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Female student awarded master’s and doctoral scholarships by Cambridge University

To study postgraduate at Cambridge, Vietnamese applicants must have a master’s degree; but My only has a bachelor’s degree and experience working for a research institute.

Pham Ha My, 29 years old, currently a PhD student at the University of Cambridge. 10 years ago, My did not think one day I would become a student of Cambridge University – Top 3 most prestigious universities in the world (after MIT and Oxford, tied with Stanford) according to QS ranking in 2022; and is in the Top 5 (after Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and before Oxford) according to the ranking of THE 2020.

My wanted to study abroad since high school, when I saw that my friends from Hanoi – Amsterdam High School for the Gifted won scholarships to international universities in turn. Family circumstances did not allow, so the former student majoring in Biology had to temporarily put aside his intention. Graduated in Biotechnology, Hanoi University of Science and Technology, My applied for scholarships in some countries but only stopped at the interview round due to limited English and records.

“I decided to go to work to know what I wanted. It was also the process of preparing, improving foreign languages ​​and professional knowledge to find better opportunities,” My said.

Pham Ha My is a second year PhD student at Cambridge University.  Photo: Character provided

Pham Ha My is a second year PhD student at Cambridge University. Image: Characters provided

My applied to the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam (OUCRU), with the aim of learning how to work in an international environment and improving my English. During this time, My participated in conferences and seminars in many countries. However, it was only when I won the Champion of the British Council’s Science Media Ambassador search competition and represented Vietnam in an international competition in the UK that My decided this would be the next destination. At this time, my English and knowledge were good enough, My started to apply for a scholarship.

After applying for the British Government Chevening scholarship in November 2017, My still wants to try a top school. She completed the application for a master’s program in Genomic Science from the University of Cambridge.

When I was about to apply to Cambridge, My contacted several professors in the school to find out their research topics and asked if she could become a research student on the same topic. My was encouraged by professors to apply.

However, according to Cambridge’s regulations, to apply for a master’s program, candidates from Vietnam and some developing countries must have an IELTS of at least 7.0 (in which no skill is less than 7) and have a diploma. masters. In her response to My, the admissions committee said that she had sent the wrong documents because she had not seen her master’s degree.

“Professor advised me to email the school, asking for consideration because although I don’t have a master’s degree, I have work experience and have the ability to complete the program at Cambridge. He said that not all students come from developing countries. Developing countries also study well and vice versa, not all students from developing countries can’t meet them,” My said.

In the email, My said that she had studied biotechnology-related subjects and had done many research projects. My essay raised the issue of antibiotic resistance in Vietnam and expressed a desire to research bacteria carrying genes for antibiotic resistance.

Finally, the Hanoi female student was accepted into the interview round. A few months later, she received news that she had passed both a Chevening and Cambridge University scholarship, covering full tuition, living expenses and a round-trip airfare.

“I considered it a lot when I had to choose, but finally decided to study at Cambridge because I visited and fell in love with this school,” My said, leaving to study abroad in January 2019.

Professor Nicholas Thomson, Head of the Department of Microbiology – Parasitology, Sanger Institute – Cambridge University, rated My as an “excellent student”.

“Ha My has transformed from a laboratory scientist to an adult bioinformatics scientist to analyze high-quality data relevant to public health,” said Professor Thomson.


My at an event with friends in Cambridge recently. Image: Characters provided

The master’s program lasts only one year, while My enjoys the study abroad life and wants to study more. She decided to explore a doctoral program when she studied for a master’s for six months; then send the application to Cambridge and two schools in Germany and the Netherlands.

“Applying for a PhD scholarship and writing a master’s thesis at the same time was extremely stressful for me,” My recalls.

After getting the results of early admission to doctoral programs in two universities in Germany and the Netherlands, My still wants to wait for news from Cambridge.

The 29-year-old PhD student said that unlike a master’s degree, which takes a short time, the PhD is more difficult and takes longer. If the interview round at the master’s level is like a fun conversation, helping the admission committee to better understand the person My is, this part of the doctoral level is really a test of knowledge, skills and bravery.

My had to go through four interviews in one day, each lasting about an hour. The first three meetings with three professors focused on knowledge, while the meeting with the school board revolved around problem-solving skills, networking, time management and future orientation.

“I thought I would miss this opportunity because that day was filled with interviews with many specialized words. I regretted crying,” My said.

But two months later, My was again awarded a full PhD scholarship at Cambridge. After some deliberation, she switched from microbiology to cancer and genetic mutations. Dr. Raheleh Rahbari, research team leader at the Department of Oncology – Mutations, Sanger Research Institute, was impressed with the excellent learning process of the Vietnamese female student.

“The year 2022 will be a busy year for Mimy (my nickname) as she needs to analyze a large amount of sequencing data she generated last year, and perform many more experiments. “, Rahbari said.

My and James, her boyfriend.  Photo: Character provided

My and her boyfriend in a photo taken in 2021. He is the reason why she stays at Cambridge. Image: Characters provided

Nearly four years studying at Cambridge, My always wondered because the number of Vietnamese students at the school was always modest compared to many other countries. She created a blog My in Cam to share life, learning experiences, opportunities and help students who want to study abroad.

According to My, candidates should find ways to build up their knowledge and skills and be fully prepared instead of rushing to apply when they are still lacking and their profile is not strong enough. Students need to clearly understand the reason and purpose of studying abroad, then make a list of scholarships and list the criteria. She likens applying to study abroad as “finding a lover” and matching the scholarship criteria is very important.

“You will lose 100% of the opportunity if you don’t once dare to try things that seem far away,” My said.


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