Hit the pavement!

Attention all Australian undergraduate students aged 18–28, currently studying and who are aspiring to be 2019 New Colombo Plan scholars: if this is the first time you’ve come across these articles then — hold it right there! Before reading any further, this is the second article in my article series for aspiring 2019 New Colombo Plan scholars. Be sure to read my first article with my advice about the first step in the New Colombo Plan scholarship application process. (Also, make sure to tune in for further New Colombo Plan advice articles by, Julian Vidal — current PwC Japan New Colombo Plan scholar.)

Liam hitting the pavement at Mahidol University

February is the most important month in your New Colombo Plan scholarship application. Let’s start with the end in mind. Your internal New Colombo Plan scholarship application will be due sometime in June. You will then complete an interview in July. (Note: these dates are specific to my experience at QUT and I advise you to contact your exchange office if you’re from another university to confirm these timings.) At the completion of the internal application, you will be shortlisted to re-apply through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Now, there are three main goals that I want you to start thinking about now. The first goal is to have your academic reference completed by the time you complete your internal interview in July. Working towards this goal is going to be your focus in February. The second goal is to have your work reference completed by the time you complete your internal interview in July. Working towards this goal is going to be your focus in March. The third goal is to decide on your host destination and to make contact with your preferred internship provider. Working towards this goal is going to be your focus in April (stay tuned in the coming months for more information on your second and third goals). If you really want to stand out, then you would have this internship confirmed prior to your internal interview. That’s right, I said have it confirmed by your internal interview. This is what I did in my second New Colombo Plan scholarship application in 2017 and it’s what made me stand out from the rest of the applicants.

Hardly anyone will have their internship confirmed by the final interview in Canberra. Many scholarship recipients don’t even have their internships confirmed until they arrive in-country. I’m not saying that it is a bad thing to not have your internship confirmed; I’m just saying that it will help you stand out if you do. I also think that if you have a genuine and clear vision leading into the program, then it shouldn’t be hard to select a host organisation to reach out to in your chosen country. This is because the purpose of your New Colombo Plan scholarship is to give your vision the ultimate test.

For me, my vision is to be a startup founder, venture capitalist, and philanthropist during my career. I’m not sure of the exact path I need to take and I don’t think there is an exact path. It’s different for everyone and your vision will be the same. However, I do think that it’s important to do your research, come up with an idea about the first step you can take and then test it so that you can grow into your future vision of yourself. This is what I have done and I’m testing my path as you read this article. Anyways, will get to that goal leading up to April. Just keep that in mind.

Let’s now focus on the steps you need to take in the month of February to work towards reaching the first goal of your final internal interview. The steps for this month are to:

1. Meet your exchange office.

2. Sign up to a university society/ societies.

3. Pre-populate your calendar with events.

4. Research extra-curricular sponsorships and applications.

5. Meet with your university mentor.

These steps need to be done by the end of February so that you can hit the ground running from the start of the semester. The first step is to front up at your exchange office and tell them that you’re going to be applying for the New Colombo Plan scholarship. Find out all the exact timings for the application and their advice about your upcoming application. Also, find out about the exchange partners that your university has in the Indo-Pacific countries that the New Colombo Plan is focusing on.

I’d also take the time to ask about what New Colombo Plan mobility grants are available for 2019 and in what countries they will be available in. This could inform your decision for your host nation. This is because you will have the fall back of a New Colombo Plan mobility grant to still take you on your journey. These people are the heroes behind the New Colombo Plan scholarship. They will conduct the internal applications, support you in your external applications and then help you execute your plans for your exchange program. Make sure you take the time to meet with them before you do anything else. If you’re at QUT, then you should get in contact with Hayley McNeel and organise to meet with her as soon as possible.

I now want you to find a relevant society to join. In 2015, I was completing my first New Colombo Plan scholarship application and I did this step well. I signed up for QUT Starters and I ended up becoming an executive member. This is an important step in the process. You need to conduct research online and on the ground, in-person, on campus to find the most relevant society for your vision. It doesn’t have to be exact, it just needs to allow you to test and demonstrate what you’re working towards. There needs to be a logical nexus of connection to your vision. You then need to contact that society in February and find out how you can get involved in this semester.

