What writing a scholarship application taught me about myself (Vivian Tran)

Vivian about to present at #HBPRCA_WS2020 (image from this tweet)

I was very excited to have been awarded the William and Elizabeth Fisher scholarship! 

Since the beginning of my PhD, the gender disparity in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) workforce has been evident to me. Because of this, I wanted to join an organisation that aimed to support and empower women in higher education.

I went on the hunt to find out what organisations were out there because, surely, I wasn’t the first person to have this urge to support and empower others. This is when I found the Graduate Women Victoria (GWV) association. This association was founded in 1920 by a group of graduate women who shared the common goal of promoting understanding among university women around the world, irrespective of race, nationality, religion, or political opinion.

One of the ways that GWV supports the careers of Victorian undergraduate and postgraduate women is through their annual awards, scholarships, and bursaries, made possible by donations from their benefactors and members. These are specifically for students who have or are currently overcoming disadvantages in pursuit of their studies.

Given that the last couple of years have been turbulent for everyone, scholarships and awards that help in any way are an opportunity not to be missed. Personally, I was facing difficult family circumstances and, as a result, had additional carer responsibilities which had a significant impact on my PhD studies.

Initially, I didn’t think I would be eligible for the scholarship, and that someone else would be more deserving of it than me. In retrospect, I am grateful that my supervisors supported and nudged me in the right direction, because the scholarship has significantly alleviated my financial burden.

When applying for the scholarship, I was in the second year of my PhD and by then had already hit the ground running. My studies were going well, and I often felt like I didn’t have time to breathe (I’m sure other PhD students can relate!) and never really had the chance to sit down and reflect on my achievements. This was mostly because I had a neverending to-do list, comprised of data analysis and experiments. Writing this scholarship application, however, gave me that chance to reflect and think about my PhD in a broader sense. I was able to condense my research project into an engaging and digestible package and think about how far I have come, despite all the disruptions. Being able to still achieve a high level of productivity throughout this tough time spoke volumes about my love for science and research.

Another section of the application asked me to highlight my strengths. Of course, this is always an awkward thing to think about but, again, it gave me the chance to reflect. Before this, I used to think about how lucky I was to be in the PhD program (that darn Imposter Syndrome!). I am grateful to be surrounded by family, friends and in particular, other PhD students, who often feel the same, and  we should remember that only ~2% of people in Australia have PhDs and getting into doctoral programs can be difficult. So, we are here because we deserve to be. This was reiterated in the letters I obtained from my two referees.

The last section of the application was about detailing our future plans, which is always daunting to think about. I highlighted my goals in becoming a postdoctoral researcher in the cardiometabolic field who was committed to making change. Given my experiences as a first-generation Vietnamese-Australian, and first in my family to pursue postgraduate education, I wanted to demonstrate to the GWV that I was aligned with their goals. I am passionate about raising awareness and creating opportunities for minorities, women, and girls in STEM and I have championed these causes in the past. I want to not only support and empower the next generation of women in STEM but also to one day build a platform to bridge the language barrier, ensuring that marginalised groups receive accurate, evidence-based information to make informed health decisions.

I am extremely grateful to have been a recipient of this prestigious scholarship. To other women (undergraduate and postgraduate) experiencing any forms of disadvantage, I encourage you to reach out and apply for the GWVscholarships. Not only did it relieve financial burden, but the awards ceremony where other recipients shared their journey made me realise that I am now a part of a community of incredible women who are dedicated to supporting, upskilling, and uplifting each other. It takes a village to raise a PhD student and the GWV is just one of those villages!

More broadly to all graduate researchers: seek out funding opportunities and put your hat in the ring! Learning to write applications for grants and scholarships will set you up well in your career, no matter where you go.  


Vivian Tran is a PhD student at the Centre for Cardiovascular Biology and Disease Research. Her PhD aims to characterise a novel mouse model of diet-induced metabolic syndrome. Currently, she is developing her research profile. For her scientific work, she has presented at several national and international conferences. 

Vivian’s passion for science extends far beyond the lab. She is dedicated to creating an inclusive STEM space and empowering students to become confident in their STEM-related abilities. She champions this by being a STEM outreach demonstrator and Educational Partnerships facilitator, and actively participates in various science communication events. 

You can find Vivian on Twitter @vivianvtran.