What we were before or where we come from cannot determine our future – It is what we wish to be. 

Read the story of Pratha Jhawar, hailing from a small town in Rajasthan who has now reached the Imperial College London while navigating a life filled with adventures of self-discovery. 

Chevening scholarship enables outstanding emerging leaders from all over the world to pursue one-year master’s degrees in the UK. 

Key Takeaways From The Interview:

INTERVIEW

1. Can you tell us about yourself?

I am from a small town in Rajasthan called Bhilwara. I come from a typical middle-class family. My father is a trader and mother is a homeworker and I have two younger siblings. As can be expected, my experience growing up was no different from that of many similarly situated children all across India. I was expected to be good in my studies, be obedient, and speak only when asked for. I  grew up to be a shy and quiet girl, but with a strong interest in problem-solving, especially in maths and science. My parents were quite supportive of my interests and encouraged me to pursue engineering in an IIT. I am grateful to them that they never stinted in supporting their eldest daughter to pursue a career in a male-dominated field like engineering, which sadly, in our patriarchal society, is infrequent, but thankfully changing. 

My life in Kota (the coaching hub in India) was restricted only to cramming for the entrances with no time for friends or fun and, as I look back, I did not devote any time for personal growth. I was deprived of the opportunity to gain soft skills by interacting with other people and gain other perspectives. I have now come to understand that such knowledge is no less important than the knowledge imparted by our course materials, especially in those formative years of life. 

I cleared my entrance and was offered a seat in the Electrical Engineering stream at IIT-BHU which I  accepted. I worked hard in my first year and I was able to meet the criteria to switch to the Electronics branch.  But unlike in Kota, I knew that I wanted to not just become an engineer but also grow as a well-rounded person. To that end, I participated in a myriad of extra-curricular activities ranging from artistic endeavours such as singing, dancing, acting to sports such as volleyball. I also participated in Technology  Festivals where I exhibited my knowledge and skills in engineering, e.g. by entering a team in Robo-soccer.  I was also the co-convenor of the Institute of Engineers’ IIT-BHU chapter. It was in BHU that my interest in environmental science and engineering solutions were awakened. 

I was awarded a B. Tech. (H) in 2010 following which I joined Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) in  Bangalore as an Engineer Trainee. At BHEL, I worked for the development of solar cells and modules which furthered my interest in renewable energy and how developments in renewable energy have the promise to save our planet from the existential danger of climate change. I loved the work I did there, especially the feeling of making the environment better for society. This sense of achievement kindled in me a desire to serve the nation and I thought that the best way to do so was by joining the Civil Services. Growing up,  I was taught that a good life is spent in the service of making the lives of others better, which also inspired me to aspire to become a civil servant. Unfortunately, I could not crack the interview round of the toughest exams in India. 

While it would be wrong of me to say that I did not suffer any disappointment but I knew that giving up does not help. I kept my spirits up and continued to work hard and smart so that I would be able to achieve my goal of serving society by other means. 

As I have mentioned earlier, I had developed an interest in the Environment. To further that interest I  decided to pursue an advanced degree in Environmental Technology abroad where I would be exposed to cutting-edge research and technology to find solutions for the ills ailing our environment. My hard work paid off when I was granted admission by Imperial College London, and I was awarded the United Kingdom  Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Chevening Scholarship to study there. I also had offers from other universities but I knew I wanted to study in London. As one of the largest and most cosmopolitan cities in the world, I knew that not only would I learn from some of the best professors in the world but that I  would also have many opportunities to imbibe different and varied cultural experiences which would have an indelible impact on my growth as a human.

