International Grants Awareness Program (iGAP) I 03 Dont’s for a successful DAAD Scholarship Application

International Grants Awareness Program (iGAP)

IndiaBioscience brings to you the International Grants Awareness Program (iGAP) which aims to improve the success rate for Indian applications at international funding opportunities — for some of which India even contributes towards. Here we explore the DAAD’s binational doctoral degree or sandwich scholarship.

In this conversation, Sapana Sharma and Shivam Yadav discuss the don’ts for a successful DAAD Scholarship Application. Sapana and Shivam have been awarded the scholarship in 2020 and 2017 respectively. Sapana has been awarded the scholarship in 2020 to complete her binational doctoral studies at the University of Tuebingen. Shivam was awarded the DAAD scholarship in 2017 when she pursued her binational PhD degree from Goethe University, Frankfurt and Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi.

Learn | Discuss | Succeed

[00:00:00] — Intro

You’re listening to IndiaBiospeaks, your one-stop resource for science news and careers.

[00:00:15] — Shantala Hari Dass

Hello, and welcome to today’s podcast. This is a part of our international grants awareness program, or iGAP for short. This initiative was born out of a desire to increase the number of Indians seeking and acquiring international funds. We do so by one: spreading awareness of international funding schemes by creating resources with the funding agencies, two: imparting skills to craft a successful application via workshops and other skill-building resources, and three: inculcating the confidence to apply by sharing access to a network of Indian mentors. We bring these resources to you in a variety of ways, such as webinars, podcasts, workshops, informational articles, et cetera. Now let’s continue with today’s conversation.

[00:01:10] — Zill-e-Anam

Hello and welcome, everyone. I am Zill-e-Anam from IndiaBioScience, and in this recording, we caught two Indian awardees of DAAD’s binational Ph.D. degree, or sandwich program, Sapana Sharma and Shivam Yadav. Sapana is presently a fourth-year Ph.D. graduate student at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Tirupati and has been awarded this scholarship in 2020 to complete her doctoral degree at the University of Tuebingen. Shivam is presently an assistant professor in the department of botany at TPS college in Patna. She was awarded the DAAD scholarship in 2017 when she pursued her binational Ph.D. degree from Goethe University in Frankfurt and Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi. In this recording, Sapana and Shivam virtually sit down together to discuss the dont’s or what not to do for a successful DAAD scholarship application. Let’s listen in from them.

[00:02:12] — Sapana Sharma

Hello, Shivam. Happy to talk to you.

[00:02:14] — Shivam Yadav

Hi, Sapana. Happy to talk to you as well and live back my Ph.D. days.

[00:02:19] — Sapana Sharma

So let’s begin with finding a German academic supervisor. As I remember, my initial contact with my German supervisor happened via my Indian supervisor, who did her postdoctoral studies in Germany in the same lab. Even one of my friends received this fellowship in 2019, and she also worked in the same lab where her PI did his post-doc.

[00:02:43] — Shivam Yadav

That’s really nice, Sapana. While I agree that this is one of the routes to approach a German supervisor, not everybody would have this opportunity and privilege. For example, my supervisor suggested a few names to contact based on my work, and I initiated contact with them myself; and if one has to do so, I think it is important to follow some best practices. Firstly, one should never contact the supervisor at the last moment. For example, I contacted my supervisor five months before the deadline, in June itself. Secondly, one should not send a research proposal in the first mail itself. This should be sent only when the German supervisor shows interest and acceptance in hosting you. For the initial communication, one’s research interest and a brief CV are sufficient. It is also important not to exaggerate sentences and not to add unnecessary or non-academic interest in the CV.

[00:03:43] — Sapana Sharma

That’s an insightful list of don’ts, Shivam.

[00:03:53] — Shivam Yadav

Going back to my DAAD application preparation days, I remember I was contacting a prospective German supervisor and preparing my research proposal simultaneously. From your experience, what should one keep in mind by writing the proposal?

[00:04:11] — Sapana Sharma

Well, there are multiple aspects to this, Shivam. As an applicant, I feel, many times, we do not keep it relevant and to the point and add a lot of unnecessary information. This should not be done.

[00:04:27] — Shivam Yadav

I agree, Sapana. One should also not generalize the objectives and methodology of the research project. Being specific about what one is writing is very important. Something as simple as following the given guidelines while writing the project gets messed out many times.

