The Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship supports ambitious individuals to expand their thinking and build confidence to find innovative ways to help create a better Australia.
Valued at up to $120,000 over three years, the scholarship includes a nine-month bespoke Leadership Development Program, opportunities to gain global experience (when possible), and access to extensive networks through the Westpac 100 Scholars Network.
This is the true highlight for Westpac Scholar and 2019 Future Leader, Ben French.
"The Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship intrigued me in a daydreamy, wouldn’t-that-be-nice kind of way. At the time I was planning my PhD, there were just two previous Westpac Future Leaders Scholars at the University of Tasmania," Ben said.
"Talking with one of these scholars gave me the nudge I needed to take the next step. After all, applying for things you don’t expect to get is part of any good research career.
"As I started writing the application, I realised this was something different, a feeling reinforced during the interview day in Sydney. The questions I was answering were less about technical details of my work and more about me as a person. Why do I do what I do? What is it that really drives me? What changes would I like to see in the world? Questions that might lurk at the back of your mind and not get your attention as much as they should.
"The application process was worthwhile even just to clarify my thinking on these things, although I didn’t expect to get accepted into the program right until I received the phone call.
The Leadership Development Program defined 2019 for me, and was a string of rich experiences in which I felt both supported and pulled from my comfort zone.
"By creating a space away from daily routines, the Sydney residential let me reflect on my own development journey, to identify my strengths and recognise the areas where I can improve. I was introduced to entirely new concepts of leadership, as well as tangible skills and ways of thinking and which I still use today. This residential, and follow up experiences in Sydney and Canberra, challenged me to re-think my capacity to have an impact on the world. An experience I found stimulating, confronting and ultimately empowering.
"The material support offered by the program allows you to shape your own study experience and capitalise on opportunities. For me, so far, this has involved travelling to the Northern Territory to spend a dry season doing research there, and I look forward to gaining still broader perspectives with a fully funded international experience next year.
The real gift of the program though has been the relationships I have built with my cohort of scholars.
"This is a group of 17 bright, motivated young people from around the country, working on some of Australia’s most pressing challenges in diverse fields. They are also just people, with their own struggles, strengths and goals, and sharing this journey with them has already made my PhD experience much richer. I am confident that we will continue to draw on each other for inspiration and support well into the future."
Ben has some advice for those thinking of applying.
"I encourage you to apply for program. If you do you will realise that its more than a scholarship, it’s a unique set of experiences which take you beyond your comfort zone, open doors and could spin off in any number of directions. So be a little bold and go for it. You won’t regret it," he said.
“I am looking at how we can apply machine learning and big data approaches topalaeobotany (plant fossils) and palaeoecology,” Matilda said.
“Part of my project is finding a way to digitally analyse the outer layer of cells)of fossilised plants so we can better understand how different anatomical characteristics relate to the way the plant functions.
“Because my project is primarily digital (as opposed to field-based) and it is such a dynamic field of research, one of the most valuable parts of the scholarship has been the funding to attend conferences in Australia, the UK and the US. It gave me the opportunity to share and discuss my research with researchers working in a wide range of areas, as well as to explore possible avenues for collaboration in the future. This also allowed me to keep up-to-date with the most recent advances in my rapidly developing field.
“Another great aspect of the scholarship is the ability to interact with my cohort of Future Leaders.
It can be tempting to keep to our own little research bubbles, but this scholarship connects students from all fields of study and opens up cross-disciplinary opportunities.
The ongoing access to the Westpac 100 network has been great at keeping us engaged with the bigger picture.
“The Leadership Development Program also been phenomenal. Much of my previous leadership experience had been as a bushwalking guide, so the leadership style was very much the traditional model – standing up front and directing proceedings. This program was a chance to develop different styles of leadership – to be a leadership chameleon, as it were. Sometimes, it’s not about taking charge, but about making space for others to fill.
“My advice to any student thinking about applying for the scholarship is: you have got absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.
"The worst-case scenario is that you’re not successful with your application; you still end up with a document that clarifies your aspirations and achievements. It also gives you the chance to design, justify and budget for a project you’d like to undertake and that is a worthwhile exercise in and of itself.”
Four years later, the Westpac Scholar and 2017 Future Leader has experienced incredible personal and professional growth and she has almost completed her PhD, a feat she never thought possible. The scholarship has supported her studies into how cider is affected by different factors such as yeast and region.
“I never thought I would do a PhD, the plan was always to do Honours and then get a job in the industry, but my supervisor suggested I apply, and I thought I would give it a go,” Madeleine said.
“I was attracted to the leadership focus of the scholarship, as well as the financial support to study. There isn’t a lot of funding available for cider research so I was really hoping I would get it, but I never actually thought I would. I was intimidated by all of the other young amazing applicants during the interviews and felt a bit of imposter syndrome so when I heard that my application had been successful, I was in a bit of shock.
“For me the Leadership Development Program was one of the highlights of the scholarship, it was amazing. We went to Sydney and it was an opportunity to meet a group of young people who are so driven and inspiring. We were all from different walks of life, but we learnt a lot from each other, and we are still in contact today. I have been involved in leadership roles in the community and at school, but prior to this opportunity, it hadn’t been framed to me as part of academic life.
“The program has taught me to be mindful, be authentic and to back yourself. I’m looking to the future now, to figure out what I want to do next and so I’ve already leaned on some of those contacts for guidance. I would never have guidance from outside of my supervisory team if I didn’t get the scholarship. Another benefit of being a Westpac Scholar is tapping into great minds I would not have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.
“My advice to other students who are thinking of applying is to be yourself.
“You don’t have to be the highest academic achiever, they’re after people with passion that want to make a difference.
I personally found that it was who I am as a person and what drives me to be what helped me earn the scholarship, opposed to having a pristine academic transcript. I think it’s rare in an academic landscape, to champion people over results, this is what sets the Westpac scholarships apart.
“I have grown immensely since I received the scholarship. I’m about to finish with a PhD, which is something I never thought I would have done. There’s been so much personal growth through this process. I remember back to my first day with my supervisors, I was keen but unsure, and I still had that lingering imposter syndrome. It was odd to think I was being externally funded to do research, and on apple cider of all things! After going through the Westpac leadership program, I began to understand my value in what I had to give, as well as what I had to learn.
Without the scholarship I wouldn't have done a PhD and learnt what I was capable off, it certainly changed my life and has shaped the person I am today.