Just like that, I won!


Just like that, I won!

My Journey winning the Singapore International Graduate Award : Full Scholarship for PhD studies in Singapore

By the end of January 2020, upon completion of my undergraduate studies I was fortunate to start working in the corporate sector right away. But I always had the idea and passion of going abroad to pursue my higher studies at some point. If you are a follower of my posts, you are already aware about my first attempt of applying for higher studies, where I ended up being a finalist of the Global Rhodes Scholarship offered by University of Oxford. Check out my article for the full story: Failing is not always a Failure, but a Priceless Learning!

What happened after Rhodes?

After facing the entire process of the Rhodes Scholarship for about 6 months and having faced multiple interviews, I knew I had to do it all over again. Honestly I would say I was a little hesitant at the beginning coz it’s no easy game. But since I had most of the documents in hand already and had the idea of what I wanted to do, I started applying again.

Initially I just applied to few similar scholarships in the UK hoping that I would have the chance since I was a Rhodes Finalist and more importantly the application procedure was similar. But to my surprise, I didn’t even get shortlisted for some of them even though I got partial funding for some. Did I give up? No.

Then I started applying for scholarships in Germany and Canada. These were either general STEM related or university specific scholarships. Well, I got shortlisted and faced interviews for some but couldn’t reach the final stage. Afterwards, I tried USA which I thought was my last resort. Got offers from two major universities there and as well as that I was nominated as a candidate for the Fulbright Scholarship 2022, but I gave up on them without proceeding further due to personal reasons.

Singapore International Graduate Award (SINGA)

Having applied to 50+ scholarships, writing multiple project proposals and personal statements and putting together various documentations amid my full time job, part time business and tutoring was tough and exhausting. But, leaving all my thoughts about impossibility aside I didn’t give up because:

A dream doesn’t become reality through magic : it takes sweat, determination and hard work -Colin Powell

While waiting to hear from the USA universities I applied to, I came across Singapore International Graduate Award when I was doing my routine scholarship check. Before this point, I did not have Singapore in my list as I really was not aware of the scholarships there. But reading through this, I was contented and really wanted to give it a try !

The Singapore International Graduate Award (SINGA) is a collaboration between Singapore’s leading agency which supports R&D that is aligned to areas of competitive advantage and national needs for Singapore : Agency for Science, Technology & Research (A*STAR) , the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), the National University of Singapore (NUS), the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and the Singapore Management University (SMU).

Why I thought Singapore was the best option?

Since the inception, I thought of Singapore as a knowledge hub which will provide me with a multitude of learning opportunities beyond the caliber of many other countries. And it was one of the few and leading nations which conducts research and involves PhD programs including my domain of interest : Spatial and Spatio Temporal Data Science.

Moreover with SINGA, you get to work in a chosen lab at A*STAR and the selected university alongside distinguished and world-renowned researchers. So, I saw it as a huge opportunity that provides me with the exposure to the best practices in this domain which will be indispensable towards achieving my future objectives.

In addition to that, studying in Singapore enables to work with a diverse community of International students. Being a person who likes to meet and work with people from different nations and cultures, I thought this will open up doors to build more meaningful relationships.

Furthermore, universities in Singapore are ranked highest among the universities in the world. Based on the QS World University Rakings 2022, National University of Singapore (NUS) is ranked 11th and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is ranked 12th in the world.

And above all, Singapore is just a few hours away from home! So having considered all these reasons, I started my application right away.

Application Procedure

Like any other general scholarship, SINGA calls for a strong application to get shortlisted which entails different statements and documents. There are 2 intakes for SINGA per academic year — January and August. For the January intake, application is open from early December and the August intake, application is open from early June (Now it’s open!). Given below are the major steps of the application process.

1. Browse PhD Research Projects

SINGA supports PhD studies in different areas such as Biomedical Sciences, Computing and Information Sciences, Engineering and Technology, and Physical Sciences. You can browse different projects under each of these areas through the SINGA official website . Upon identification of interested projects you can directly email the point of contact mentioning your willingness to join the project. You can choose multiple projects at this point but have to select 3 of them at the end to be included in the application. When you select the projects, make sure you are actually passionate and interested about this area because you got to live with it in the next 4 years! Don’t select a project just because it has a close connection to your area of research.

