Stella Dimoko Korkus.com: How To Start An International Career In Academia Or Related Fields -Part 2

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Saturday, December 28, 2019

How To Start An International Career In Academia Or Related Fields -Part 2

This MUST READ post is strictly about charting a career in academia/research that is not bound by geographical limitations. For those in other disciplines, you might have or two things to take away from this, so please don't stop reading.
Read part 1 HERE









Today I will going straight to the crux of the matter (Please note that everything I will be saying is based on my perspective. If you have any suggestions that can help someone who wants to tow this line, please add in the comments). I will first talk about doing Msc/ PhD here in Nigeria, and then abroad.




DOING GRAD STUDIES AT HOME

Doing grad school in Nigeria can be expensive for the sciences. As a student, I'm assuming you don't have money to waste. So I will give some tips to get some funding during grad school in Naija:



a) Speak with your supervisors

Nigerian lecturers are now winning more and more grant. It will surprise you to know that a good number of supervisors here in Nigeria have grants that can conveniently cover their students research (as long as the work is under the grant), and even monthly stipends. Some will not tell you unfortunately. Please ask your supervisor if he/she has some grant that can cover your research work. Lab/field work in the sciences can be very expensive because of cost of instrumentation analyses and chemicals or reagents. Getting funding to offset this can make a whole lot of difference. I got funding for part of my research work in Nigeria, and my department covered the rest. I was lucky in that case. So please ask. You can even ask around before choosing your supervisor.




b) Present at conferences: 

Many students in Nigeria do good work but they don't present at all. They just leave it. You need to present at least even if you don't publish. Join 1 or more societies relevant to your discipline, and present at the conferences they organise. Start from there. Your work might be accepted to be published by the journal of that organisation which will be a plus when you want to apply for your PhD.



c) Join international organisations

There are some international organisation open to every student doing work in that discipline. I can't suggest because I only know for my discipline. There are academic societies for HIV, neural studies, tropical medicine, organic matter, climate change, petroleum exploration, immigration etc. These societies are joined by academics and students, and they often pay annual fees. Students fees are usually at a discount. Check out academic societies, look at what they do, and what incentives they offer students e.g scholarships, funding etc. Join these fellowship and don't default from paying your dues (most problem with Nigerian students is they don't want to spend on dues). Remember life is a negotiation, nothing goes for nothing. Most times the dues for students per year is smaller than some students' hair money in a month. 



You have to prioritise and sacrifice. Sometimes, these societies You provide fellowship opportunities that only members can apply for. They also provide travel funding for conferences for members. The first international fellowship I got was a competition organised by an international society I joined 2 years ago. I applied and was chosen, 3 months fully funded research trip.
Other perks of joining these societies is that you get to meet other great international researchers virtually. You can get email addresses of high ranking researchers from the website of the society(these address book are often always accessible to members only) and slide into their mail boxes to sell yourself for a PhD position. 

We will talk about that furthermore below.



d) Present at neutral international conferences

Usually conferences have funding whether full or partial for their presenters. When I say neutral, I mean you don't have to be a member of any society to present at these conferences. Some of these funding will be reimbursed which means you have to cover with your own money first, and then get it back. Don't worry they will give you-International award boards have integrity unlike some Nigerian scholarship boards (I say this with annoyance and sadness in my heart. 


It's saddening to see how much our nation under-values education and research, and later complains of brain drain. Any sane country will invest in research because it's the wheel of developmental change). Anyway, back to our discussion....



e) Scholarships

There are scholarships for African students studying in their home country, please search online for these scholarships to support your grad studies. There are also many for PhD students as well.




ATTENDING GRAD SCHOOL ABROAD


So if you do decide to go abroad for grad school, there are many options. You can either pay your way though (which I don't advise). Let me elaborate on this. If you're going to do a professional grad degree, and you're in the work force, and you know your degree will yield return for your career when back in Nigeria either short term or long term - as long as you have the money, please go for it. You're making a sensible investment.


However if you're going for a 2 years research Master's abroad, you can get funding if you position yourself well. Try to get something. Some people get partial funding and balance with their money. While some people pay for first year and when they get there, they get funding for the next year. However, if you want to go abroad without funding, calculate very well....Know how much you will need to work to offset the bills. And be sure you can even work enough to cover the bills. Some countries don't allow students to work, while some allow students for up to 20hrs per week (Canada). 


