Monday, December 22, 2014

Facebook page for Pakistanis applying for Rhodes Scholarships

After a recent query, I have created a facebook page for people who are applying for Rhodes Scholarships in Pakistan. The purpose of the group is to serve as a knowledge and experience sharing platform, where people can share advice and ask any queries that remain unanswered after reading the posts on this blog.
Feel free to join.
Group is called: Applying for Rhodes Scholarship in Pakistan

Monday, June 30, 2014

Twitter and my personal website - experiments with online presence

I have recently made a twitter account @saa_rizvi where I want to reach out to students in Pakistan who are thinking of social entrepreneurship, people who are engaged in photography and my peers in machine learning.  I have also crafted my personal website where I share my photography, provide links to my blog(s) and keep some pages of personal interest.

These outlets are meant to engage with people who have similar interests and to share my experiences with people who think that I might have some advice or motivation that can help them reach their personal success.

If you have questions about the Rhodes experience, general questions or confusions about the Rhodes scholarship, have ideas for blog posts that I can do or want to discuss interesting ideas about startups and entrepreneurship in Pakistan then reach out to me through twitter or through commenting on the posts on this blog or on the pages of my website.

Q&A - Applying for the Rhodes Scholarship

I have recently received some queries about the Rhodes Scholarship which I am going to answer here, so others who have similar questions can also benefit. If you have a question, post it in the comments and I will try to answer it in a future post.  

Caveat: All answers are my opinions. My answers may be biased or off the mark because I can only speak from my one time experience of the selection process, and my interpretation can be wrong, or may not apply in your case.

I am a third year medical student. 
Do I need to have distinctions left right and center for my application to even be considered. I am doing my MBBS from an institute which rarely, if ever awards distinctions. Will very good scores in final profs count/matter? 
- Rhodes gives weightage to academic performance. As I understand, very good academic performance is the baseline as far as Pakistan is concerned, so the selection committee will expect you to have done the best given the parameters of your educational set-up. So, good scores will matter, as will the other criteria that Rhodes is looking for, but let me remind you that you should manage your stress, and not let yourself burn out in the process. It is extremely important to develop this, no matter where you go.
How often are doctors seen at Rhodes interviews? I know you had one in your batch. But is it common? 
- I don't have any data on who has been interviewed or short-listed in the past so I can't objectively answer your question, but personally I feel that they might be common enough, given that many of my Rhodes peers from other countries do medicine/related degrees here at Oxford and the Pakistani Rhodes scholar 2 years above me also did medicine.

I'm not sporty at all. I mean I do know my chess but that's about as is sporty as it gets for me. Does it effect my chances? Do you HAVE to be athletic to be considered?
- Sports is meant to demonstrate: Energy to use one's talents to the full. But sports is not the only way in which individuals demonstrate this trait. If you can show through other activities in your life that you emulate this trait, then you should not be worried. People who are enthusiastic artists or writers or actors emulate this trait too. Sports is but one interpretation of this trait. 
How much community service/social work is enough? Will I have to provide proofs along with my application? 
- It is really tough to define a baseline for this or a threshold. Whatever you do needs to be meaningful, impactful and should demonstrate "truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship" or "moral force of character and instincts to lead, and to take an interest in one's fellow beings". Whatever you do, you should know where it fits in to your larger personal context, why are you doing it and why does it matter to your community and the world at large.
I do not think that you will be asked to show proofs.
Does it matter that I won the National Spelling bee? Does it matter that all of my declamation and MUN experiences ended with school? 
- I think showing sustained personal achievements matters - so if those were the last things that you did and have done nothing since then probably that is not a great fit, especially since it can be interpreted to mean that in your undergraduate years you found nothing that could motivate you to action. But if those experiences gave you skills and traits that you have positively used in other ways later in your life then that can be woven into a good personal narrative.
Is it too late to pick back up on my co-curriculars? 
-  As I said, sustaining a level of personal achievement is important. If you are applying for August this year, and it is already end of June as I write this, then perhaps you don't have enough time to do anything meaningful. Co-curricular activities need to demonstrate certain traits to the selection panel and perhaps it is not a good idea to take up extra curriculars for the sole purpose of adding things to your CV.