2. Main Documents Required

Before applying through the online portal make sure you have the following documents in place.

  • Valid Passport
  • A recent passport-sized photo (in .jpeg or .png format)
  • Bachelor’s and/or Master’s academic transcripts.
  • Bachelor’s Degree certificate(s) or a letter of certification from the university on your candidature
  • 2 recommendation reports (to be completed and submitted online by the referees)
  • GRE scores if you are applying to NUS projects. For other applicants, you may be requested by the university to submit satisfactory GRE scores as part of the university admission requirement.

Apart from the generic documents above, I believe the following are the critical components that can make your application stand out.

  • Statement of Purpose : This is one of the most vital parts in your application. My advice is , try to make it authentic as much as possible with your own words and perspectives about your true desires. More of my tips for crafting a good SOP can be found here.
  • Brief Proposal of the Interested Projects : Once you select and finalize your projects of interest with the corresponding supervisor, you have to include a brief proposal for each project as a part of your application. These proposals generally should include sections like background, significance and broad objectives of the research.
  • Research Experience: I have to be very clear that this neither call for many years of research experience nor for numerous publications. Because at the time of applying, I just had done my undergraduate thesis and didn’t have any publication. But I made sure to include all viable projects I worked on during my Bachelors, Internship and during my position as a Data Scientist. I believe having a publication has a strong advantage in this section, but it’s not a must. It’s all about the quality of the work you’ve been working on, how much impact that it can create and how helpful it is to pursue your proposed research project.
  • Career Aspirations : For this, you don’t need to have a solid plan, but it’s always worth putting together some points on where you want to see yourself in next 5 to 10 years. Also include how studying in Singapore and particularly this scholarship will be instrumental in achieving these future goals.

Further Information about the entire application process can be found here.

3. The Interviews

I was fortunate to get shortlisted and had my first interview with my assigned potential supervisor from A*STAR. This is more like a casual conversation where he/she would ask questions to understand better of your background, aspiration and preferences. Furthermore, this is the point where you have to specify your university of interest with proper justifications. Then the A*STAR supervisor will help you select a potential co-supervisor from the particular university.

After successfully completing this interview, I was called to the final round of interviews which were more intense with a panel of interviewers. This included both technical and non technical questions specifically focusing on my area of research and how it could possibly be a value addition going fourth. So it’s really important to be clear and well aware of your area of research and its’ significance. Also it’s important show confidence about your capabilities in pursuing this project in the upcoming four years.

After about a month, an email popped up in my inbox mentioning that I am a recipient of the A*STAR Merit Award!

4. Securing University Candidature

And that’s not it ! Even though by this point your scholarship is confirmed the process is not yet over. Next you have to apply separately to your preferred University in Singapore (In my case it was NTU) to secure the candidature. In this application also, you’ll have to submit kind of the same set of documents. After submitting the application I had to face another technical interview conducted by NTU. However, this process might be different based on the university and the necessary instructions will be provided by A*STAR to proceed.

On the 1st of December 2021, I received my letter of offer from NTU.

And Just like that, I won !

It doesn’t happen overnight !

I’m currently studying in the first year of my PhD in NTU Singapore, with a full scholarship. And as you can see, I didn’t get here overnight. It was not an easy path even having a good GPA, both corporate and research experience and an almost perfected statement of purpose.

I know the feeling of dejection very well, having failed in many attempts. I know how hard it is to keep waiting until you get the scholarship you worked hard for. But Don’t lose hope as you eventually can figure things out.

My advice

It’s just a matter of time , keep trying , don’t give up and make every step a learning experience. Sometimes you might end up getting a better bargain than what your dreamt of !

Also, don’t think of PhD or Studying abroad as a “Ticket to escape your boring/stressful life in your country” , because it’s not ! Not even close ! Apply for a PhD only if you truly have the desire for it.

SINGA Scholarship Applications for Jan 2023 intake are now open !

So, if you truly have the desire, have excelled in your academics, have diverse talents and required capabilities, just give it a go. And don’t hesitate to contact me if you need any help in the process of applying. All the best !

More details about Higher Studies in Singapore: Postgrad Studies in Singapore: FAQs About the Application Process by Rochelle Silva


Kethmi Hettige

Ph.D. Candidate, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

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