Don't plan to be on the wrong side of the law. I still maintain my stand that you can get something if you're patient enough, for don't sell yourself short by grabbing small/ no funding (Note this is for research Master's not professional masters like MBAs etc . Professional masters often require that you pay through because they are elite degrees, often done to boost careers).


If you're going for a PhD however, don't go without full funding. It does not make sense. You will be dedicating 3 or more years of your life to slave for nothing, and still have to spend your savings?


Also you will have to cover those outrageous international tuition fees, and research costs for 4 years. Please don't do it. Typically PhD position always come with funding. Don't sell your self short based on desperation. If someone doesn't want you, another person will, as long as you have what it takes. The returns on a PhD are not always immediate. Some people do post docs for 3/4 years before landing a tenured position. You shouldn't graduate grad school with debts please, it's not medical school where you start getting paid enormously upon graduation. Stay back in Nigeria and keep doing what you're doing, developing yourself, and applying till you get something worthwhile. I wish you all the best- I know the struggles. 


You can also do the PhD here in Nigeria, and apply for several fellowships abroad, so at the end of the PhD, you have a rounded, cosmopolitan education with papers reflecting international collaborations. There are lots of short term fellowships for PhD students here in Nigeria. You can check check the findaphd website and filter your search to short term fellowships for PhD students. You can also google search with key words "short term fellowship for Nigerians or Africans". Let's talk about how to actually get a funded graduate position




GETTING A FUNDED GRADUATE POSITION ABROAD


There are many options as there are countries. It's difficult to write because of this. However, I will try:
In the UK/Europe, PhD Positions are often like job positions. You often apply for the "PhD Position", your skill set, education and transcripts will be evaluated, and a Skype interview might follow if you're not in the country.
In the US, most schools require the GRE/GMAT and an English exam - the TOEFL/IELTS. Some schools cancel the TOEFL exam requirement for students from Nigeria. Please check the school you're applying to, and be sure of their preferences.


For Canadian or Australian schools: Can be very tricky as many schools don't require GRE or TOEFL to get a PhD or MSc. Getting a supervisor is usually the important criteria. However, you must have an MSc before you can apply for a PhD position in most schools in Canada or Australia, while for the UK/US /EU you can actually proceed from BSc to PhD if you have the equivalent of a first class.


Tip: I always advise students to do these GRE and English exams if they can irrespective of the country they want to apply to. Many times schools say they don't need it, but it can be a factor in choosing a student over another if there is a tie during admission decisions. This is my opinion.


It can also be a factor in securing a supervisor, as the Prof will get emails from numerous students from all over the world. He/she might never have heard of your school before, but a high score will give him an idea of how you fare with respect to other students all over the world. In other words, these exams are equalizers, they put you and other applicants on the same levelling field.
Also, let's assume you're in the admission committee, and you have two international students that have similar background but one has a great TOEFL score, while the other equally as bright, with great grasp of the English language as apparent from his application, but no English exam done. Who will you choose? 


Finally, another reason I advise people to do these exams is so as not to be limited to only schools waiving the exams. So try saving up for the exams, it will be worth it at the end when you snag a full four year funding running into hundreds of thousands of dollars. Smart investment!



GETTING MONEY TO FUND YOUR GRADUATE PROGRAM



Scholarships

There are lots of international scholarships for masters and PhDs. You will see them online.

There are government scholarships: Sweden, South Korean, China, Australian Canada , Commonwealth (UK), Hong-Kong, Turkey. These governments (I'm sure of them), and some other nations, give out scholarships yearly or every other year in a bid to attract young intellectuals. When you want to apply for a scholarship, assess it for its level of competitiveness. Gauge this by checking out the number of awards to be given per year, and how many people apply for these scholarships.

Some scholarships require the home country i.e Nigeria to nominate. Some of these types of scholarships can get manipulated from the National stage. Favour of God can come into play mightily here too. Just check what you're getting into before you start applying and disturbing your supervisors for references. I am aware that Asian governments usually issue large number of scholarships. This is also something to check out.


Tip: I advise choosing the country you want to study carefully especially if you plan to remain there after studies, or if you plan to study a long term program e.g. PhD, consider other factors e.g. if you have families (the ease of getting visas for your family during your studies) etc. Some countries are very strict with getting visas for family while some countries e.g. Canada are open to family reunification.

Also consider the language of teaching. Many European universities now offer programs purely in English. This is also an option. On the flip side, if you will be going for a degree taught in the local language, and you don't speak the language, you have to do a language immersion course which can sometimes be as long as a year. Consider these factors to narrow your options. Don't just rush to apply.



