Please tell us about yourself
I would like to state that writing pieces such as these always puts me in a dilemma, because I have grown to be critical of how, as a generation, we love celebrating every bit of our lives as ‘an achievement.’ Here is an attempt to share my story through some experiences.
I would describe myself as an ‘all-rounder’ from St. Xavier’s, Mumbai. Someone who dabbled in a bit of everything: academics, extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. I have always considered myself to be the teacher’s pet, and I don’t think that that part of me has weaned off. The YIF (Young India Fellowship), like for many of us, was one of the best academic years of my life. I was inspired by the course on the ‘Political Economy of India’s Development’ and took off to work at Samaj Pragati Sahayog (SPS) as Documentation and Communications Officer. I enjoyed working towards securing sustainable alternate livelihoods (with the livestock and Kumbaya teams) and learnt a lot on the job. When I visited Mumbai/Delhi, I realized that most of what my contemporaries spoke about (upcoming movies, music, restaurants, etc.) had no relevance to the lives of people in Dewas, Madhya Pradesh. My time at SPS had sensitised me to the stark rural-urban divide and how I had been living my life in oblivion.
The Chevening Scholarship is an international scholarship scheme which enables students with leadership qualities from 144 countries and territories to undertake postgraduate study or courses in universities in the United Kingdom. Funding for the scheme comes from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Kshiti Gala is a Chevening scholar who got her admission at SOAS in the university of London during the year 2015. She is currently pursuing M.Sc in Development Economics. She talks about her experiences in getting through with this scholarship and also gives insights into what a candidate requires and what a person should have in mind while applying to the Chevening scholarship.
For a start can you tell us something about yourself and your educational journey? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
I’m Kshiti Gala; my family originally came from Kutch. I’m very connected to my village where we run a medical centre and a stitching centre for women. I’ve lived and grown up in Mumbai, did a BA in Economic honors at St. Xavier’s affiliated to University of Mumbai; after which I joined Young India Fellowship program in the batch of 2012-13. After that I worked with an NGO called ‘Samaj Pragiti Sahyog’ (SPS) , in Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh. The NGO works on poverty alleviation and livelihood programs where I did documentation and communications for a year. later on, I worked with UNDP in India as part of their energy and environment unit. Immediately after that I came here to SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies.)
Tell us about UNDP
After my stint at SPS, I worked as a United Nations Volunteer for a UNDP project on mainstreaming coastal and marine biodiversity conservation in the Sindhudurg District, Maharashtra. I worked with the Mangrove Cell on aligning biodiversity conservation with sustainable livelihood generation. The work involved coordinating with the UNDP India Office, the Forest Department of Maharashtra and various civil society organisations working in the field. I realized that the on-ground ‘impact’ (of the kind that I had seen at SPS) was varied here, largely depending on the integrity of the organisation implementing the initiative. On the bright side, even if one out of the 10 things materialized, the ‘scale’ of the initiatives multiplied manifold and therein lay the reward of the painstaking, consistent work with the government.
Tell us about your career path
I wanted to pursue my education further because it had been my dream since my time at St. Xavier’s. I have been deeply influenced by teachers at school, college, YIF and home. I found the process of introducing people to different ideas in a classroom environment to be powerful. I got through the M.Phil. in Development Studies program at Oxford, the M.A. in International and Development Economics program at Yale and the M.Sc. in Development Economics program at SOAS. The expenses were 80,000£, 65,000$ and 40,000£ respectively. In a fit of emotions, my mother considered selling a house in our native place, and other financial assets, to send me to Yale. I am writing this bit to tell everyone who is applying/considering going abroad, please decide to study abroad only if you are partially/fully funded/your parents can support you entirely/you have somehow saved up over the years. The entire studying abroad bit is a sign of privilege, and I would like to explicitly acknowledge it. My introspection on the entire experience is that it is definitely not worth taking huge loans/putting yourself/your family through financial stress. The Chevening Scholarship worked out, and I learnt a lot about Heterodox Economics while studying at SOAS, which I am grateful for.
I was a part of the founding Alumni Council, and I think the experience has helped me become stronger, emotionally, and has taught me that team work, across time zones, needs a lot of effort and motivation. Being on the Council has also taught me that you cannot please everyone and that it is absolutely okay.
You are doing M.Sc in Development Economics. What was your motive behind pursuing this course?
