Securing a Funded GIS Graduate Program

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Securing a fully funded graduate program can be a daunting task, but with the right information and strategic positioning, you too can be a scholar. In this article, we would share with you some important information you need to know about securing a graduate program.

This is an excerpt from an interview with two GIS Scholars: Adebowale Daniel, a 2020 Erasmus Mundus Scholar and Nnenna Nkata a 2019 Commonwealth Shared Scholar, where they both shared their experiences and gave some tips on how scholarship applicants can position themselves and build a strong profile to win their desired scholarship.

Introduction

Graduate school is a great investment for those who are committed to advancing their careers. However, the cost can be extremely crippling, so most people may have to rely on getting funding to support their goals. There are several funding/financial aid available and navigating these options can be very confusing.

In an episode of AfricaGeoconvo podcast, Adebowale Daniel and Nnenna Nkata share all that is needed to know about graduate funding in GIS, how to build a strong profile, the opportunities – especially for international students, and how to use social media as a tool. 

Type of Funding Opportunities

There are different types of funding/financial aid for graduate programs and a number of websites exist for finding them. Funding can come in the form of scholarships or graduate assistantship. 

Scholarships are usually based on academic merits and several eligibility criteria such as country of origin, needs, fields of study etc. Examples of common scholarships are Erasmus Mundus Scholarship, CommonWealth Shared Scholarship, Mastercard Scholarship, DAAD Scholarship, MEXT Scholarship etc.

Graduate assistantships are usually based on referral by research advisors, and they offer valuable teaching and research experience for students. Individuals who are interested in a graduate program reach out to potential research advisors through cold mail and are hired by the advisors to join their research group, if their interests align.

Where To Find Funding Opportunities

 Social media is a very important tool in finding these opportunities. With some creative research, you can find scholarships and graduate assistantship positions on social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. For example, in the search bar on Twitter, you can search for “GIS funded”, “GIS Scholarships”, “GIS research assistant” or “#scholarships” to find a plethora of information on them.

Screenshots showing results from searching Twitter for GIS scholarships.

Not only on Twitter,this trick applies to other social media platforms including Youtube. You can follow individuals who are very enthusiastic about sharing scholarship and graduate assistantship positions. Some of these handles are: MomentswithBren International Scholarship ForumOpportunityDesk etc. You can also subscribe to the Africa GeoConvo Newsletter, exciting opportunities like these are shared monthly.

Apart from these, you should also be on the lookout for tweets and posts from Professors and Universities Lecturers. This suggests that you should follow people with shared interests on your social media platforms i.e Lecturers, Professors, Students, or Alumni from your University or Research Labs of Interest. This would increase your chance of being part of the firsts to come across these opportunities on your timeline.

How To Get Started

Applying to graduate school isn’t easy. Neither is applying for funding. Having the right information will assist you to know what steps to follow in your application. “I missed a funding opportunity because I missed crucial information” stated Daniel in this episode. Picking out funding opportunities that matches your interest is usually the first step. This is followed by outlining the admission processes for each of these opportunities – if they are more than one.

Checking your eligibility for these programs through research is also very important. You”ll need time to research application criteria and the specified closing dates. International students may particularly want to verify if no English Language Test is required. You can find information about Erasmus Mundus, CommonWealth Shared Scholarship, MasterCard Scholarship, DAAD, MEXT on their respective websites (Links in resources section).

Below are examples of requirements from funded graduate programs. 

ScreenShot from GEM MSC website. One of the fully funded geospatial graduate programs from Erasmus Mundus Scholarship.

Example of required documents for applying for GIS funding.
ScreenShot from GEM MSC website.

ScreenShot from CDE website. One of the fully funded geospatial graduate programs from Erasmus Mundus Scholarship.

ScreenShot from CDE website
ScreenShot from CDE website

How To Develop A Strong Profile

Scholarships and graduate assistantship are highly competitive so winning them is not simple. Having a strong profile can make your application stand out and get you your desired funding. 

Most funding opportunities are based on academic excellence. It is common practice for grades to be considered during the selection process. Getting  good academic grades should be on your mind if you are currently a student.

Work experience can also provide more compelling evidence that you are a good fit for a graduate program. Your work experience must align with the specific program you are applying for. Building relevant skills through internships and volunteering is also a great way to boost your application.

Personal Statement/Essays are usually required for most funding opportunities. “You have to be real. The admission committee must be able to differentiate between someone that is interested and someone who isn’t. They look for what you want to learn and clear justifications why you want to do it” says Nnenna in this episode. Plagiarism is a great offense and frowned upon; “originality should be emphasized upon, give out your best and reflect yourself through your applications. Clarity matters and what you write should come from a clear purpose”, according to Daniel.

Recommendation letters are also very important. They want to be able to see and find someone who can backup their academic merit. 

Research skills will make you outstanding. Post your work on Twitter and LinkedIn. 

Some funding opportunities require an interview. For the interview process, understand what you have in your personal statement/essays. Generic questions may be thrown at you so you must make sure to be fully prepared. Do not leave a false impression. Ask them relevant questions too.

Benefits Of Becoming A Scholar

Funding opportunities are a great platform to connect and mingle with great individuals from diverse backgrounds, experience, and culture. There are also opportunities to intern with great international organizations, share research ideas with people, and get more funding opportunities. “Once a scholar is always a scholar” says Nnenna. Although, getting a funding opportunity is great, it also comes with a lot of pressure and responsibilities. Getting your mind ready for this is important.  

Listen to the full episode here:

Other Episodes from the Africa GeoConvo podcast:

Resources:

Authors:

Emmanuel Jolaiya & Omowonuola Akintola, The AfricaGeoconvo Team. Africa GeoConvo is a podcast about geospatial Innovations and people doing great things with geospatial technology in Africa.

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