SECURING A SUPERVISOR FOR GRAD STUDIES

As I said earlier, this can be the key to getting a master's or PhD position- a supervisor.

Another advise, especially for PhD position, try getting a supervisor before you apply. I was corresponding with someone who has applied to 5 schools for in the US. I asked if the person had contacted any Profs in these universities and the answer was "No". I was shocked.

It seems many people don't understand how some of these admissions run. There is no magic there. Research Master's or PhDs run on funding. Your research will be funded by a supervisor's grant. So it's either you are bringing your funding (e.g external scholarships which are often quite competitive as described above or the University/Professor will sponsor you).

If you are not bringing your funding, and you are planning to get something from the University, you need an insider who will speak for you at the admission decision level. You also need a Supervisor who will be ready to cover your research costs with his grants.

To get a supervisor, you have to contact them.



SENDING EMAILS TO PROFESSORS

You will first search for Professors doing research in your field of interest. Please confirm that this professors are still active e.g don't contact Emeritus Professors , and be sure they are not retired/dead. In short don't just send an email to anybody. Check their profile first, either through the departmental page, or their personal website. Check their publications through LinkedIn to have an idea of what they do, and if it matches with what you're doing/want to do.


Send an email. Remember this email is your selling point email. Don't mess it up, check and crosscheck for grammatical errors ( it can be pissing off if there are typos and errors) . Remember you're selling yourself as a detailed, smart individual with scholastic aptitude. Please delete things like "Am a student of....". Simple errors like using "Am" instead of "I'm", "faithful day" instead of "fateful day" can be pissing off even if you have a great profile cos some of these professors have "Writing OCD".


Sharpen your reading and writing skills, it will also help you make high scores on the verbal section of the Graduate record Exams, and help you succeed at grad school. Some of the comprehension passages on the GRE can be so dense and thick, you can hardly cut a knife though. It takes skilled readers to do well on them.


You can start by reading websites that will help you develop critical reading skills e.g "The economist", "The Atlantic" e.t.c. The more you read (especially technical papers), the better you will also become at writing. The two skills are very connected.


So in the email to your prospective supervisor, talk about yourself , downplay your weaknesses and emphasize on your strengths. Talk about your research background, your grades in school, your research work and link it to him/her. You can compare with his publications e.g.
I read you publication on......., You work is in line with........that I've done.
Basically, be specific. Don't let the Prof feel like you sent a generic letter to him. They will know if you did.
Also don't send the same letter to Profs in the same department. They interact a lot.


Take note that you will get a number of "No"s. Don't be discouraged. Instead share your email format with a knowledgeable colleague or superior for constructive criticism. Always remember that these "No"s do not always mean you're inferior or lacking. It can be as simple as "I have no funding for one more student".



APPLYING FOR VISAS

Now the issue of visas.
Now let's assume you have your admission letter, funding or school fees or short term fellowship, as the case may be. You might need a visa.
TIP: In applying for a visa, I always advocate doing it oneself. If you want to pay an agent to do it, please follow bumper to bumper. Be sure of the documents being put together for your application. Remember if the agent puts falsified, dubious stuffs in your application, or gives you a fake visa, and you are banned, he won't be banned with you. If you're using an agent, be sure of what they are doing in your name, especially if it's a first time with such, and they are not tested or trusted.

Also, confirm that you fill the Form that says an agent is representing you in case you decide to use an agent.
P.S : This is not to discredit the image of agents. I'm just advising based on some touching stories I've heard. Be careful!


In my opinion, there are 3 crucial factors that Visa officers (VOs) look at in an application:


1) Financial Capability to carry out the particular study/research visit:


I feel this is the most important part in an application. The VO wants to see that you have demonstrated enough evidence that you're able to cover your tuition and living expense for your studies. Many countries require that you show this evidence for at least one year.

So this means you have to go to the website and check the international tuition for your program, add it to the minimum amount required for living expenses, and make sure you have this money for the first year at least.
Some countries e.g Germany require that you have this money in a blocked account. While others just need you to show you have the money in your account ( preferably no lump sums or sudden transfers) or you have a promissory note (funding/scholarship letter) from the university or a reputable scholarship board.

