Women in STEM: my life as a fully-funded environmental engineering master's student in the UK
2021-22 Women in STEM scholar Sumaiya from Bangladesh graduated with a distinction from her master's in environmental engineering at Newcastle University in September 2022. She tells us about the transformative experience of getting a fully-funded scholarship at a top-ranked UK university in a multicultural and welcoming student city.
'Newcastle University is ranked eighth in the world for sustainable development'
Newcastle University has a reputation for high-quality education, and graduates are highly employable across many professions. It is ranked first in the UK and eighth in the world for sustainable development, according to the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2022. It also has a fantastic record for its research capacities and home-to-international student ratio.
The environmental engineering programme has allowed me to learn about water resource management and the selection of appropriate technologies in developing countries under the guidance of outstanding researchers in the UK. In Bangladesh, there is a need for competent water and sanitation specialists to contribute effectively to policymaking. My research at Newcastle has expanded my technical knowledge and will help me address related challenges worldwide, especially in Bangladesh.
'My lecturers made me feel that students are always their top priority'
I met with my personal tutor regularly to keep him updated about my progress with my course and research, and he provided me with guidance for my future career. All the lecturers were welcoming, motivating, and proactive in helping me solve issues or discuss ideas through email or face-to-face meetings. They made me feel that the students are always their top priority.
I recommend maintaining good communication with your personal tutor and supervisor throughout the year, not just when it comes to your dissertation or research project. They will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses and can support you in becoming clearer in your career path and the steps to getting there.
'The Women in STEM scholarship covered all my costs from flights to fees to living expenses'
I had always wanted to pursue my postgraduate studies in the UK, but I was concerned about being able to cover the tuition fees, living and other study-related costs. It would not have been economically feasible for my family to support me with my studies. As such, I applied for several scholarships and was delighted to be awarded the British Council Women in STEM scholarship for the 2021-22 academic year.
The scholarship covered all my travel and tuition costs and provided me with a monthly stipend to cover my living expenses in the UK. It gave me economic stability when I was in the UK, and as I had no financial worries, I could concentrate on my studies fully. It also helped me meet some incredible people from around the world and build an international network with alumni in my field.
'Newcastle is a multicultural and welcoming student-friendly city'
Newcastle is well-known for being a multicultural and welcoming student-friendly city with many world food options and excellent student life. I have made many international friends from places like China, Libya, Kuwait, Japan and India, to name a few.
During my time in the UK, I've learned about other cultures and enjoyed celebrating international holidays like Lunar New Year and Diwali. My flatmates are from all over the world. I'm always uplifted when I spend time with them, especially after a hectic day.
Multicultural connections are so meaningful socially, but it's also helpful to get experience communicating effectively across cultures. During my time in the UK, I have been more independent and confident than ever, and I have always felt very safe and welcome.
'I've been mesmerised by the castles, cathedrals and amazing beaches'
Newcastle has an excellent public transportation system. It's easy to get around within the city on the metro and beyond (for example, to London) with intercity trains. I've taken full advantage of student discounts, and I have been mesmerised by the breathtaking views of castles and cathedrals, medieval artwork and architecture. The nearby countryside is beautiful, and there are excellent beaches. Oh, and Edinburgh's only 1.5 hours away by train.
'When I studied in the UK, I grew in confidence in my academic work'
Coming from a global south background, I always doubted my capabilities and lacked confidence in my academic work. At the end of my first semester, my personal tutor praised my progress and encouraged me a lot which helped me to work smarter and perform better. The power of positive feedback is enormous and helped me stay focused and improve academically and in confidence over time. I was awarded a distinction - something I would never have imagined possible before I came.
If you, like me, come from Bangladesh, the global south - or anywhere else for that matter - don't let lack of confidence or fear get you in the way of your academic career or limit you in any way. Set yourself a high standard, and you will succeed.
'Whenever in doubt, ask for help. You won't be disappointed.'
New international students in the UK can sometimes feel shy to ask for support. Don't worry, and be bold. British people (and people in the UK, more generally) are friendly and approachable. So, whenever you're in doubt, ask for help. You won't be disappointed.