1. Result is not enough or even the most important thing.
In our education system, we see many students with the highest CGPA who are really bad at critical thinking. It is more common in girls - they are very good in test results. But, when it comes to handling new questions, coming up with new research ideas, they suffer. This is understandable given that our girls are brought up in boundaries with many social restrictions. To come up with interesting new research ideas, you need to have an open mind and an open environment. I grew up in a very conservative environment too. However, academic scholarship demands a broad mindset. So, develop a broader mindset, work on it for yourself. How?
- Read books, read journals. Learn, learn how to learn.
- Engage in community groups (in debating groups, writing in newspapers)
- Engage in conferences, seminars whenever you get chances.
- Take part in departmental activities. (I did not. I was afraid of bullying - don’t be like that.)
2) Create a network
Find mentors. Given the patriarchal nature of our education system, it is hard to have academic connections if you are a girl. However, creating a network, finding mentors - are important. Talk to people, find who can help you, work with these people voluntarily or as an intern whenever you get chances. Be open to opportunities, and then grow from that slowly.
3) Skill development
Again, coming back to the first point, girls are in general good when it comes to test results. But many girls are still not that much open to skill development. At this point, policy enthusiasts need to be very much skilled in data work - Learn data science methods, data visualization, R, STATA, Python, ArcGIS, Qualtrics whatever you can manage. Use online resources to learn - today it is not hard to find resources if you are willing to learn. Do not be afraid of programming just because our society tells that "Girls cannot do this or that".
4) Read non-textbooks -
Textbooks are old and you probably follow Western textbooks that are totally irrelevant for your real-life experiences. Learn from books - go to the library, Aziz market, Batighar, Concord bookstores, book fairs, Neelkhet - whatever you have around you. See what interests you most - read books from a broad perspective: history, politics, economics, sociology, law, international relationship - whatever interests you most.
Be a regular user of your university library. Use the newspaper section to train yourself to think critically.
5) Take responsibility for your future.
Plan for it. Plan for 5 years, 10 years. Work for your goal in whatever way you can. Complaining does not and will not help. I see many women around my age wasting most of the time complaining. Really, it does not help. Just because we did it, you do not have to follow us. Be a better woman.
Try to become the best version of yourself, not just what other people think you can manage. People in our society have a tendency to discourage students, and girls take this more seriously. Red alert - stop sabotaging your life.
6) Learn how to make cold calls.
Learn to use emails to ask for help. Also, learn how to use LinkedIn for professional networking. Do not use Facebook for professional purposes. If you really have to, then just ask for the email ID.
Do not cross boundaries and learn how to set your own boundary too. Do not just become another nice girl. Help others but help yourself to grow too. I have another blog post on this - how to send cold emails etc.
On Facebook - many Bangladeshi students use Facebook to make connections with professional people. I find it very awkward. For example, if you are 18/20 years old, you are more than 15 years younger than me. I do not want to share my personal activities with unknown people from different generations and would like to keep my Facebook aside only for my friends and family. That does not mean I do not want to help students. I very much try to respond to every email I get from students.
I think it is best to use LinkedIn and emails for professional purpose. In my personal opinion, it is best to send an email if you have a question to people whom you do not know. We, mid-aged professionals, definitely check our emails every day.
7) Find people who are also ambitious,
You need to find mentors for yourself who can help you to navigate the academic system. You also need to find friends who are ambitious - who want to learn and are willing to do hard work. I see many clubs in my university - book clubs, policy discussion clubs, writing clubs. Create something like that to find similar-minded people.
8) Beware of nasty competition:
Our education system has a nasty competition. Try to learn to take yourself away from that nasty part. Competition can be good and can be healthy. However, criticizing others because they got something you couldn’t - is very unhealthy.
Well, you may feel jealous, and that is normal human nature. But handle the jealousy with grace. Ask people to give you academic tips - how did they achieve the things you also want to achieve. And then work on yourself to achieve what you want to achieve. Don’t be stuck in a complaining loop. Don't find excuses.
9) Have a plan for 5 years when you enter undergrad life.
How do you visualize your future? Where do you want to go? Do you want to stay in Bangladesh? What types of jobs are you looking for if you stay in Bangladesh? Do you want to prepare for higher studies? What are the main countries you would like to go to? How can you prepare yourselves for them? Having a plan, having a list of activities divided by every semester will help you to focus and build your CV.
10) Have a CV ready
Have a professional CV/resume ready from your first year of undergrad so that when you need to write a cold email, you can send that. This should include whatever information you want to share - your test results, professional activities should be the priority. Did you write any newspaper articles? Include that.
11) Most Importantly - Understand yourself
Different people have different skills (pros and cons). Some are good at public speaking, some are good at writing, and some are good at programming etc. Nobody can be “best” in everything. So, you really need to understand yourself. What are the main skills you have? What are the things you would like to improve?
That's all for today. Again:
- CGPA is not enough to make you look academically "smart". Learn - learn how to learn more.
- Make connections with scholars who are willing to mentor you.
- Make connections with fellow students from your department and elsewhere. Having a group of ambitious, hardworking peers is important.
- Make a plan for 4 or 5 years from the beginning of your undergrad. What do you want to achieve? Where do you want to see yourself?
- Understand your pros and cons. What are the things you are good at? How can you be the best in these activities? For example, some people are better at writing than coding. Plan accordingly.