|Vatsalya Srivastava recieving a Certificate of Excellence for winning TOEFL Scholarship, from Scott Nelson, Vice President of Marketing & Public Affairs, ETS.
MEET 25-year old Vatsalya Srivastava who is all set to pursue a PhD in Economics at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. The 25-year old who hails from Bihar, is leaving his position as Associate Professor of Economics at Amity University to pursue academics in the hope of becoming a professor one day. A US$ 5000 TOEFL scholarship has eased his financial burden. He talks to Shipra Goel about his experience of competing with 960 applicants for the scholarship as well as his career path.
Q: When did you develop an interest in economics?
A: I used to read a lot and discussions on inflation, unemployment and GDP interesting. When I joined Delhi University's Kirori Mal College to pursue Economics (Hons.), I found that I enjoy the subject beyond reading about it in newspaper articles. Since then it has been an exploratory journey more than anything else.
Q: What is your research all about?
A: I want to do PhD because without that you can’t become a professor. My research at Tilburg will be on a niche topic within the subject ie social institutions. I want to find out how incentive mechanisms get generated over time and manifest themselves in actions of people. It will be mostly through a lot of observation, use of common sense and enjoying what a lot of people would know about culture and society, which I wouldn’t.
Q: So are these the reasons to study abroad also?
A: After my bachelor's I realised that people have a lot of pent up anger against the Indian education system. True or untrue, you wouldn’t know till the time you leave. So part of it was simple curiosity to see how bad we really are. From what I know, our research lacks a lot in terms of resources. If you are a PhD scholar in India even at IIM A, you get Rs.20,000/- a month. But if you are the same at Tilburg, they pay 2000 Euros a month which is about 7 times more. That’s not the only problem. Students face problems with supervisors. People leave PhD because they had to change their subjects; papers were not published, etc. Problems are more with subjects like social sciences where the output is not tangible.
Q: How is this scholarship going to help you in achieving your aim?
A: If you are trying to become an academic in India, you have to start with a heavy loan on your head, restricting your options. In turn, you have to look for specific kinds of jobs too to repay your loan. So what having a scholarship or multiple scholarships does is freeze you up from that problem and basically allows you to do what you want to, even experiment and quit jobs.
Q: How was the application process?
A: We were asked to submit a written application consisting of a lot of essays and multiple short answer questions post which an interview was conducted. The longest essay was of about 800 words on ‘How to encourage higher education in India’. Apart from that there were six or seven others which were more of personal nature. Biggest challenge was not the steps but to compete with people who are really smart.
Q: How was your interview experience?
A: It took place over Skype. I felt there were three people in the panel as I could figure out through the voices. Interview was mostly drawn on with my application, then moved on to what I have done previously, interest in the subject, what I am looking forward to doing and so on. So, it started off as a being a basic interview, there were questions that required thought even after having filled up the application form. It was around 20 minutes interview.
Q: What should a student take care of during such an interview?
A: I think clarity of thought is important, no matter which institution you are going to. There are times when we place too much emphasis on innovation and people spend too much time to come with an innovative idea. I don’t think that that’s really required. If you can come up with it, that's excellent, but if not then the least you can do is to maintain a cogent stream of thought. Talk about what you understand and if you don’t understand have the courage to say that you don’t. There is no point moving around in circles and coming up with fancy jargon. I say this because I have been a consultant and this is what consultants generally do.
Q: Academic tips for students...
A: Apart from having a good TOEFL score, profile building is important. Do as many things as you like and your body and time permit. Keep honing your English language skills. Read as much as you can, read good newspapers and books and don’t spend too much of time in reading celebrity specific supplements only.