Passion and perseverance are two ingredients in every success formula. Ankit Verma, the recipient of the prestigious SN Bose scholarship is a great example of this achievement. He is a Master’s student studying Management Science and Engineering at Columbia University, his story is truly inspiring. 

The SN Bose scholars program is a student exchange program for Indian students between institutions in India and the United States of America, developed by the Science and Engineering Board, Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, WINStep Forward, and the Indo-US Science and Technology Forum(IUSSTF). It is named after Satyendra Nath Bose, an Indian physicist best known for his work in the field of quantum mechanics.

To learn more about this program, click here.

Read on to learn more about Ankit and his journey!

Key points discussed:

INTERVIEW

  • Could you tell us a bit about yourself and how this scholarship changed your life?

My name is Ankit Verma. I am currently a graduate student of Management Science and Engineering at Columbia University. I did my undergrad in Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of Technology, Allahabad , India.

Currently, my internships and interests align with Data Science and Machine Learning and I’m focused towards learning more in this field. I have been fortunate enough to win many prestigious scholarships, S.N Bose being one of them.

I believe this is the scholarship that changed so many things in my life, overnight. I still remember the date, it was the evening of Jan 11, 2017, when I received an email. I opened it thinking it’s a rejection email but it turned out to be an acceptance. I couldn’t believe it because I was just in my second year and I got this prestigious scholarship where only around 45 students are selected from India. It was funny too. I applied for this on the very last day, a few minutes before the deadline because in my mind I was so convinced that I don’t stand a chance in this. But guess what, I am glad that I did!

Another surprise was that a lot of professors rejected me and refused to host me during the summer because they had different commitments. But the professor that agreed to host me was probably the biggest name in current neutrino astrophysics, Professor Francis Halzen. He is a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and also the Principal Investigator of IceCube, a cubic kilometer telescope inside the earth at the South Pole.

He wrote a LOR which got me selected for the University of Tokyo Summer Internship Scholarship the following summer. He even wrote a LOR for me which got me into Columbia University, an ivy league university.

I guess by mentioning this I want to say that you may think you are not the best and that you won’t be successful in a particular thing but don’t shy away from trying. Always give it a shot! Had I not clicked that submit button minutes before the deadline, I don’t think I would have spent the past 3 years the way I did – learning and enjoying every bit of it.

  • Could you describe the application process in brief?

Apply on the IUSSTF website with 2 Letters of Recommendation(LORs) and a 1000-word Statement of Purpose. There are other components in the application form as well but these two are the main and most important ones.

Once you get selected, you are then required to email professors of your choice to ask if they could host you for the summer that year. 

TIP: The day you complete your application, try to start searching for professors because the decision of selection takes about 2 months to come. 

It would be easier for you. If you start the process after selection, probably some professors would have already taken students by then, so they won’t be able to host you. You need at least one professor to host you and that’s it.

  • Why do you think you were selected?

I believe my Statement of Purpose (SOP) made the difference. The structure that I followed was to start with a problem, mention how serious the problem is and what I think could be the solutions. And how working with professors here in the US can help me in implementing those solutions. I know a lot of people write about themselves in the statement of purpose. That’s required but it should be a minor part only. 

My SOP was like a story, in simple language and coherent. I believe by writing your SOPs in particular ways, you can showcase certain skills instead of explicitly stating it in the SOP.

The second most important reason for my selection was the strong Letters of Recommendation (LOR). Few people try to get LORs from people at high positions but the issue with that is that such people usually have very busy schedules and therefore the LOR is very general. That doesn’t add value. 

Having a personal LOR with few examples of why that person still remembers you and agreed to write about you adds value even if it comes from maybe an associate professor. 

But yeah all this won’t matter if you don’t apply. Do apply. Take your chances!

  • Can you tell us a bit about your experience with this scholarship?

It was one of the best summers ever! I got a chance to live in university housing and work with a brilliant professor for 10 weeks. The learning opportunity was immense. We had an orientation where we heard from the organizers, professors, and past scholars. We played games, competed in the official logo competition of that year, etc. Winstep Forward, the body behind this, ensured that we had ample fun activities as well. We went hiking to a place called Devil’s Lake, had outings, etc. So, it was a very balanced internship – working and exploring the United States.

  • Have you experienced any failures or rejections?

As mentioned earlier, after you get selected as an S.N. Bose Scholar, you need to have a professor in the USA who agrees to host you. I contacted about 300 professors, never heard back from the majority of them (probably because my emails went to their spam, so always send emails from your institute email ID, although it’s still not 100% guaranteed to land in the inbox). I heard back from around 7-8 professors, out of which only one professor agreed to host me. So, a lot of rejections and just one acceptance. But sometimes, that’s all you want.

  • What are some of your major accomplishments?
  • 2020: Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations (HPAIR) Delegate
  • 2018: University of Tokyo Summer Internship Program (UTSIP) Scholar
  • 2018: SAKURA Exchange Program in Science Scholar
  • 2018: S.N Bhatt Memorial Excellence Fellowship offered (I had to reject the offer as I already committed to UTSIP)
  • 2017: S.N.BOSE Scholar
  • 2016: O.P Jindal Engineering and Management Scholar (OPJEMS)
  • Any advice you would like to give future applicants? 

Spend most of the time, I would say around 70% of the application time in writing your SOP. Write it from your heart. Ask your seniors or friends to review it. Don’t repeat things. Make changes and try to be you. The best way of writing something is by drawing a picture in the reader’s mind. 

Use your words in that way. Spend the next big chunk of time, around 20% in getting personal LORs. Make sure the person knows you well and writes examples about you. But yeah as it is being written by someone other than you, there is only so much you can control. Also, you need to get 2 LORs, try to get it from different people (as in the work you did, maybe one from a professor you worked on a project with and the other from your manager at the internship/workplace). Also, usually, people ask for your resume to write LOR for you. Omit a few things purposefully (one way) or ask the person politely (a different way that may work sometimes but not always) that I need to get 2 LORs, the other person is writing about X, Y, Z, etc, can you please write about my other skills. 

The rest 10% includes everything else. Also, start searching for professors you want to work with as soon as you complete your application.

Ankit’s story just goes to show anyone can achieve their goals with the right mindset. When asked if he would be willing to mentor future applicants, he agreed and has also offered to do a live stream to answer any queries regarding the topic. 

So stay tuned for that and keep learning!

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