I did my graduation from Karachi University in Biotechnology and then switched over MBA programs. My majors were Banking & Finance.  
I am concerned that I switched degrees, would it backfire? Should I mention it or not. I mean, my KU degree has not mentioned which courses I took. 
- Students switch degrees, it happens, I am not sure how it could backfire. As long as you found something which you liked and excelled at, you should be good. 

I would like to ask are you really a Freemason? The "Chosen Ones" who thinks they are the only one who can govern this world's affairs, directly or indirectly.
- Would you really believe me if I said no? Or would you actually believe me even if I said yes? Besides the world's affairs are for all who take an interest in them, the rest make (conspiracy) theories. 

Actually I am about to write the personal statement and for that I need your assistance. 
- I can't offer you any direct assistance for your personal statement, as it would be unfair to those who don't have the recourse to a Rhodes scholar for their personal statement, but the advice that I believe is helpful is captured in this post: The Impossible Personal Statement 
Can I submit a provisional transcript from my university until I don't have my degree? 
- Yes, that should be fine in my opinion.  

I appeared in CSS exam this year and now I am waiting for the results, which will be announced in October. Should I discuss it in my personal statement or not? I think, it can backfire if I make it to the interviews. They can ask me, what you will do if you get selected, will you go for the Rhodes scholarship or will you join the civil services? 
- Best to mention it and even better to discuss it in your interview. CSS shows dedication to service of your people, which is a great attribute. Rhodes scholars have taken time off from civil service to get a degree from Oxford and then return to their Civil service responsibilities, so it is not an either/or situation, you can benefit from both.  

Should I submit the IELTS doc along with my application as the officials have not mentioned it, but a friend said to submit it as it will mount good impression on the evaluators.
- I don't think it will hurt to send it but it is not an official requirement. You will probably need it anyway if you get into Oxford. 

The traits that I quote are mentioned here: Selection Criteria for Rhodes Scholarship

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Common-sense Guide to PNEC

I wrote this article in Sept 2012, in response to a request from Onib Nasir. But I am not sure if it was ever used, so I am just posting it here in its original form without any editing. 

All these items are common-sense but they are rarely followed.

1st order of business:
 Buy mospel body liquid and apply it to your feet, neck, behind your ears, on your forehead, arms and hand, every night, or if you don't like the smell of mospel, use mortein spray in your room after every three days, spray it under the bed and covered spaces. Mats and coils are ineffective and a complete waste of money, they just make the air stinky. 

Have a live CV: Always have a current and updated CV ready.

Learn the language: Go out of your way to master the programming language in your first semester, go beyond just the class syllabus . C/C++ for Electrical guys, FORTRAN for mechanical/IME guys. Make sure that the philosophy and logic behind the programming becomes second nature for you. Most of the people you meet, might say that you should just ditch the books and sit in front of the computer and somehow you will just magically learn the programming language, I think that's not sound advice, in my opinion books are very important for learning these well-established programming languages. Consult Schaum's Outlines for starting off, then move on to The Complete Reference. 

Study habits and GPA: Life is not about GPA, but college life is mostly about it. Getting a good GPA is different from getting a good education, but it's not an either/or situation, you can have both. Getting a good GPA is not some mysterious art, you just need to follow some good study habits. Pay attention to lectures in class, this point can not be over emphasized, yet it is one of the most ignored. If you pay attention in class you will know what is important for papers, and you will have to spend less time in preparing for tests. Take good notes in class, read online about how to take good notes. Taking good notes helps you remain focused in class and helps tremendously in revising for tests. Submit your assignments on time (but please don't be the moron who submits his assignment even when the rest of the class isn't, if you really want to submit it and no one else in your class has made it, let your fellows copy your assignment so all of you can submit the same assignment). Help out each other in test preparation, but have a no-cheating policy in the exam room. 

Cultivate good friendships: Don't be the person who has none (or close to none) friends in university. Cultivate good friendships, and have a good deal of them. A friend once said that your network should be so strong that you can get anything done sitting anywhere, using just your phone. Have fun with your friends, enjoy with them, but BEWARE don't throw your life away, don't waste your time either, there is a time for play and a time for studies, make sure you can distinguish between the two. 

Social work and extra-curricular: Participate in clubs/society activities, but don't be a faceless volunteer, make sure that your contribution holds real value and that you are aware of that value. Enjoy, learn and socialize through these activities. You must pursue your interests, sports, photography, art, music etc. But balance is of utmost importance.

