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Stories from the community: Myths about International Summer Fellowships

Anurag Kumar Srivastava

In the first article as part of community voices for international grants and fellowships, Anurag talks about myths associated with undergraduate fellowships. Apart from his research, Anurag mentors students for higher education and provides career guidance. Anurag has been an Erasmus Mundus Svagata fellow, National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev (NIBN) scholarship awardee, and Erasmus+ Trainee grant awardee.

Community Voice: Anurag
Community Voice: Anurag 

To encourage innovation in Indian educational institutes, it is of utmost importance to promote a research culture from the undergraduate level. There are plenty of opportunities available for Indian students at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels for summer internships across the globe. Students hesitate to apply for and avail of these chances because of the common myths associated with international fellowships. As a career coach, I have encountered many myths related to prestigious summer fellowships worldwide. Here, I highlight the most frequent ones with examples.

  1. Only toppers get summer fellowships: India is a marks-obsessed country. We define a student as good or bad based on how many marks he/​she has secured. This leads to a general myth that only toppers are ensured of international summer fellowships. One of my students from the Indian Institute of Technology-Varanasi (IIT-BHU), secured the National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS) summer fellowship, despite not being the topper of the class. She showcased her research interest with a powerfully-crafted letter of motivation, along with strong recommendations that helped her secure the fellowship. The NIMS fellowship is a Japanese summer fellowship in material sciences, and every year they recruit 100 undergraduate and graduate students worldwide. 

  2. Scholarships are mostly for Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) or National Institute of Technology (NIT) students: There is a widespread misconception that students studying in private universities lack the acumen of students from government colleges or IITs. This leads to the second widespread myth that global fellowships are difficult to obtain by private university students. I will share the experience of a student from Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT), Vellore, who secured a Mitacs summer fellowship in Canada. The application opens in August every year, and the projects are listed on the website. She applied for three projects matching her research interest. She secured a good reference letter, and drafted a good letter of motivation. The combination of all these documents helped her to secure the fellowship. The benefit of a Mitacs fellowship is that alumni of the fellowship become eligible for the Globalink Graduate Fellowship to fund their master’s study in Canadian universities. 

  3. Research publications are a must: Another familiar myth among students is that a research publication is a must for securing a summer fellowship. One of the students I mentored secured an École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) summer research fellowship in life sciences without having a single publication. This is a highly competitive fellowship. The student was the topper of his course, and his astute research experiences helped him secure the prestigious internship. His previous stint as a summer research fellow and industrial training improved his chances of securing the scholarship. I always advise students to focus on quality research work that will support their applications in the future.

  4. Interdisciplinary work: Many students study one subject, but their interest lies in another field. These students experience conflict as their core interest lies somewhere else and if they want to pursue research in the field of interest, they feel lost. There are two ways to overcome this and get an international summer internship. The first way is to find some research projects in their area of interest at the university. The second is to authentically present their interests and goals in a strong statement of purpose. One of my students pursuing a chemistry course at Delhi University had a strong research interest in astrobiology. With his extensive research work, he obtained a summer internship in astrobiology at Chalmers University in Sweden.

From my experience, I would like to reiterate to students that getting an international summer fellowship is a realistic possibility. With self-belief and dedication towards research, they should be able to look beyond the myths and secure these fellowships. 

Written By

Anurag Srivastava is a final year Ph.D. student at the University of Turin, Italy. His research focuses on the immunotherapy of pancreatic cancer. Apart from his research, he is involved in mentoring students for higher education, and career guidance. He enjoys reading non-fiction and poetry. Anurag is passionate about cooking, science communication, and encouraging more empathy and compassion in science and academia. He has published stories in Science, The Cancer Researcher, and NASW.