This post will focus on how 2016 has progressed up to this point, and the tumultuous journey that is jumping through the many hoops between confirmation and departure.
The year started having just received confirmation of a place in the Cambridge PhD program and an offer to Darwin College. At this point, I had had no confirmation of funding, and was sceptical as to whether it would eventuate. Through January, I travelled to Europe on a holiday with Brittany, which included a day-trip to Cambridge to have a look around. That included seeing the colleges, campuses and punts, but because I didn’t have funding, I was hesitant to get too excited; there was no guarantee that I would return.
Returning to Australia in early February, I began early preparations for doing a PhD in Adelaide; I had accepted an offer as a back-up. However, one morning in late February I woke up to an email from the Cambridge International trust, with an offer of a Cambridge International Scholarship. These scholarships are awarded to the best 200-or-so applicants to the University. It covered both the course fees and living expenses. I was ecstatic. I finally had confirmation that I could go and study at one of the most famous Universities in the world.
Having now confirmed that I could go, I started to make initial preparations. I withdrew from my Adelaide PhD, and confirmed my places overseas. Further, I sent off my transcript for confirmation that I have achieved the grades I said I had. The semester times meant that I now had an 8 month break in studies. I applied to teach first-year classes during the Adelaide semester, to which I was welcomed with open arms due to my relatively unobstructive timetable.
Barely a week after I was offered the Cambridge International Scholarship, I received another email from the Gates Cambridge trust. I had almost forgotten that I had applied for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship; the Cambridge equivalent of Oxford’s Rhodes Scholarship, and I had basically given up on it by this point. Nevertheless, they wanted to interview me in late March over Skype.
A week before my Gates interview, I received another email whilst in my office at Uni in Adelaide. My Cambridge International Scholarship had been withdrawn, only to be replaced with the Cambridge Australia Bragg Scholarship; the same money just with a different name and funding from a slightly different source. Nevertheless, the date of my interview came around. I wasn’t nervous; I already had funding and all this was doing was upgrading to a more prestigious name. I had Skype set up and I sat in my office waiting late in the evening. Eventually the call came. We were all introduced; there were three interviewers each from a different background in physical sciences. But barely after the introductions, my webcamera failed and I had to complete the interview with voice only. Nevertheless, I felt like I did very well. I was asked to justify why studying physics was good for society; a question I had been asked many times before, and I felt like I answered it the best that I ever had. I explained how progress in physics today leads to major technical and scientific advantage in the future, and how we cannot comprehend what that would be.
A couple of days later, I was on a holiday in the Flinders Rangers whilst my parents were off on a multiple day hike. I was preparing a simple dinner on a camp stove at a campground in Wilmington when I received an email confirming that I had been selected as a Gates Scholar. It seemed so bizarre to be receiving such news in a relatively isolated benign locale. I was very excited, and now the rolling cycle of new scholarships surely had to stop.
In the meantime, life continued as normal. My name was published in The Australian as a scholarship recipient, albeit incorrectly. But my days were mostly spent teaching first years in tutorials and practicals.
The next stage in the application (and there are many) was an ATAS certificate. As a science student, apparently I am at risk of learning state secrets and could potentially take my knowledge back to my home country to make Weapons of Mass Destruction. Specifically that and only that. It required a whole application process to convince them that I wasn’t, and subsequently my offer was confirmed.
Now for the waiting game. It was only April, but I couldn’t sort out my accommodation nor my visa for a few months yet. I kept teaching; a fun and new experience, and in June I was marking exams. It reached July before I could apply for my visa, which included a rather expensive NHS surcharge. The application was online and easy, though I had to visit the (Australian) Department of Immigration to have my fingerprints scanned. Armed with much documentation, I sent off my passport to Sydney to have the visa fully processed. Sending one’s passport away in the post is always a nervous endeavour. In the meantime, I just had to wait. There were some things to do, such as choose activities for the Gates Induction camp, and finish the applications for accommodation. And I was also offered a Cambridge Australia Honorary Scholarship (for those who turned down their scholarships). But finally today, after a nearly-four week wait, my passport has been returned with leave to enter the UK. Next steps: booking flights!