[00:04:45] — Sapana Sharma

Absolutely, Shivam. When an applicant, for example, does not follow the word limit, it shows that one does not respect the guidelines. Another aspect that comes to my mind is not referencing supporting materials or related research. Backing up claims with references helps strengthen the proposal.

[00:05:09] — Shivam Yadav

And on the same lines, while it is important to cite sources, original sentences should never be used without rephrasing. Applicants also should not propose a completely fresh project that is not related to the research interest of both labs. The project must be well balanced and coordinated with both supervisors.

[00:05:31] — Sapana Sharma

Yes. Also, one should not write incomplete or absurd reasons for justification of the proposed idea. Many times we tend to keep our proposal in text-only format. I think this should not be done. And at least one graphic per page should be included, if possible. One can also use headings to break the text in a meaningful way to make the proposal easy to read.

[00:06:00] — Shivam Yadav

Sapana, that’s an interesting way to make your project captivating. I also feel that applicants must not make an imaginary time schedule, which is impossible to be finished in a given time.

[00:06:15] — Sapana Sharma

I second that. One should not be over-enthusiastic while writing the proposal. The timelines should be realistic. For example, for a six-month proposal, we don’t need to write, we are going to the moon and back. This way, we will lose credibility with the reviewers.

[00:06:34] — Shivam Yadav

Indeed. With respect to submitting the scholarship application, one should never wait for the last date for uploading the application. I remember I asked one of the DAAD India representatives and was told to upload the application a few days before the deadline because, often, the server load increases closer to the deadline. Another very important point is seeking help from DAAD India. One should not hesitate to ask DAAD India if there is any confusion with respect to application preparation. From my personal experience, they’re very nice and willing to help.

[segue music]

So let’s discuss the interview. What do you think should be kept in mind and not be done during the interview?

[00:07:30] — Sapana Sharma

Firstly, don’t speak over the interviewer; let them finish speaking and then talk. Don’t pretend that you know things that you don’t. If you don’t know something, admit it. That is better than giving a weak answer, signaling that you don’t know what you are talking about. Also, don’t undermine the importance of soft journal questions like what motivates you to do the Ph.D.? Being specific and to the point is also important because it will show the interviewer that you are not feigning and you know what you are talking about. Simple yes or no answers must be avoided. Add an explanation while answering. Enthusiasm is good, but not if it is exaggerated. Then it becomes quite off-putting, and conversely, don’t get nervous if you think the interview is not going well.

[00:08:32] — Shivam Yadav

I totally agree with you, Sapana. Also one shouldn’t forget general info about the host university and of course about Germany. This shows the interest in the university, German culture, and tradition as well. For example, I was asked to tell the name of the person after whom my host university was named.

[segue music]

[00:09:02] — Sapana Sharma

Looking back, what did pursuing a bi-national doctoral degree meant for your career, Shivam?

[00:09:09] — Shivam Yadav

So for me, this scholarship brought the opportunity to build relationships with academics in the lab, department, and institutions who came from all over the world. The connections I built during my stay in Germany are now my lifelong international collaborations. These global connections have helped me enhance my academic reputation and turned out to be crucial when I started looking for faculty positions. What is your perspective on this, Sapana?

[00:09:39] — Sapana Sharma

I feel DAAD gives you the opportunity to interact with people that help in finding post-doctoral positions or several job opportunities, as you also pointed out. It also improves the quality of your CV while applying for any job position. Apart from this, when we work in Germany, it makes you more confident and organized. It also helps in discovering a new culture and developing a new way of thinking.

[00:10:12] — Shivam Yadav

I agree with you, Sapana. It also brought more opportunities in terms of asking for research funds to enhance the quality of my research.

[00:10:22] — Sapana Sharma

That’s great, Shivam. It was nice talking to you.

[00:10:26] — Shivam Yadav

Likewise, Sapana.

[segue music]

[00:10:34] — Zill-e-Anam

That was an honest and insightful conversation on the nuances of don’ts for a DAAD scholarship application. You have been listening to a podcast as part of IndiaBioscience’s international grant awareness program.

[00:10:50] — Shantala Hari Dass

Thank you for joining us today in this conversation. If you found this podcast helpful and, or are interested in more resources on international funding opportunities open to Indian life science researchers, please head over to our website and go through the other iGAP resources and keep on the lookout for future announcements.

[00:11:12] — Outro

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