How I ended up applying and winning a Google Scholarship! — Part 1

Update: Part two is published now. Check it out here.

I remember it was mid-March, 2016, when I first heard about this scholarship from Google, launched in the memory of Venkat Panchapakesan (a Google VP who led engineering at YouTube). Essentially, they look for students enrolled in Indian universities, who are passionate about computer science and engineering (I would highly recommend reading the other requirements and objectives of this scholarship to those interested).

The scholarship offered 750$ towards education expenses and a fully paid trip to the Google and YouTube offices in California! This part seemed enticing and I thought that I should apply for sure. But, then I took a look at the application process and to be honest, it seemed a lot of work with three essays, two recommendation letters and also a YouTube video. I essentially gave up on this, thinking in my mind that the odds of me winning were pretty low.

I literally forgot about the scholarship and a few days passed by, when fortunately while having lunch with some of my college friends, this topic implicitly got mentioned. A friend was telling how he needs some letter of recommendations urgently for something that he was applying, but didn't say anything on what it was about. I realised that there was almost no other deadline around that time, except for this scholarship by Google.

Thanks to this encounter (and my friend), I wondered that maybe I should also give it a shot. The craziest part was that this happened on 31st March, the day of the deadline. This further encouraged me as the worst that could happen was that I would waste one day. But the downside was that I had to get the recommendations on the same day and professors usually are very busy.

As I sat down to write, it became evident that one of the reasons why I had given up the idea of applying earlier was the nature of questions asked in the application. They were deep questions which required a lot of serious thought, for instance, "How do you plan to use computer science to make the world a more sustainable place?".

An advantage of thinking about such questions deeply is that you realise what's important in life and if you are actually going towards that path or not. While I hope the applicants reading this article get the scholarship, but in the unfortunate scenario that you don't, this may serve as a useful introspection (atleast it did for me).

I knew that I was really passionate about Computer Science, in particular Machine Learning, (which I am also working on these days in grad school) and that I had to articulate this towards my answers in the essays. I was lucky that writing these essays got me into state of flow, and, the pressure of the deadline for sure helped (but please don't rely on this to procrastinate). Actually, as I recount this experience now, I believe that reading the questions earlier had helped (even though at that time I gave up the intention to apply) as I probably kept wondering about them subconsciously.

Half an hour away from the deadline, I checked on YouTube for the kind of videos that people might have made. Even if you do a search now, you can find many of them are really beautifully created and edited. In the time that I had with me, I knew that I had to focus on the core message of my video and not worry about the rest. I shot a video using Ubuntu's default videomaker, in the simple setting of my good old hostel room. The reason I am mentioning this is to highlight that (in my opinion) the review of applications places more emphasis on the content of the video rather than its presentation. So I think maybe you don't have to stress too much about this aspect (But, at the same time this may be an opportunity for you to stand out as well).

Fortunately, all the requirements for application got managed and I submitted the application with a minute to spare (Phew!). And, finally, many months after I received the amazing Congratulations email.

But, actually there was a bit more to the story than just this.

Around the end of May, all the applicants received the email from Deepak (the coordinator at Google) that the results will be announced by mid June. In fact, another email by him made the date more precise (22nd June).

I constantly monitored my inbox for an email on 22nd, but didn't get any email about this. Worried that this implied I didn't get the scholarship and to end my state of anxiety, I sent an email on 23rd to Deepak with almost no expectations.

I received the above email later that night. In the summer of 2016, I was in Kyoto University, Japan, for my internship. Ofcourse, my Indian mobile number was switched off. This gave me a glitter of hope and before I would celebrate, I wanted to make sure that this was the case. Other things came to my mind such as there could be a phone interview, or maybe I was close to being shortlisted but didn't finally make it and so on.

Eventually, I shortly got another email from Deepak after I replied to the previous one. I had actually been selected as a scholarship recipient. I just had to share more information about my student status before getting the official confirmation as mentioned earlier.

I sometimes think what would have happened if I hadn’t sent that additional email. Most likely, I would have received an email from them in a day or two. But, as an applicant, the anxiety and worry doesn’t let you live in peace, to the extent of having thoughts such as, would I have still received the scholarship, crossed my mind at that time. Anyways, this always makes my wonder how useful sending an email can be!

Thanks for reading so far! In the next part to this post, I will describe some points which I think made my application successful and other tips. Let me know what you think or if you have questions, below in the comments! :)

Research Intern at Facebook AI Research and Machine Learning Grad Student at EPFL, Switzerland. Loves hiking, cricket, reading & TED talks!

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