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Frances Knight

Why were you interested in applying for the Mitchell Scholarship?

Since about halfway through my junior year, I was pretty certain that I wanted to go on to get my PhD after graduating from Purdue. But I was also unsure whether I wanted to continue studying biomedical engineering or if I wanted to shift my focus more onto basic biological sciences, and so I had vague plans to do something else for a year (takes classes, work in a lab, etc.) that would help me to make this decision. When I found out about the Mitchell scholarship, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to advance my knowledge and education in the one-year "break period" that I wanted to allow myself before applying to PhD programs. The international aspect was an added bonus, since I have studied abroad before and I hope to travel again in the near future.

Which Irish university did you select and why?

I chose to apply to the Master of Science in Immunology & Global Health course at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. After going through all of the one-year Master's programs offered at each participating university, this is the one that really grabbed my attention. I feel as though I subconsciously had a desire to find work that was focused explicitly on helping the sick and impoverished in developing nations, and when I came across this specific program, this desire suddenly became apparent to me. The NUIM program is unique in that it combines basic science research with a focus on treating and preventing diseases of poverty like HIV and malaria, something that is not offered at many other schools, in Ireland or elsewhere.

What did you gain from the application process?

The application process for the Mitchell scholarship was rigorous; it really forced me to be introspective and to find a way to put my goals and ambitions into writing. The personal statement was an integral part of the application, and it was extremely challenging to find a way to express why I wanted to be a part of the Mitchell program such that others could understand and appreciate my motivation for applying. I went through a total of eight drafts of my essay, with copious amounts of help from the Purdue Writing Lab, Ms. Cristy Gosney, and Dr. Dennis Savaiano. By the end of the process, I had a much clearer idea of the path I want to take in the coming years; this has helped me to focus my efforts in advancing down that path.

What role did faculty or other mentors play in helping you through the application process?

I got the majority of my mentoring from Cristy; she helped me a lot with identifying scholarships that might be right for me, schools with programs that fit my interests, etc. I went to her for feedback on my university choices and essay content, and she was extremely helpful. I also received feedback on my application from Maeve Drummond, the undergraduate programs advisor in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering. Looking back, if I could do my application over, I probably would have sought advice from a wider variety of faculty members. However, it is important not to spread yourself too thin - everyone who reads your essay will have a different opinion on what should be changed, and eventually it might become something that no longer reflects who you really are!

What are your post-Purdue plans?

Unfortunately, I did not make it to the next round of consideration for the Mitchell scholarship, but I did go ahead and apply directly for admission to NUI Maynooth for the Immunology & Global Health program, and I have been accepted. I am also working on applying for a Whitaker Fellowship, which would fund my time abroad in Ireland. I have recently begun an application to the Master of Science in Global Health program at the University of Notre Dame.

After completing a Master's degree (hopefully within the next 1-2 years), I plan to apply to PhD programs, either in biomedical engineering or biomedical science. I am currently interested in combining work in drug/vaccine development for infectious diseases of poverty with what I have learned from my undergraduate research in drug delivery. In the much longer term, I would perhaps like to work for an organization invested in international aid, such as the Gates Foundation Global Health Program. Eventually, I would like to be in charge of my own research lab.

Do you have any advice for faculty or staff who would like to mentor students interested in applying for scholarships?

Encourage the students to start early - and by early, I mean far earlier than they think is necessary. I know it is hard; I have found it very difficult to get a head start on all of these applications and essays, because it requires me to think about futures that may or may not occur, to wildly conjecture about where could be in five to ten years, and to do a whole lot of work that will most likely end in rejection (statistically speaking, the odds are often against you). But these applications are very time-consuming, and if you wait too long, you will likely miss out on some great opportunities because you ran out of time.

I would also encourage the students to really consider how they can communicate their academic and career goals so that an application reviewer will be impressed by what the applicant hopes to accomplish. To be completely honest, part of my reason for applying to the Mitchell was that I would absolutely love to live in Ireland for a year. But I had to dig deeper than that to find material for my personal statement. I knew I had a meaningful reason for wanting to be a part of this program; it was just more difficult to communicate that to others. Make sure students understand how important it is to identify something that will really set them apart from other applicants.