Since becoming a Westpac Future Leaders Scholar in 2023, Nicholas Pritchard, a PhD student from the University of Western Australia has had the opportunity to participate in a range of unique leadership and travel experiences alongside his research.
He spoke to us recently about his first six months in the scholarship program and provided some helpful hints for prospective applicants ahead of the 2024 intake deadline.
Flexibility to pursue side projects
Nicholas, a software engineer and computer scientist is completing his PhD in artificial intelligence at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR). His work seeks to apply the latest in neuromorphic computing to radio interference detection to test the limits of energy-efficient AI.
This type of research provides him with a significant amount of autonomy. Most mornings he starts his day by reviewing recently published journal articles and checking any machine learning experiments that ran overnight. His day will also often involve writing code or papers and meeting with collaborators.
“A PhD can be solitary at times, so ensuring I get the chance to collaborate with others is very important and massively enjoyable.”
“Having the financial support of the Future Leaders Scholarship means I can make the most of my flexible time to pursue useful side-projects and deliver my best work.”
In February this year, Nicholas had the opportunity to travel to Sydney to attend the first component of a nine-month bespoke leadership program embedded within the Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship.
The weeklong residential gave him the chance to meet his cohort, made up of 16 other scholars from around the country and reflect and grow his personal skillset.
“The Leadership Development Program has been the highlight so far. The learnings from the program not only helped me get into the right frame of mind to do my very best work, but the experience itself built a real sense of community with the other scholars, something I think we will all really cherish as we progress with our studies.”
He’s also now attended the Westpac Scholars Summit, held in April, which gathered 100 university students, early-career researchers and social entrepreneurs across Westpac’s five scholarship programs for two days of jam-packed networking, professional development and socialising.
The application is the start of the journey
While reflecting on his time as a scholar, he flagged how critical the application process was in setting himself up for success. One of three tips Nicholas shared were:
“The application experience helps everything that comes after. Making a real attempt to dig into why I want to do the work set out in the application has made getting started significantly easier. The application itself is truly a useful experience.”
His other suggestions?
“Paint a clear and consistent story. There are a lot of applications to review, so having a clear application is more important than making an impressive-sounding application. Where you've been, what you plan to do next, and how the Future Leaders' Scholarship will specifically help, should all make sense together.”
“And lastly, start early. The application is made up of lots of small parts, which makes it more approachable earlier (rather than having to write a single large essay, for example).”
Diversity in numbers
When Nicholas first heard about the Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship, he assumed it might be quite corporate and impersonable. He wants to dispel that myth for other prospective students out there.
“When a large corporation is associated with a scholarship, it is easy to make assumptions, but the Trust's staff and the selection committee are passionate, genuine, and take a human-centric approach to the application process and subsequent scholarship program.”
Another surprise for Nicholas upon being awarded the scholarship was the breadth of different types of people within the program.
“Since the scholarship is only available to 17 recipients each year, it can feel like you need to be a very particular type of person to be successful.”
“The most wonderful surprise in my experience so far has been the endless variety of personalities, interests, and experiences of people within my scholar cohort. There is no single specific mould for a Westpac Scholar. You just need to apply to find out if you could be one too.”
Applications are now open for the Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship. Find out how you could receive up to $120,000 to support your studies or research while gaining access to bespoke leadership and mentoring opportunities.
Published 31 July 2023