14 days ago

Story of Arif: From CGPA 2.71 to PhD scholarships at 12 US universities

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"Maintaining a high GPA is crucial, but it's not the only requirement. It's equally important to thoroughly research the target institution and understand its specific requirements and expectations," says Arif Hasnat, a RUET graduate who got offers from multiple US universities' PhD programmes with full funding despite his low CGPA, i.e., 2.71. Consistency and hard work help people reach their goals, as he again proved with a wonderful example of his struggles and ultimate result.

About poor CGPA which burdened him so much in this admission process, Arif says, "In every place in the world, even if you perform poorly once, you can make a comeback, but in our RUET civil engineering department, that was very tough. If it happens, it is an extremely exceptional example. Our department tradition was such that only 30 per cent of students achieved a GPA above 3.00, meaning that out of 120 students, more than 85 had below 3.00 GPAs, although the situation is now changing." Therefore, when he couldn't find a way to shine in his academic results, he turned to research opportunities in his second year of undergraduate.

The newcomers in the research field face obstacles in Bangladesh, Arif Hasnat faced the same. However, he didn't stop there; he contacted many for guidance and finally found a senior, Faysal Ibne Rahman, who was pursuing a master's degree in Japan at that time. After collecting courses, data, and labworks from Faysal, Arif Hasnat studied all those by himself, using online lectures and all, so that he could prepare himself for research work. Then, he started writing research papers and completing various projects all by himself, and Faysal used to review his papers before submission. To manage the heavy workload, Arif even missed Ramadan vacation to go home; instead, he kept completing his research projects and writing papers for publication.

He recalls days of those research projects from his undergraduate period, saying, "While working on a water research project, I used to head out with my bicycle after the Fajr prayer to collect water from various locations in Rajshahi. I would load my bicycle fully and come back to the lab, attend classes, and test the samples in between. Since I was working without any supervisor and without any guidance, I just worked nonstop like a machine."

During the fourth year of RUET civil engineering, Arif responded exceptionally as a result of his research prowess in Professor HM Rasel's course on Flood Forecasting. That led to a conversation about his research experience and, eventually, the publication of more research papers. He says about Professor HM Rasel, "The way he has helped me in both my personal and professional life, I will remain grateful to this person for the rest of my life."

At the end of the final year, Arif was simultaneously preparing for the GRE and finals; as there was barely any higher study support at RUET, he studied the GRE all by himself, with the wrong methods and all. So, the first time he took the GRE, the score wasn't satisfactory; at the same time, he had failed a backlog exam at RUET too. Consequently, he had to cover a 'Short Semester' at RUET after fourth year. He had his Short Semester class test when all his classmates attended the convocation. He recalls those memories, saying, "I couldn't dress my parents in the graduation gown; I was completely broken down mentally!"

After completing the short semester and finally graduating from RUET with 12 research publications, he joined DM Watch Limited as an officer of 'Research and Knowledge Management.' Within three years, he was promoted to senior officer, manager, and deputy manager, consequently with his prowess in research projects.

Arif Hasnat started emailing US university professors back in 2021. He says, “While emailing hundreds of professors in those days, I kept on changing the email formatting repeatedly, updating my profile, and presenting my profile in new ways." Ultimately, he emailed a total of more than 1200 professors and got responses from more than 50 and positive responses from about more than 30 professors. This time, he faced an issue because of his low CGPA. He says, "Funding typically comes from individual professors or departments who, upon interviewing and selecting a student, provide a scholarship and encourage an application to their university. However, even if a professor wants to admit a student with funding, the graduate school, which oversees admissions, may reject the application if it does not meet certain criteria, such as a minimum GPA of 3.00. This was often my hurdle."

After regularly communicating with more than 20 professors, he managed funds from 12 university professors and applied to 10 graduate schools within those 12 universities. He recalls those horrifying experiences of not getting in only because of his low CGPA, and says, "I had reached the height of despair. However, despite everything, I did not give up on research paper publication."

Finally, he got into four universities with full-funding: Southern Illinois University Carbondale, the University of Texas at Arlington, Lamar University, and the University of Louisville. There were two other universities where he was accepted: Clemson University and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. In the meantime, he worked as a programme officer at WaterAid Bangladesh and completed a master's degree from Jahangirnagar University.

As for Southern Illinois University Carbondale, he was interviewed by two professors. Arif Hasnat says, "One of them didn't have the courage to take me in, thinking that my low CGPA and high number of papers meant I was just dabbling and had ghostwritten papers in others' research. Later, the other professor had the courage to accept me."

"I was supposed to join there in January 2024. However, due to some personal trauma, I applied for a visa quickly using an I-20 from another university and faced rejection," he continues. In the meantime, in December 2023, his mother died of a stroke. Then, after a lot of discussion, he could defer his SIUC admission for a semester; after attending the second visa interview in late January, he finally got the approval. Even at his rock bottom, Arif Hasnat was consistent, and thus, he is studying at SIUC as a fully-funded PhD student.

For future applicants, Arif suggests, "Utilise online resources to gain a comprehensive understanding of what they are looking for in candidates and tailor your profile accordingly to present yourself as a valuable asset. Strong application materials such as a Statement of Purpose, Letters of Recommendation, CV, portfolio, job, and research experiences are essential. Always present your qualifications in a way that highlights your potential contributions, viewing your application from the institution's perspective. Finally, maintaining hard work, consistency, and self-belief are vital for success."

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