outstanding co-curricular and sports achievements and relevant work experience help. Basic entry exams such as Toefl and GRE may be a prerequisite for some courses. The most difficult part is to get pre-departure funding from Imperial College. For that your undergraduate research experience and grades count a lot.

I do not think you need expert help to gain admission here. The major reason people do not get a place at Imperial is their poor undergraduate results

In order to find the right fit institute, a student must have a clear idea about the benefit he /she hopes to gain from the course. If a student finds a course that is in line with his or her career goals then he must apply for it via the website of the department of the university

Regarding the funding, which is more difficult to obtain, he / she must research the website of the departments in which he or she wants to apply. One needs to be patient and sometimes one has to wait for full 10 months to get confirmation about it. Submit all the documents within the deadlines and just believe in yourself

Can you tell us what is the Commonwealth Scholarship?

The Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP), one of the largest and most prestigious scholarships for international study, is a programme under which Commonwealth governments offer scholarships and fellowships to citizens of member countries. Established in 1959 at the first Commonwealth education conference, over 27,000 individuals have benefited from the award.

The India programme is managed by the Association of Commonwealth Universities, ministry of human resource development (MHRD) of the Government of India, and the British Council. The fellowship programmes are normally of three months’ duration while the scholarships are either for one-year master’s or three-year PhD programmes. The number of scholarships varies between 55 and 65 every year. Last year, 65 Indians received the award. The award covers tuition fees, living expenses and the cost of travel to and from the UK. The subjects covered are engineering, technology, science (both pure and applied), agriculture, humanities and social sciences. The application and selection procedures take almost a year.

• The Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan is announced by the MHRD in September every year

• Candidates not exceeding 40 years of age and having not less than 60 per cent marks at the bachelors and /or masters can apply for the scholarship

• Applicants need to submit their application in person or through post to the department of higher education

• The deadline is usually in the first or second week of October that year

• Scholars can apply online to three preferred UK universities through MHRD. By the time they appear for an interview before the MHRD, applicants should have a conditional or unconditional offer from one or more universities of their choice

• Scholars applying for a PhD must have a letter from their supervisors in the UK. The interview panel sends up to 65 nominations to the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission (CSC), the UK. Out of these, 26 are for doctoral studies

• Candidates are selected from the list and cross checked with the universities. The final list of candidates is announced in April / May the following year.

What is covered?

Each scholarship provides student concession or other approved airfare to the UK and return on expiry of the scholarship (the cost of journey made before final award confirmation will not normally be reimbursed nor can fares be paid for a scholar’s dependent), approved tuition and examination fees and a personal maintenance allowance at the rate of 917 per month or around Rs 94,000 (1,134 per month — around Rs 1.16 lakh — for those studying at institutions in the London Metropolitan area)

There are also grants towards the expenses of preparing a thesis or dissertation, expenses for approved travel within the UK or overseas and towards fieldwork costs for those scholars undertaking doctoral studies for whom a case has been made for fieldwork outside the UK.

This shall not normally exceed one economy class return airfare to the fieldwork location. In addition, students also get an initial arrival allowance, incorporating initial clothing grant for scholars from tropical countries and a paid mid-term fare to their home country for scholars on three-year doctoral awards.

Each scholarship provides:

• Student concession or other approved airfare to the UK and return on expiry of the scholarship (the cost of journey made before final award confirmation will not normally be reimbursed nor can fares be paid for a scholar’s dependent)

• Approved tuition and examination fees

• A personal maintenance allowance at the rate of 917 per month or around Rs 94,000 (1,134 per month — around Rs 1.16 lakh — for those studying at institutions in the London Metropolitan area)

• A grant towards the expenses of preparing a thesis or dissertation, where applicable

• An initial arrival allowance, incorporating initial clothing grant for scholars from tropical countries

• A grant for expenses for approved travel within the UK or overseas

• A grant towards fieldwork costs for those scholars undertaking doctoral studies for whom a case has been made for fieldwork outside the UK. This shall not exceed one economy class return airfare to the fieldwork location

• A paid mid-term fare to their home country for scholars on three-year doctoral awards. Scholars for whom fieldwork fares are provided to their home country shall not be entitled to a mid-term fare home, nor scholars who have claimed (or intend to claim) spouse or child allowances for more than 12 months during their award

• For scholars selected by the commission for awards exceeding 18 months, a spouse allowance of 220 per month (around Rs 22,500) is payable provided that the scholar and spouse are residing together at the same address in the UK. It is not paid when spouse is also in receipt of an award. For scholars accompanied by their spouse and children, a child allowance is payable at the rate of 138 per month (around Rs 14,000) for the first child and 108 per month (around Rs 11,000) for the second and third child under the age of 16, provided they are residing with their parents

• The commission’s spouse and family allowances represent only a contribution towards the cost of family maintenance in the UK and scholars should expect and be able to supplement these allowances to support family members who choose to come to the UK. Irrespective of the length of the award, a scholar who is widowed, divorced or a lone parent will receive an allowance in respect of the first accompanying child and child allowances for the second and third accompanying children