The second step is to pre-populate your calendar with the events and co-curricular sponsorships that are going to give you the best bang for your buck to test your vision. What do I mean by the most bang for your buck? I mean that you need to find all the relevant events and sponsorships and then sift through them to decide which ones you can sustainably commit to for the upcoming semester. In 2017, I started attending the QUT Bluebox, QUT Foundry, and QUT Real Word Futures events. I found some of these events online, but the true value came from hitting the pavement and talking to the Business School about all the upcoming events that I should attend. You need to come up with a list of events and then double down on the ones that will give you the most value for your time. Don’t sign up for everything. Don’t make that mistake. I’ve been there before and trust me you can’t do everything; so look at everything through the “less is more” lens. By the way, for those of you who know me well, you will know that the “less is more” lens often gets blurry in my life. This is something that I am self-aware of and trying to actively work on. I want you to be better than me. Don’t make the same mistakes that I have made and still make when it comes to “less is more.”

What’s next? You need to complete the same process that you did for events. Except, you need to do it for the extracurricular sponsorships and applications available on campus. These are the activities for people (like your amazing self!) to build leadership credentials in the relevant field or fields related to their vision. In 2015, I applied for the Deloitte Innovation FastTrack program. This was a program for future business leaders to develop their ability to be intrapreneurs. Intrapreneurship is entrepreneurship except within a business organisation like Deloitte. I received credit for this work integrated subject, it led to a vacation program and a graduate-offer, two and a half years prior to graduation. This is the power that can come from testing and demonstrating your vision. In 2017, I applied for a sponsorship to be a member of Ubercamp, which was a two-day entrepreneurship masterclass run by BlueBox on the Sunshine Coast.

I can’t stress enough that you probably won’t find these online yet! You need to spend a day hustling on campus in February to find out what sponsorships and extra-curricular applications will be available this semester. You then need to find out the application due dates and pre-populate your calendar with these dates as soon as possible. The teams on campus will give you an idea of when these will be available for you to apply for them. The other reason why you should front up in person is that they’re going to remember you when your application comes through. That’s just the way things work. Be smart and get ahead. You need to put yourself in the position where they know who you are and that you’re interested before you even apply. I would also spend the time asking them what you would need to do to put forward your best possible application for each sponsorship and extra-curricular application. I’d get down to the specifics around what the criteria will be so that you can start writing it sooner rather than later. Do yourself a favour and get it out of the way before university starts if you can.

Now, the final step I want you to take on campus is to find the most relevant university staff member related to your vision. I know I’ve been saying this a lot, but you really need to front-up on campus. Find out who this person is and introduce yourself in person. Don’t waste time waiting for a response via email. You need to form a relationship with this person to help test and demonstrate your vision. You need to tell this person that you are applying for the New Colombo Plan scholarship program. You need to seek advice from this person about the activities on campus that you will be completing to test and demonstrate your vision in the upcoming semester. This person is going to be your university mentor for your New Colombo Plan scholarship application. You need to show the initiative and develop this relationship over the next semester. This will involve putting in the time by regularly checking in via email, phone and in person over the next few months. This person is important to help you test your vision and if you get this right, then they will be your academic reference for your New Colombo Plan scholarship application.

For example, in 2015 I was fortunate to meet Brent Watts who is the head of investment at BlueBox. BlueBox is QUT’s commercialisation arm on campus. I’d come up with a property startup concept and I didn’t know where to go with it. I had no clear idea about the startup ecosystem on campus and in the greater Brisbane area. This conversation led me to become involved with QUT Starters and to help improve the startup ecosystem connectivity on campus for future entrepreneurial students. However, he was also an on-campus expert in the startup field. I fortuitously met one of the experts in the startup field on campus. I want you to deliberately find this person. For the record, Brent ended up being my academic reference in 2017 and helped me so much with my New Colombo Plan scholarship application.

Let’s call it a day on the steps for February. You’ve got a few big days ahead of you hitting the pavement at your university. All the best in February and feel free to reach out if you have any questions. Good luck! And tune in leading up to March for more advice on what you can do in March to have your work reference completed by the time you complete your internal interview in July.

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