“Robinson scholarship is a free ride and free rides don’t come easy.”
Do you remember the title sequence of the movie ’21’ in which the protagonist is interviewed by the Harvard professor? Surfing for higher education scholarships to fund your studies abroad may pop out the name of J.N. Tata Endowment Loan Scholarship as a primary result. However, the selection rate of the scholarship is less than 10%. Selection of such a small of students who simply “jump off” their resume may be quite daunting for you. But wait! How does a student ‘dazzle’ and ‘jumps off the page (resume)’?
I have seen many talented students settling for lower ranked universities unable to afford the high cost of attendance at some prestigious universities. One of my seniors from Mechanical Engineering at IIT (BHU) had an exceptional profile with a GPA of 9.85 and received an admission offer from Stanford University to pursue a Masters in Materials Science. However, he didn’t receive any scholarship and ultimately, he had to give up his plans. Even I had to drop off the plans to pursue an MS in Biomedical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and Imperial College London. Never mind! This post is not about the hardships of getting funds to finance your postgraduate study abroad.
While the Indian government doesn’t layout any scholarship scheme to reward meritorious students seeking admission in foreign universities, there are few Indian organizations that back the dreams of some students. I am sharing my interview experience of J.N. Tata Endowment Loan Scholarship for Indian students which is one of the prestigious higher education scholarships in India. Established by the visionary Dorabji Tata in 1892, the Tata Trusts fund around 100 students from over 1200 applicants through a rigorous and grueling selection process that involves 3 stages.
I was interviewed on 26 May 2018 over Skype. Let me tell you a little bit about myself to help you feel relatable the questions that follow next. I am a recent graduate in Mechanical Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology Varanasi. Working on various projects at the crossroads of medicine and mechanical engineering brought my interest in biomedical engineering. I had mentioned about my summer internship project in France on exoskeletons in my ‘statement of purpose’ (SOP). SOP carries a significant weightage in your application.
There were two interviewers. One of them was the director of Tata Trusts, T.J. Ravishankar and the other was a professor of bioengineering at IIT Bombay, Dr. Neeta Kanekar. There was no long formal introduction from their side and the Skype interview lasted for 29 minutes.
Numb Tips: The J.N. Tata interviewers stress a lot on the clarity of the discipline/field you want to pursue abroad.
M: So, where are you going?
Me: I would be pursuing postgraduate study in Bioengineering at Imperial College London.
M: You have mentioned that you have research experience in biomechanics. What according to you is biomechanics? You don’t have to hurry.
Me (after a brief pause): Biomechanics is a field of science which involves the application of mechanical engineering principles like kinematics and dynamics to solve problems of medicine, say human gait analysis.
M: What are the four fundamental mechanical principles that govern biomechanics?
Me: You mean their applications like tissue engineering?
M: I will give you a hint. One of them is static. Can you tell the other 3?
Me: Dynamics, Kinematics, and Kinetics.
M (smilingly): You should have said that on your own.
(He asked Dr. Neeta to ask questions)
Dr. Neeta: You have worked on exoskeletons. What exactly you did and for how long did you work on it?
Me: I described the details like the biomechanical data collection and the design is supposed to aid in elderly mobility.
Dr. Neeta: Did you check the effectiveness? What was the outcome?
Me: Yes. I checked it computationally in OpenSim software. 4 months is too less time to fabricate it.
Dr. Neeta (she repeated): What was the outcome?
Me: The exoskeleton could decrease the torque required at the joints and the also the metabolic rates while walking on level ground.
Dr. Neeta: What are your core strengths in Mechanical Engineering? (You see they want to know how your undergraduate courses have prepared you for your graduate study)
Me: Solid Mechanics and Control Systems
Dr. Neeta: Tell me the difference between the closed loop and open loop control systems.
Me: (Thinking to myself, This is damn easy!!) I explained and she seemed satisfied.
Dr. Neeta: Tell me about your course structure.
Dr. Neeta: What are your future goals?
Me: I am keen to pursue Ph.D. and pursue a career in academia.
Dr. Neeta: Why didn’t you apply for a direct Ph.D.?
Me: I applied to some top-ranked US universities and some of them admitted me to the master’s program like Carnegie Mellon and Northwestern University. Since master in the USA is unaffordable, I am going with the European one. I applied only to the top schools.
Dr. Neeta: Getting to John Hopkins, Harvard or MIT is very tough. You should have applied to the state univerities. They are excellent in research in biomechanics. (She named a few universities like the University of Delaware and University of Illinois, Chicago. Later I found that she had completed her Ph.D. from University of Illinois, Chicago)
Me: I am keen to get to top universities of the world. I can find a Ph.D. position in the UK. I talked to my guide and another postdoc who happens to be from IIT Bombay. (Now, this was partly bluff because my Ph.D. wasn’t guaranteed there. It’s tough to get a Ph.D. at Imperial)
They wished me luck and told me to prepare beforehand for the course at Imperial could be really challenging due to its shorter duration. This is the best I could do. I am waiting for the results but I wouldn’t be surprised and wouldn’t be disappointed if I don’t get it as it’s a tough scholarship to get and this was the best I could give.
I hope my experience helps you.