I thought that it was bringing together a lot of things that I was already interested in . My strongest motivation was the fact that I had a background in Economics through Undergrad degree. During YIF too, we had courses like Economics and public policy and Political Economy of India’s development. Then my work experience was more on the development sector. So my main motivation was to bring the two aspects of Economics and Development together. I was reaching this upper limit with respect to what I could do professionally and I thought it would be important to get some insights on the overview of bringing development and Economics together. Most important is to be able to apply it to the real world.
How did you get to know about the Chevening Scholarship? What does it actually offer?
I got to know about Chevening Scholarship from my research online, as I was focusing mainly on the U.K, I knew some of the major one’s were Rhodes, Commonwealth, Felix and Chevening. So I knew couple of Chevening scholars already in India.
It’s a very good scholarship in the sense that you literally have to do nothing in terms of finances. Chevening scholarship essentially covers everything from the time you take the flight from India to UK, it covers a travel cost to and fro; It gives you settling in allowance; It also gives you a monthly stipend for your food and travel and all other expenses that you cover; It gives you boarding allowance where your accommodation is covered and it gives your entire tuition fees.
Who can apply for chevening scholarship? What is the eligibility criteria?
I think this is a very good question rather an important one, because for Chevening scholarship you essentially have to be from commonwealth countries of which India is one. To be eligible you need to have—
- An undergraduate degree to any of the fields and it is open to all the universities in the U.K. One needs to note that the admission remains independent of the scholarship.
- Second thing what you need to have is a work experience of minimum 2 years. They have a specific way of calculating it where it is 8 hours a day for 5 days a week. So it is 40 hours a week for say 52 weeks and this is how they calculate their 2 years of work experience. And they also include internships and unpaid work like voluntary work. You need work experiences and acceptance letter from the university which you have applied to.
What is the protocol for applying to the Chevening scholarship?
The Chevening process is convenient because it is entirely online, at least the application submission form and it’s a very step by step process where you create your account and then they ask you some questions like – why do you want to do this course? Why do you want to study in UK? and so on. There are about 5 to 6 questions which have a word limit of about 500 words. For every work experience you enter, you have to explain what you did and what your designation was in about 250 words. Next step is an eligibility question with a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer. Final step is where you have to upload some documents, say passport scan, the CV which is the important one where it is recommended that you don’t have more than one or maximum two pages of it, you have to make it very crisp.
One important thing which is worth noting is that Chevening scholarship has a condition, where after you are done with the course you can’t get a job in UK; you’ve to go back to your home country and work there. People who are applying should have this on their mind.
What abilities do you think you possessed which has helped you in getting through with this prestigious scholarship?
I think some of the things which they look at was the performance at the undergraduate level. Chevening does not focus that much on high grades, however lot of scholarships like Rhodes,etc focus on you being at the top. Secondly whether you have any additional qualification; there my YIF program played a bit. Third is the work experience, rather a relevant work experience. Fourth is the extracurricular activity where say I had learnt a bit of French, I had done Bharat Natyam and other cultural and social service related activities. Fifth thing I would say is the social service or contribution to the community or society matters a lot because especially in college and universities abroad, they look at community service and social service favorably. Sixth would be a leadership where if you’ve taken up the lead in any initiative or whatsoever; as for me, I was a cultural secretary in my undergraduate university and I was in academic committee at YIF. And I did India Leadership Exchange program during my undergraduate. Lastly, the 7th most important thing would come mostly during the interview stage where they also look at is how well you’ve done your research on the university, on the course, what are your future plans, motivations, etc. So, your research on how well you’ve done your background check on all of these things, being very well informed on why you want to do this course? How will it help you? and so on.
What are you doing now?
Currently, I am working as a Research Associate at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research in Mumbai. My main area of interest is the problem of unemployment in India and I contemplate on the ethics of fieldwork, about conscientious research and how the entire exercise in itself is a privilege. I do think about concepts like reflexivity and intersectionality in my work. Recently, I had the opportunity to be a short-term visiting faculty at St. Xavier’s which has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life, restoring my faith in academia. I was irritated with millennials twiddling with their phones during class, but could not contain my excitement on seeing the spark in their eyes when they understood something. I do think
Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
I see myself doing a PhD sometime in the near future. However, I am going to take a couple of year off to work and maybe do a course in law. However, in the future I see myself working in academia. So I want to teach in a university, also do a research and at the same time not just be an armchair academic who is just criticizing everything; but also making my work relevant to the real world. I also want to work with civil society organization and NGO’s in India on various aspects like capacity building, etc. So, I see myself not only as an academic and researcher but also as a practitioner in the real world.