Scholarships – First of all, what do you want to do?

Since we’re currently in the season of scholarship application, let’s talk about scholarships – especially since some SPM leavers must have already received call-backs from their prospective sponsors by now.

The views that I will share on this article are rooted from my observation as a former scholarship recipient – I graduated 5 years ago though, so my views may not be very current.

First thing first, ask yourself:

What do you want to do?

 

As cliche as this may sound, it’s really important that you know what you want to do. What are you passionate in? What sector do you want to venture into?

With the dwindling number of scholarships year by year, the old adage “beggars can’t be choosers” is becoming even more relevant to many.

For example, an SPM leaver, lured by the possibility of spending a few years overseas, may forgo his dream of becoming an architect and do engineering instead.

“Asalkan dapat biasiswa pergi UK, kan?”

While the seemingly pragmatic decision often makes practical sense, it also tends to end badly.

Tolerating that one subject that you dislike, let’s say Physics, and still score that A+ in SPM, is one thing. It’s just one subject, out of nine. You can still do lots of past year papers, commit yourself to some serious rote learning, and try your best to get the result that you desire – with a high chance of success.

But tolerating 4 years of learning Engineering, which goes deep into the subject matter, often with staggering level of complexity (especially in top universities), is a completely different thing.

When I was in Melbourne some of my unimates had to drop out because they simply couldn’t take it anymore. They found it untenable eventually, committing so much energy and intellectual capacity learning subjects that they simply had no passion in.

These were top students in SPM, mind you. It’s not that they weren’t intelligent. They just hated the course the scholarship that they received made them do.

Fast forward to this year, some main sponsors like MARA and JPA offer scholarships in a very limited number of fields. Engineering is one of them. Architecture isn’t. Arts isn’t.

Many SPM leavers who love Architecture will end up receiving a very tempting offer to further their studies in a course they are not very passionate in overseas.

If you’re one of them, think twice before you accept the offer.

What are your favourite subjects?

 

Random bookshop, Soho

When I received my SPM result 10 years ago, I was quite clueless of what I actually wanted to do with my life. I had a very limited exposure to the career world. My dad, along with most of my uncles and aunts work in the oil and gas sector, and seeing what they do everyday greatly influenced my perspectives at that time. I thought a career in oil and gas was what I wanted (and needed).

Long story short, not knowing what I wanted was a big mistake on my part.

If you’re in the position to choose today, don’t be as clueless as I was 10 years ago. Know what you want, if not clearly, at least have a rough idea of what you would like to do for the next 10-20 years of your life at least,

***

Here are some guides, compiled based on my observation and that of people around me in various industries. The fields of study are lumped in based on the subject that you love the most in high school.

Additional Mathematics: Actuarial Science (if you’re really good in Maths, this is a really difficult course), Economics, Finance, Accounting

Physics: Engineering, Geology (if you’re into Geography too)

English/BM: Mass Comms, Literature, Creative Writing, TESL, Law

History: Political Science, Law

Biology: Medicine, Pharmacy, Biomedical Sciences

Chemistry: Chemical Engineering, Biochemistry (if you love Biology too)

Arts/Design: Architecture, Graphic Design, Broadcasting

***

Will there be bonds?

 

This is another important question. A lot of SPM leavers look forward to furthering their studies overseas that they tend to overlook that some scholarships come with a package – a long bond.

When I accepted the PETRONAS sponsorship, I effectively agreed that I would be bonded for 10 years.

I was 17 – I didn’t really think of the implications. But after graduation, it dawned on me that the length of my scholarship bond was …quite long (duh).

So, be careful when you sign. There are pros and cons of a scholarship bond.

Pros:

Bonded scholars normally get called for job interviews in the organisation that sponsors them, even before graduation. To those who seek job security in reputable organisations and GLCs, a bond means less headaches and stress.

Job seeking, especially for fresh graduates, can be a fairly daunting process.

Personally, I feel that imposing bond means a fair proposition for the sponsors. They already spent a lot of money to provide you with the degree and plenty of exposure, of course they would want you to come back to contribute back to them. These are corporate-driven entities after all, not strictly charitable bodies.

Cons:

A scholarship bond may also prove a disadvantage for those who wish to:

  1. Continue their masters – while a lot of companies allow their staff to take unpaid leave to do masters, normally you have to serve them for a few years first before this is possible
  2. Migrate overseas – you may only think of this after 10 years, so you can forget about staying back after your graduation
  3. Have freedom in choosing career field – a lot of graduates decide to work a job that does not strictly follow their field of studies in university (eg Engineering graduate working in a corporate consulting firm like McKinsey). This is not possible for bonded scholars after their graduation. They have to wait for…10 years before they can switch firms or fields
  4. Be adventurous and do whatever hell they want – this is not possible. You have to follow the career path that the organisation has to offer you, and stay there

Different people have different goals and priorities in life, so whatever yours are, please put them into consideration before accepting a scholarship that has strings attached.

Bonds are not necessarily bad, but it’s definitely not for everyone. Choose wisely.

How about studying locally?

