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Aman Iqbal, 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 rounded 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 for a 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 has been the most fulfilling experience as these interactions help you broaden your academic and cultural understanding and knowledge base, all of which are essential for a well-rounded education.

The gap between the Indian education system and the one in the UK became clearer when I began teaching undergraduate students at my university. The methodology adopted by these students in their approach to academic questions was an eye-opener, something which I only picked up during my PhD. It’s unfortunate 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 other state-of-the-art technological amenities. Every lecture is conducted with PowerPoint. Moreover, I found that professors here are much more approachable and they take 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 at international conferences, great places to network outside your own work. Conference travel is well funded by the research grants.

A few humble words of advice to students keen on a 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 embassy days are very useful as they expose you to various options and also provide an opportunity to interact face-to-face with university representatives from abroad. An internship or summer project abroad during your undergraduate degree could be an eye-opener and a good opportunity to network at an early stage of your education.

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