PhD at Oxford: "A Lifetime Experience"
Indian students travel from Taiwan to Brazil in search of better higher education, novel research ideas, facilities and for that matter all-round intellectual and personal experience. But what does the experience of studying abroad actually involve, and what can you expect, should you decide to undertake it?
When I first set foot in the UK, having been accepted to study PhD in Chemistry in Oxford University, I knew it was going to be an experience of a lifetime. It was my first time in a foreign country, and yes, adjusting to the culture, climate, food and the people was a little daunting, at first.
With passage of time, I settled down. Studying alongside students from different parts of the world was the most fulfilling experience as interactions with them help you broaden your academic and cultural understanding and knowledge base, all of which are essential for holistic education.
The gap between the Indian education system and the UK became clearer when I began teaching undergraduate students in my university. The methodology adopted by those students in their approach to academic questions was an eye-opener, something which I only picked up during my PhD. It’s unfortunate that we still follow an archaic education system back home, where the pedagogic thrust is on the abstract and theoretical, rather than a pragmatic approach which encourages one to think innovatively.
Here in the UK, even the most mediocre universities have classrooms fitted with projectors and the state-of-the-art technological facilities. Every lecture is conducted with PowerPoint. Moreover, I found that professors were much more approachable and they took active interest in fostering and encouraging innovative ideas.
Money from grants is invested in acquiring research equipment and better facilities to promote research with minimal red-tape. Good supply of scientific reagents ensure smooth running of research labs. Students and researchers get a lot of opportunities to attend and present their ideas and research work at international conferences, great places to network outside your own work. Conference travel is also funded by the research grants.
A few humble words of advice to students keen on foreign education: don’t be blinded by the desire to study abroad – make an informed and careful decision. Talk to as many friends and colleagues who have studied abroad. Every foreign university has scholarships that you can apply for. The Indian government has a number of scholarships for some selected universities.
Career fairs and embassies are very useful as they expose you to various options and also provide an opportunity to interact face-to-face with university representatives. An internship or summer project abroad during your undergraduate degree could be an eye-opener and a good opportunity to networking at an early stage of your education.