Some Depressing Context
From late 2020 to early 2021, I was depressed like shit. After completing my GRE (in August) and IELTS (in October), I felt empty inside my mind. Sometimes, I literally felt nothing –may be due to the impact of the six-month lockdown (March to August 2020), with some of the intensive study pressure I ever experienced in my life. In November, however, I lost my best friend (Not died but lost from my life, not heart though) –who helped me mentally during the entire lockdown period and more. So, If I sum up all the pressure which my heart and mind felt since December of 2020, then it might cross yours beyond imagination.
Hence, I decided to go on a trip to Sylhet with my friends. I managed my money by arranging an online seminar about GRE preparation and materials. It went not that well –yet it gave me enough amount to spend during my vacation with my friends. The trip was good –we discovered hills, mountains, and some stunning nature. The cold limewater and white stone of Volgonj, the astounding hill scenario from top of the Jaflong healed my mind. My mental health got enough nutrients to run again. Therefore, I came back to Rajshahi from Sylhet with a strong positive vibrant.
However, as soon as I arrived, I realized that I am in serious financial trouble. I did not have enough money to carry out my living expenses let alone for my future application cost in the USA. My heavy debt to my homeowner facilitated my financial distress further. Hence, I tried hard to get at least four or five home tutoring jobs, but I got only two –maybe for the post lockdown circumstances.
So, time passed as my depression about career and money grew inside my mind. The loneliness (without my only friend) and depression grasped my mind and made me a true procrastinator. I did not feel energized, thus, I did not have any daily plan. I knew that I have to shortlist some universities and professors for emailing purposes, but I could not start the process. Even If I tried for 1 or 2 days –my brain prevented my motivation next seven or ten days. So, I was literally stuck in one point, but I had all the test scores and reasonable CV to go for any mid-rank university –even for some ambitious one. During that period, I was only able to maintain my collaborative research groups.
My Plan for Master’s (Only) and Rejections from Erasmus
On the eve of the new year, I got some motivation to apply for the Erasmus Mundus master’s program. I met a girl through Facebook who was super excited about some of the programs that the Erasmus Mundus committee offered. She actually helped me to enhance my motivation and apply for European Master’s program. Then I observed deeply, and I felt that these programs are great in any sense. To add to that, I had a plan for getting a master’s with a fully-funded scholarship from a reputed university –not like the top 50 but I felt like I am happy with the top 500. Because my undergrad university was literally shit in perspective of ranking and excellence.
My thought process was like –if I get a master’s degree within 500, then I will go for the top 50 during my Ph.D. application. On the other side, due to the covid and my bad luck during the period of my undergrad project distribution, I did not have enough lab exposure and necessary skillsets (If I am being honest). So, I literally feared that even If I get a Ph.D. from the USA, it would be not as fruitful as I hope for because Ph.D. is hard –literally sucks all of your mental and physical energy. On top of that, If I have not had enough experience it would be pretty worrisome.
So, I decided to apply for the Erasmus solely with a lot of effort and planning. I went for three programs and I learned a lot while I was applying. Different programs had different systems of application and the way of writing motivation letters was different too. I had to prepare my necessary documents (which are common for all applications) during this period. I was hopeful that at least from one program I will get positive news.
But it was what it was! I got rejected from two programs and they put me on the reserved viva list for LIVE –the vaccinology program. Each of the rejection mail hurt my stomach, heart, and brain. These rejections helped me to realize that I am not as competent as I think of previously, and I have a lot of areas to improve. This realization helped me later indeed.
In early March, suddenly I found my old motivation back. Every neuronal connection told me to work hard again. My perennial loneliness and depression suddenly blew away. As I got a positive signal from my heart and brain, I started to list 30 universities (USA) and 3 professors from each university. In total, 90 professors –which is a lot actually. But customizing mail for each professor requires a lot of energy and time. But I was hopeful that I can STAY POSITIVE THIS TIME.
Up-Saclay at the Eleventh Hour
On March 23, 2020, while I was shortlisting universities and professors for my MS in the USA, I found that University Paris-Saclay (Up-Saclay) have some interesting master’s program. (Around 12 months ago, during my GRE preparation days, I read an article from the Economist about this university. From my reading, this university seemed simply stunning.) I found that the deadline for application was 31st March if I want to grab the opportunity to apply for the IDEX scholarship. So, I only had 7 days left to do everything. During that time, one of my seniors studied at the Up-Saclay as an M2 student. So, I had one person whom I can ask If I need anything. I started to prepare my motivation letter, cv and uploaded these two important documents with my bachelor certificate and transcript in the admission portal. The application procedure was simple as far as I remember.