I made sure that while I kept up with the academic coursework I did not neglect the social side. I lived in a hostel that had students from all over the world. I learned about many cultures and gained a wide knowledge of many different parts of the world. I travelled extensively through England and Scotland and partook of both the beautiful countryside as well as the happening city life. I saved enough from my scholarship stipend to plan a vacation after the course. The highlight of my time in London was my 45 days long solo Eurotrip where I covered 20 cities scattered in 15 countries. The kaleidoscope of a variety of cultures, languages, food, leavened with the universal love shown by citizens of these countries to me, a  stranger to their lands has left an indelible mark on me. It is no exaggeration to say that my one year in  London has been the best time of my life both academically and personally. 

While life is always an ongoing journey, I can say that my experiences have taught me one very important  lesson: An ideal life is a balanced life, balanced between the spheres of: 

  1. Family and Friends: They are your Life Support System; when the outlook seems grim, it is your family and friends who will cheer you up and support you. One should not ignore them for what seem like other pressing concerns for work. The more you give them, even more, you get back. 
  2. Health: While it is clichéd to say that “health is wealth”, there is a lot of truth in that proverb. If one does is not healthy, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally, one cannot operate optimally. Only when you take care of your health in all aspects would you be able to achieve your personal and professional goals as well as be of service to family and friends. 
  3. Career: Career serves an essential purpose in life, not only is it a means of sustenance but it also provides an intellectual challenge. However, one should not forget that one should work to live,  not live to work. 
  4. Personal Growth and Development: Anything that helps one grow as a productive member of society, not just in terms of work but in terms of knowledge and the care of oneself and others.  Leisure activities such as reading, travelling, socializing are integral parts of personal growth and development. 
  5. Spirituality: Ultimately, everything boils down to what is the purpose of one’s life. Immersing oneself in spiritual understanding can lead one to live a more fulfilling and complete life.

2. Can you tell us about your achievements?

I was awarded the prestigious Chevening Scholarship (2016-17) by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth  Office to pursue higher studies in the UK. I was also awarded the GREAT Scholarship by the University of  Edinburgh and Cranfield University (2016-17). I am a member of South Asia Women in Energy (SAWIE)  which is an initiative of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and US-India Strategic  Partnership Forum (USISPF) to promote women’s empowerment and gender sensitization in the energy sector in South Asia. I am a Member of the Editorial Board of the Agriculture & Environment E-Newsletter, a  monthly, peer-reviewed, open-access platform dedicated to publishing cutting-edge research in  Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. I have contributed to the following intellectual property  materials: 

  • Journal Publications:
  1. “Graphene as a transparent conducting and surface field layer in planar Si solar cells”, July  2014, Nanoscale Research Letters 9(1):349. 
  • Conferences: 
  1. “Graphene as an antireflection and transparent conducting surface layer in Silicon solar cells”, May 2014, SNEC 8th International Photovoltaic Power Generation Conference,  Shanghai, China. 
  2. “Manufacturing Technologies for high-efficiency crystalline Silicon Solar Cells and PV  Modules”, NTPC Global Energy Technology Summit 2014 
  • Reports:
  1. “Silver Bullet: Redesigning Solar Pump Programme for Water and Energy Security”,  published by the Centre for Science and Environment, 2019 
  2. “State of Renewable Energy in India 2019”, published by the Centre for Science and  Environment 
  3. “Impact of Diesel Generator Sets and Case of Solar Rooftop for Gurugram Residents”,  published by Centre for Science and Environment 
  • Copyrighted Materials: 
  1. “RFID Tagging-cum-2-D Bar Coding for PV modules” 
  2. “Design of novel front grid line pattern and split back bus-bar pattern for 156-mm Mono-Crystalline Silicon Solar Cells” 
  3. “Design of padded busbar front grid pattern for 156-mm Mono-Crystalline Silicon Solar  Cells” 
  • Designs: 
  1. “Edge frame for solar modules” 
  2. “Solar photovoltaic module”

3. Can you explain to our readers the selection process of the Chevening Scholarship?

Prospective scholars should keep in mind that the Chevening Scholarship is an independent scholarship offered by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office to provide financial support to only those applicants who have already been admitted into a course of postgraduate study in the UK. In other words, the prospective scholar has to, simultaneously, apply for admission in UK universities as well as navigate the Chevening scholarship selection process. If the prospective scholar has not obtained an offer of admission from a UK university, by the specified deadline then such a person would be disqualified from the scholarship. 