Be courteous: Being polite and courteous is something we all should aspire to, with teachers and lab assistants, with people of the opposite gender, with our armed forces friends and most importantly with the college and hostel servants and dinning hall staff. Always say Asalamalaikum to them, and treat them kindly, try not to be a jerk with them and remember that they are your elders (the servants and dinning hall staff).

Personal habits: Develop the early rising habit for life. Buy a pair of bathroom slippers, take regular baths, and always wash your feet after coming back from college, don't torture others with the stink. Get the Gillette underarm antiperspirant gel and use it regularly (but to prevent staining your shirts, get short sleeve vests with it, as it tends to leave blue stains on the cloth), also get one perfume or two deos for yourself. Try to offer regular prayers, even if you don't pray regularly, at least make sure that you turn down the music at Azzan time.

Get an ash tray for your room: Everyone around you is/will soon be smoking, so just get a cheap ashtray already.

Celebrating birthdays: Be warned, birthdays in PNEC are a loud and rough affair, be prepared for them, but don't avoid them - enjoy them. 

Keep your PETER under control: PETER = personal entertainment through electronic resources. Save on your phone bill and get some good night sleep. 

Keep your FYP in mind: A wise senior once said that "FYP does NOT mean Final Year Phuddu". Enough said.

Always remember that university life is a unique time to develop skills and good habits for life, make sure that you don't waste it. Good luck to you.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Night at the Ashmolean

Ashmolean Museum opened its doors exclusively to Oxford fresher students on the night of 06 Nov, 2012. From 1900-2130 hrs, all areas of the museum were open to the students, there was some activities lined up, like a DIY tresure hunt, various medieval board games, making a gargoyle sculpture, sketching old clay tablets, and guided tours of the various galleries in the museum. Every gallery was filled with treasures from around the world, Japanese kimonos, Italian gold watches, Chinese paintings, Egyptian coffins, Roman sculptures, British porcelain, Greek bowls, Arabian doors, Mughal miniatures, Stradevari violins and paintings from every era. An amazing tribute to the diverse range of human artistic experience.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Odette and Odile

On Wed, 16th of Oct 2012, I saw my first every live ballet performance.
I had been planning to watch a ballet performance for sometime but unfortunately the best ballets had been sold out well in advance. Luckily on the Tue night, 15 Oct, I suddenly found out that a few tickets had become available for the matinee performance of Swan Lake performed by The Royal Ballet, at The Royal Opera House. I immediately bought the tickets, booked my bus for London, and the next morning was on my way. I got off from the bus at Victoria bus stop, and decided to walk to the Opera House, it was a 40 mins walk which felt like a mere 5 mins. I passed by Buckingham Palace, The Mall, Trafalgar Square, The National Portrait Gallery. Interestingly, contrary to what I had come to believe from watching Indian movies, I saw no pigeons in Trafalgar Square!
I reached The Royal Opera House and waited for the the performance theater doors to open. They opened at 1:30 pm, I took my front row center seat, and was delighted because I had a clear view of the orchestra and was as close to the stage as possible.
The lady sitting to my left was celebrating her 60th birthday and as a treat her friend had brought her there, earlier her friend had taken her to The Royal Ballet school and she had met with the young ballerinas in training.
The ballet started, and with every passing moment, each leap, each pirouette, I fell more and more in love with Swan Lake. It seemed to be the perfect coalescence of all I had seen on TV, the beautiful music I had heard, and the movie Black Swan that I had loved so much. The choreography was the one from the 1895 revival and the Tchaikovsky music was breathtaking.
During the final break, before the last act, I found out that the lady sitting to my right was actually from Karachi, Pakistan and was working for Hello magazine in London, we talked for a while and we both laughed at the amazing coincidence of two Pakistanis both having links to Karachi, sitting side by side, so randomly at a Swan Lake performance.
For days afterwards, I kept humming tunes from the ballet.


Brasenose College has a very active HCR (Hulme Common Room, the gathering point for graduate students in the college). They have a salsa class every Sunday. This Sunday, was the first one that I attended. My fellow dancers were an interesting mix, with people from Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Romania, Ireland, India, and Scotland. Only a few of us had danced salsa before, I certainly hadn't. We learned four dance steps, and practiced them for the next couple of hours, switching dance partners after every two songs or so. It was fun, and definitely a good exercise. Looking forward to more dance lessons!