Receiving the Saltire Scholarship and studying at RGU

Ali Hasan, recipient of the Saltire Scholarship, discusses his decision during the pandemic to take a career break and travel to Aberdeen to study at RGU.

The beginning of my master’s journey

​I am an electrical engineering graduate and ​I started working after my graduation in 2000 up until late 2020 when I decided to take a sabbatical break and study MSc Business Analytics full-time.

The last two years have brought lots of change for so many of us across the world. We continue fighting an unprecedented pandemic while being faced with completely different lifestyles. Nevertheless, on the positive side, all of us have had our fair share of spare time for reflection, self-evaluation and a bit of directional realignment in life. Things usually taken for granted have fallen under the lens of reappraisal including routine personal behaviours, values, norms and relationships whereas many, such as myself, have chosen to take a break from their careers in an effort to bring further value to their lives and professions.

Data Science and Analytics have relatively more recently been introduced into the curricula of Pakistani universities as compared to universities in the UK, Canada or the US. Their curricula are better designed, more modern and a large number of PhD faculty are available for teaching the subject. Their labs are better equipped with modern tools and software whereas collaboration with industry is also on a more mature level. 

While I was working regular hours prior to the pandemic, the motivation and willingness to take up a master’s degree was not entirely absent. Gradually, as my work made progress on a few digital transformation projects back in Pakistan, advanced topics in tech like machine learning, time forecasting, data mining and data visualisation started to stimulate my interest academically. However, it was only during the initial series of lockdowns in the beginning of 2020, with loads of free time on my hands while working from home, that any practical steps could be taken towards studying these topics. I took steps such as joining online publishing platforms (Medium and TDS) to keep up-to-date with the latest in data science and analytics and enrolling for online courses with Codecademy and edX, to polish my rusty programming skills and develop a basis for any future formal learning. By the end of 2020, I felt prepared enough and decided to go back to the classroom to equip myself with a modern qualification. I knew that a step like this would have to be taken if any further meaningful impact was to be created in my career.

Choosing RGU

There were several reasons for choosing RGU as compared to other universities where I had applied:

RGU’s International Student Recruitment Team, their employability hub and the admissions department made me feel welcome and motivated to apply because of their approach towards student engagement. The entire admissions cycle was handled very professionally by the recruitment team with plenty of online activity to make international students feel better acquainted with the various things to consider while studying in the UK.  

RGU’s website proved to be a one-stop-shop for any queries related to accommodation, finance, scholarships, visa and immigration that an international student might have. There was hardly any need to write emails to anyone and wait for a reply as most of the questions were taken care of immediately by using the information provided on relevant website pages.   

While most of the international students were coming from “Red Listed” countries and had to afford expensive quarantine packages on top of the usual academic fees and accommodation charges, RGU management’s decision to adjust quarantine costs for such students to their tuition fees was a huge relief in terms of the financial burden of moving to the UK. 

Keeping personal rationalisation and motivations aside, deciding to take a sudden career break to study a master’s degree from a foreign university is not a simple decision by any means. Even harder if you already have an established career and close friends, family and colleagues give you looks of astonishment and disbelief with raised eyebrows. It is of the utmost importance to build a solid support base to help you in the future. Studying abroad sees you leave everything to move to a foreign land, and this is much easier when you have people back home ready to support you as you navigate your new life.

It is also equally important, rather more important in my opinion, to find support within your university. After all this will be your home away from home. Considering their ambitious nature, there were only a few universities in the UK that looked at my plans with a healthy amount of encouragement, consideration and support and amongst these, RGU ranked at the top from the very beginning. The promptness and clarity of the RGU international recruitment team’s responses was and is to this day something that gives me courage and adds to the motivation required to undertake my journey.

The application process

The application process for the Saltire Scholarship was simple and its timeline from submission till award was very well defined. More important was the availability of information on the RGU and Saltire Scholarship websites concerning the kind of content and personal context that was required from applicants while writing their applications. I was thrilled and extremely motivated when I got the email from RGU’s scholarship team that I had been awarded the scholarship. My suggestion to anybody looking for a scholarship is to apply and not to hold back as the application process is highly rewarding in itself. It helps you develop a better focus and deeper insight into your goals and future plans. Of course the reward is doubled if you do manage to get it in the end.   

It is a wonderful experience to see your own thoughts and plans translate onto paper, and then from paper into the real world. Here I am six months after writing my first email to RGU, Saltire Scholarship winner, sitting in my hotel room and I can’t wait to travel to the “Granite City” and be part of the wonderful community of people at the Scottish University of the Year (The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021).

Preparing to move overseas

I am going to miss my home, family and friends the most but the excitement of moving to a new place, networking with diverse people from across the globe and making new friends gives you a lot to look forward to. In addition, the sense of accomplishment for being selected to study a higher education degree and a course of your choosing is very important in building motivation for my journey ahead. It is also good to be prepared for the move and a possible shift in lifestyle. For me that meant carrying a fair amount of warm clothing with me since I was moving from a hot and tropical climate to a much colder one.

For more tips on what to pack in your suitcase take a look at “Top 6 Things to Pack in your Suitcase: International Student Guide”.

Ali Hasan

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