I always advise having your tuition money . Many people think that they can work and cover tuition, rent e.t.c, it's not easy to work and cover these things with a part time job with limited number of hours. Many of these tuition fees are insanely expensive. Rent, feeding too can be expensive in university towns. Many countries have limits on taking leave of absence between school to work, and doing this can boomerang on you when applying for permanency after studies. I will also never advise you to do things against the law e.g working illegally. I will never do that. So my advice to you is- don't do it.

If you will not be able to cover your tuition, you can defer your admission or save some more. You can also seek sponsorship from third party. But whatever you do. Make sure your tuition is guaranteed as third parties e.g. aunties, uncles are not reliable. I wish you the best




2) Purpose of study

Be sure you have your game tight , either in your application or interview. Demonstrate to the VO that you're an asset to their country, you are going to study, do research, and better their country. Make sure there is study progression. If you will be changing careers, explain clearly the motive and why.
Proper explanation is good especially for non appearance visas, that why I encourage attaching a statement of purpose with your visa application, since you won't have an interview to explain yourself in person.



3) Demonstration that you will return after your studies.

In my opinion, this just means that "Will you return after your studies if you don't have an immigrant status yet? Or will you stay on illegally?
They try to gauge this with many things:
Hometies (can be anything from valuable properties to a spouse in the country, to children in the home country , or a job to return to) e.t.c
Some scholarships maintain that you return to your home country and work for a while, you can stress on this if applicable.

You can also talk about your immediate family back at home (extended families are often weak ties). Travel history can also show that you have travelled before and came back. So try to display this things with evidence.



Final Words on Visa application:

Don't be evasive, the VOs are often trained psychologists and know when you're holding something back. Be yourself, don't be tense, remember you are an asset to their country.
Remember who you are and don't act desperate, just make your case, and make it well.
Also, make the best application you can, it gets more difficult when you reapply after a denial.




STUDENT DEPENDANT VISAS

The above also applies. Remember it's a dependent visas so you have to clearly show that you, the sponsor is schooling, and in good academic standing. Support this with all the documents you can.

Some countries allow spouses of Students to work unlimited, and grants the work visas for the length of your study program. I'm sure of the UK, Canada and Australia. So if you have a spouse and you want them to have option of working full time while you study, you can consider these countries.
If you have another country in mind, and you want to bring your family along, double check on the limitations for spouses.




FINAL WORDS

Prayers......
I don't joke with prayers. You have to stand on something if you want to go up and break barriers. "For every height, there is a weight". If you don't have depth rooted somewhere, you will crumble like a pack of cards at a particular height, whether home or abroad.
If you're a Christian, be a Christian through and through, Stay with the Word of God, and pray like Crazy.
Favour is very important. It transcends human judgement, it singles people out in spite of flaws.
After you've done all you can, pray about it and commit to God who is able to establish your paths.
We have finally come to the end of this broadcast, and I hope I made a difference to someone.


Thank you for your audience once again,


I wish you all the best, and have a fabulous new year ahead,


SDK's love child

13 comments:

  1. What this poster has shared for free is GOLD!!!. I pray it is not wasted on the BVs here. God bless you richly poster.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. For real? If free, God bless you immensely.

      Will read it twice and note salient points.

      Delete
  2. From your perspective anyway

    ReplyDelete
  3. Very nice write-up. Just to add a few points about scholarships in Australia.
    It is important that you have at least one or two publications (I mean articles not conference presentations or papers) in addition to your Masters degree for you to obtain a scholarship for a PhD. The scholarships are very competitive and the scoring criteria includes having publications in recognised peer reviewed journals. Speaking of journals, there are lots of predatory journals (of poor quality and they flood your email with requests to publish with them). You can check up the journal you wish to send your paper to on Scopus. If it is not listed on Scopus, then don't submit your manuscript to them.
    So while good grades are very important and it's importance cannot be overemphasised, it is also important to have publications to secure a scholarship to fund your PhD in Australia.

    Furthermore, while trying to contact potential supervisors, please ensure you include a copy of your CV and proposal. It helps them to make a decision about taking you as a postgraduate student.

    Best wishes to everyone who intends to apply.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This is gold!

    I've sent this to my junior brother and he's so ecstatic.

    You covered all intending questions 😂

    Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  5. God bless you real good for this...


    ReplyDelete
  6. I would read this write up to the end and kudos for doing a good job

    ReplyDelete
  7. Fringe benefits of visiting SDK blog☺God bless you for sharing this . I love to go into the academics but I graduated with a 2:2 plus I will be turning 40 by 2020. Does age play a role? Meanwhile,I have industry experience.

    ReplyDelete

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