 

If no overseas scholarship covers the course that you want to do, or if there is a mismatch, you may still enrol in local Pre-University foundation centres. Universiti Malaya has a reputable foundation programme, upon the completion of which you may further your studies in a THES Top 200 university locally – not shabby at all.

After graduating from a local university, you may still further your studies overseas for masters. I personally know of friends and acquaintances who are currently doing their masters overseas, and they did their degrees locally. Many of them are there on sponsorships.

The door will always be open for you, if you really want to study overseas. If not now, later. You don’t have to rush. What’s important is to know what you want, and to do what you want. Locally or overseas.

***

Overseas education is definitely not overrated – it provides people who are privileged enough to go abroad with a good exposure and plenty of opportunities to broaden their perspectives. It builds character.

But it’s also not everything. It’s not something that one must have to succeed.

Follow your interest, trust you instincts, grow upon your passions. You will thank yourself in the future.

 

p.s. This post is written by a guy who did Geology in uni. He currently does PR (Content Development & Digital Strategy) for a living – and is quite happy where he is. Life works in mysterious ways.
Speak soon,
FH

Snapshots of Melbourne (Part 1)

Hello from Melbourne!

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly 5 years I last left this city that I called home for three of the most formative years in my life.

It feels great to be back. Melbourne hasn’t changed as much as I feared that it would; Swanston St. has been fully pedestrianised, creating a very vibrant street scene in central Melbourne. New restaurants have popped up across town, and the food truck craze has arrived here too! No longer is there the little Es Teler on Cardigan St. that I used to go to often during the uni days; a shame indeed, I still remember how great their spicy kuayteow goreng was!

Here are some snapshots of Melbourne that I took over the past two days.

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Cafes of the Flinders Lane
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The tram, the CBD skyline and the solid blue skies. Quintessentially Melbourne.
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H&M has taken over the GPO building!
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Bourke Street Mall at night
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A homeless man sitting amidst the revellers at the Hosier Lane graffiti gallery.
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Yours truly at the Hosier Lane.
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Twisted elegance.
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Spring is in the air.
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Royal Arcade, soaked in the Christmas mood.
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Among the quirky skyscrapers popping up all over Melbourne over the last couple of years

Alright, that’s it for now. Looking forward to a weekend of reconnecting with some dear friends. Feels good to be back in Melbourne, albeit for a few days only.

Speak soon,

FH.

My Personal Regret

Disclaimer: This post is not meant to vilify any party, Petronas included. This is based on my own personal experience. I still have Petronas to thank for whatever contributions they have made for me, especially for the past five years.

 

I would be lying if I told any of you that I didn’t have any regrets about the very decision that I made five years ago. It was the end of 2006. I was in the fifth form, scoring good grades and all. I was excited; with good grades came good scholarship offers et cetera. I applied for a Petronas scholarship and went to the interview. It was called ‘Educamp’, and I had mine at MRSM Kuching. It was fun; we were exposed to Petronas as a corporation, and we were told of the good prospect that we would get once we received a Petronas scholarship. Basically it registered with me that I would be treated very well if I got to be one of their sponsored students. I did my best in the interview, and I think I aced it. I remember that I had to present about the traffic woes in KL and I came up with some ways to tackle the issue. My experience in high school debate helped me a great deal, and I ended up passing the interview.

When I received the offer, I was ecstatic. I thought that that very letter was the very ‘grant’ of my dream. To be honest, studying overseas was, then, my ultimate goal for the next 5 years of my life; I really couldn’t imagine myself studying at one of the local higher education institutions. Not that I doubted the academic standard of those institutions, it’s just that I preferred studying at a place where I would be able to broaden my worldview and be moulded into a person that I wanted to be; free. Even back then I was comparatively a very liberal thinker living in a society marked with a growing sense of social conservatism. Maybe I will write more about this later.

The offer letter did come with a thick booklet containing many clauses placed in lengthy paragraphs, explaining the terms and conditions attached to my scholarship. I did not really bother to read them all, to me, it was exciting enough that I would get to do Geology (my first choice) at a university of my choice.

I accepted the offer. Little did I care about one of the obligations attached to the scholarship, that I would be required to serve Petronas two years for each year that they sponsored my education. I knew about that, I just didn’t care. After all, the idea of getting a job straight after graduation appealed to me back then.

I was to be placed at Sri KDU to do IB; in fact, I spent two great years there. The IB experience was fulfilling, and I enjoyed it thoroughly, so I’ve no complaints there. My dissatisfaction with Petronas, however, started there, as I, and my other scholarship-holding classmates (we, Petronas scholars, made up roughly half of the total intake for the 2007 IB batch) were told during one of the Petronas engagement sessions in 2008 that they would send us to any one of these three Southern hemisphere countries for our degree; Australia, NZ or South Africa. This put me to shock. I can still recall perfectly today that we were informed by one of the Petronas education officers during our first-year induction session back in early 2007 that we would be sent to the US, UK or Canada for our first degree. I also accepted the scholarship with the knowledge that it would pay for my studies in the States. I always wanted to study in the US; that was indeed one of my dreams growing up. I felt cheated, and of course, furious at their inability to stick to their words.