Prospective scholars have to start preparing for the application a year before when they want to commence their studies in the UK. Typically, the application process commences in September and is open for around two months. Sometime in February of the following year, prospective scholars would be shortlisted for interviews that take place in March and April and successful scholars are informed of their conditional selection commencing June. To reiterate what was stated above, the successful scholar has to submit an unconditional offer of admission from a UK university by the specified deadline that would typically be in July otherwise the selection is rescinded. 

The application process requires the applicant to submit 4 short essays on leadership skills, professional relationship-building skills, academic plans, and a post-study career plan. Detailed information on the application process and timeline can be found on the Chevening Scholarship website

4. Why do you think you were selected for the scholarship?

The Chevening Scholarship does not provide any detailed feedback to the applicants to help them determine why they were or were not selected for the scholarship. That said, I believe that my application essays played a significant role. My essays were inspired by my life experiences and I was completely transparent about my experience, the knowledge and skills I had acquired, and my future goals. I was also honest in my responses during the interview. I did not polish my answers and responses because that would have taken away from my authenticity which I believe was appreciated by my assessors. 

5. Have you ever faced any rejections or failures?

YES! Failures and rejections have been a part of my life. I was unable to crack IIT-JEE in the first attempt,  nor was I able to get through the Civil Services Exams. There were times when I failed to clear job interviews. I will confess that it has hurt when I have been unsuccessful in achieving a goal that I had set myself, but I made sure that I did not wallow in such hurt. I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and set myself to work again. It is a cliché but it is true nonetheless that failures are the pillars of success. I have learned from each of my failures what I did wrong and what I needed to do right the next time and such an attitude has been crucial to my successes. I was able to crack IIT-JEE in my second attempt and I was successful in being selected for the Chevening Scholarship after not qualifying for the Civil Services. The important point I want scholars to take from my experience is that it is normal to be dejected but one should continue to look forward to new opportunities. Setbacks are just the opportunities to gather all the courage we have and to come back in life with a greater force.

6. Can you tell us about your experience as a Chevening Scholar?

I am grateful that due to the Chevening Scholarship I did not face any worries on the financial front which allowed me to focus on my studies and in broadening my horizons.  

As I have mentioned before, the Chevening Scholarship was a formative experience in my life. It exposed me to diverse cultures from all over the world and diverse modes of thinking. I was intellectually stimulated by participating in activities with my fellow students and Chevening scholars who have become friends. One year in the UK helped me to grow as a scholar and as a human being. I have gained an immense amount of knowledge, and emotional maturity in my time in the UK. 

Following my return to serve in India, the Chevening Scholarship has helped me to maintain my network with fellow Chevening Scholars. This network allows us to exchange ideas and collaborate on projects of mutual interest. The Scholarship has also harnessed my leadership and mentorship skills to assist prospective scholars in navigating the application process.  

7. Is there any advice you would like to give to future aspirants?

Life is a beautiful journey, a mix of varied experiences, and an opportunity for us to grow. No matter what type of experience we have or the situation we face, we should maintain a positive attitude and keep looking forward.  

Specifically, with regards to the scholarship application, I would suggest:

  1. Plan in advance
  2. Thoroughly check the timeline and all the terms and conditions
  3. Don’t hesitate to reach out for assistance
  4. Stick to the deadlines
  5. Keep your Plan-B ready

Every story is encouragement and every experience an opportunity. We all have a Pratha inside us, who is not afraid of changes, who is ready to commit to the goal in mind, who turns down every bitter moment into a huge peak in life. It is now time to find out her and ensure our growth. 

Read the story of 2020 Chevening Scholar Pallavi Mahajan to know her success formula. 


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