Then I had to wait for my two recommendation letters. Earlier, I notified my two professors (One was my undergrad project supervisor and another one was my master’s thesis supervisor) that 31st March is the last date to validate my application. My undergraduate supervisor provided his recommendation letter as soon as he got the mail from Up-Saclay. However, my thesis supervisor was busy at that time and did not able to manage his time to upload a recommendation letter for me. I felt very anxious –which was obvious. I called him, mailed him politely to upload the last documents multiple times. Finally, on 31st March 2021, around 2.00 PM (10.00 AM Paris time), he uploaded his recommendation letter for me. As soon as I got the mail that my second supervisor uploaded his recommendation letter, I hurried into my room and validated my application. So, like the previous three applications, I finished everything on the last day, literally the last moment of the D-day.
I felt bad about myself. Because of my procrastination, I could not apply to another two programs (In Up-Saclay, a student can apply to three master’s programs at a time). On top of that, my program (M1 Life Science and Health –International Track- France) has only 10 places available. After validating my application, My honest feeling was that I won’t have enough chance to get a viva call. I felt that it will be super tough to get a call from the admission board. However, I felt relaxed by imagining that at least I validated my application before the deadline. Sigh of relief!
I Got the Viva Call from Up-Saclay Admission Board
Around a month later my application, on April 27, I came from my Johor Prayer and felt nothingness inside me again. So, I decided to recite the Holy Quran to heal my heart. I recited the Al-Quran for about 30 min as far as I remember. After that, I connected my mobile phone with my Wi-Fi. Instantly, I got an e-mail that suggested that I got selected for viva by the Up-Saclay master’s admission board. They want to take my viva on 30th April. I literally forgot that I applied for the Up-Saclay master’s program. I thought that I won’t have a chance. But things turned positively this time. So, I had two days to prepare myself for the VIVA.
The moment I got the viva call, I decided that I will give my everything to grab this opportunity: grab it or die! They attached five common questions with their mail. But I did my research about the graduate viva board questions and list them down one by one. From then on, I visualized the answers, spoke loudly inside my lonely room, practiced in front of my mirror, and gave multiple mocks with my friends. I remember my viva was just after the iftar. I practiced so hard that I didn’t feel any tension. After taking iftar, I opened their given link and joined as a guest to give my interview.
I saw that there are three professors present to take my interview. In the beginning, I had an audio-related problem that panicked me, but they were polite. I took some time to fix the problem and they gave me that without any hesitation. After that, I went to the conversation with the Up-Saclay admission board. They asked me a lot of questions –my interview went on around 22 minutes and a half. So, it was intense and highly intellectual things. I attached some questions from my viva below.
- Please introduce yourself?
- Why France and Why University Paris-Saclay?
- Why this Program?
- Describe your research experience?
- Which field are you interested in for your future research and why?
- Can you describe a research paper which you read recently and which is not related to your field?
- What’s your extracurricular activities?
- What’s your hobbies or what do you do in your free time?
- What’s your strategy to cope with a different environment?
- Tell me about your one single weakness? ……and so on.
After I finished my viva I realized that my preparation over the last two days was worthy enough to impress the admission committee. I was happy and pretty sure that I will get admission. But, I was not sure about the pre-selection for the IDEX scholarship. Because one of my friends said to me, “Getting a master’s admission is easy, but getting a scholarship for your master’s program is really tough.’’
I Got the Admission and Pre-Selected for the IDEX Scholarship
Two days after my viva, around 2.30 PM, I was feeling anxious. I thought that Maybe the admission board did not like my profile. Maybe they will reject me. Otherwise, why they are so late to inform me about the admission decision. I thought about a lot of things –mostly nihilistic views. Suddenly, I got three emails –one after another. In the first mail, they said I got admission from the University of Paris-Saclay. In the second and third ones, they said I got pre-selected for the IDEX scholarship. However, the scholarship committee is totally independent of the admission committee. So, I have to apply formally for the scholarship with their given link.
They gave me a deadline for the application for the scholarship. In the scholarship application portal, I saw three tabs: (1) Did I get any scholarship during my undergraduate life? (2) Do I have any scientific publications? (3) Write an essay on Excellence, prize, and distinctions of your life (Within 3000 characters). Furthermore, I have to upload two recommendation letters again from two professors.
So everything was pretty concise and they want clear but specific answers. I wrote the essay with more than 15 times revision after the first draft and on 13th May I submitted my scholarship application. Later, my professors uploaded their recommendation letters to the scholarship application portal. I heard from them that the scholarship committee asked them some specific questions which they have to answer (about me). After I validated my application, they said they will inform me about the scholarship decision at the end of June 2021. So, I have to wait a month and a half. Trust me, those 45 days were toiling mentally and physically. Every day I felt oblivious about my future. Hah!
I got the IDEX Scholarship
On June 25, at 2.54 PM, I came from my Friday prayer and finished my lunch. I opened my Wi-Fi as normal people do after Friday lunch. But it was a special day for me because I got the confirmation mail which suggested that I got the IDEX scholarship from the University of Paris-Saclay Jury board for the academic Year 2021-2022 and 2022-2023. I felt that life is really beautiful! Alhamdulillah. The toiling and cumbersome 4 months journey comes to an end with a single blissful email.