Whatever happened after that aren’t worth much mention here. Well, maybe I should say that I did okay in IB and went to Melbourne for my degree. I enjoyed the years there profusely, so whatever of my personal dissatisfaction that was documented on the previous paragraph I already moved on from by the end of 2009. Sometimes I thought that it was a blessing in disguise that I didn’t have to endure the long and bitter cold prevalent in the States or the UK. Melbourne was also a relatively short hop’s away from home (8 hours’ flight) so I flew back to Malaysia most of the long holidays. Life was pretty good there, and Petronas, albeit the struggle that we had trying to get them to increase our monthly allowance, treated us well. I lived in a very decent studio apartment, for example. Never did I have to cram in a house with, say, five housemates, which was, and still is, the reality for many other international students who have to grapple with the ever-increasing rent in Melbourne. For this, I thank Petronas.

The nasty part started last year, with my honors application. I was informed by many, including Petronas’ officers themselves, that we would be allowed to extend our period of study for one year to accommodate our honors studies. It is a common practice for the Australian universities to split their degree into three years of basic degree and a year of honors. A degree with honors is considered more superior than a degree without which, but not every student is entitled to do the former. Most universities, Melbourne included, put a set of stringent requirements for students who wish to further their studies to honors. I managed to get a spot, and it gladdened me that Petronas would, by principle, sponsor me for another year to let me finish my honors. JPA and MARA were (and still are) known to do this to their students, so it made sense that Petronas would do the same.

Knowing that there would be no more obstacles in my honors plan, I started putting a great deal of efforts to find a supervisor and a suitable project for my honors year. I managed to find a project very relevant to my future job in Petronas, and my lecturer also wrote a letter to Petronas to inform them of the benefits that they, as my future employer, would get if I were to do the particular honors project under his supervision. As usual, I received some oral confirmation that I would get my sponsorship extended, and duped by my optimism of Petronas being at last true to their words, I was confident that things would turn out the way I wanted them to.

I graduated last December. For this, I have my family, friends, lecturers, teachers, and of course, Petronas, to thank. It was a proud moment for my whole family, and I felt a sense of accomplishment. I still felt very upbeat in December because in my head, I had an honors year to look forward to in 2012. I told myself that the graduation wasn’t the end of my university life; I would have another year to go.

When my optimism was at its peak, I got an email from Petronas informing me that they rejected my application to do honors. To make it sound more dramatic, they snubbed my application two days prior to the honors enrolment due date. Two days. Just imagine the frustration that I had at that time. I had to pack up and leave Melbourne for good on a short notice. Whatever efforts that I put to secure a place to do honors turned out to be futile. In vain.

I wanted to apply for another scholarship, but the very offer letter that I received back in 2007 stipulated that I would not be allowed to get another scholarship without Petronas’ permission. I wanted to report to Petronas (ie start working for them) in 2013, not 2012, so I could have a year allocated to honors. Again, this was against one of the terms of the scholarship as I was required to report to them within 3 months after my graduation (read: February).

These are the terms that I didn’t think about five years back. These are the important terms that came to haunt me in January 2012 yet I couldn’t even be arsed to read about them back then. Failing to adhere to the terms will lead to my parents having to pay Petronas the total sum spent on my education, within 14 working days. There’s no way I will ever burden my parents that way. Petronas knows this. They know that we will not have the guts (or rather, capacity) to breach the contract.

We are bonded. Or, in a more apt yet less savory way to say things, we are chained. We are their assets, their commodities. To try to get out of this is to breach the contract, the consequences of which are as aforementioned.

Now I’m at home, waiting for Petronas to call me up to put me to work. I was told that it would take them up to six months to come up with a job offer for me. In the meantime, I am not allowed to apply for another permanent job. Breach of contract, again. After all, no company will want to recruit a bonded student. The irony of all these is that I could actually use the time spent waiting for Petronas so far to do honors.

We’re theirs for 10 years. Leave the company by then and you’ll be considered to have breached the contract. Consequences as said prior. I’m 22, and I really wish that I could actually be free to chart my own future. I’m honestly not over studying yet. I’m personally very envious at the freedom that my JPA and MARA friends have after they graduate. I also want to do masters, just like them; I’m a passionate learner, and masters is one of my goals for now. I will keenly work after masters, especially since I know I’ll enjoy working as a professional geologist in the future, be it with Petronas, or any other companies. However, looking at the way it is, it’s clear that for the next 10 years of my life, chances are that I will not have much control with my life. I will work for the same company with no option to quit.

My future was already written back then, when I naively accepted an offer that came in the form of a fancy official letter with a small F1 icon on the bottom left. “Cool”, I thought at that. Maybe I have myself to blame, it was after all, my choice. But what do you expect of a 17-year-old teenage boy? How do you think that I, with my lack of experience in life and my naivety in thinking that any corporation kind enough to offer a scholarship would have nothing but good, philanthropic intentions, would foresee the high price I had to pay to get my tertiary education sponsored? I didn’t even know what I wanted to do in my life then. What’s the point of knowing it now when it’s already too late?