Marie Curie PhD Scholarship is one of the most prestigious prizes in Europe. It goes to talented PhD applicants around the world. A research support group initiated by the European Union (EU), i.e. Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA), offers the Marie Curie Scholarship for PhD. The support offers well-remunerated scholarship opportunities in leading, top research facilities across Europe. It also provides excellent exposure to working in both academia and industry. Please be aware that applicants are required to contact research supervisors at some point in order to finalize an agreement for enrolment at a European university.
Marie Curie PhD Stipend
The Marie Curie PhD stipend varies from country to country. It consists of three parts (i) living allowance, (ii) mobility allowance, and (iii) family allowance. The first two parts go to every Marie Cuire scholarship PhD winner, but the third one goes only to those with accompanying families. PhD positions are the most popular higher education vacancies as the chance of getting financial support for them is high.
This article walks you through real stories of the journey some applicants had throughout the Marie Curie PhD application process from the beginning until they won the scholarship.
1) Mohadeseh Bagherabadi, Winner of the Marie Curie Scholarship for PhD 2021
My name is Mohadeseh Bagherabadi, a PhD student at the Technical University of Darmstadt (TU Darmstadt). I am also a member of the STIMULUS group and my thesis is on the multifunctional wound dressing area. I am more than happy to walk you through my experience in the application process for the Marie Curie PhD Scholarship, hoping that you find my story useful and helpful.
My interest in chemistry dates to my high school period when my chemistry teacher appointed me as his laboratory assistant. Meanwhile, taking part in a chemistry Olympiad was another motivation for me. I received my master’s degree in polymer chemistry as a top first-ranked student in 2020. After finishing my master’s degree, I began to search for overseas PhD positions with great motivation. I was looking for available PhD positions on websites like EURAXESS, Study Portals PhDs, and FindAPhD.
At the same time, I started contacting professors whose expertise was smart polymers, i.e., my primary research interest. After a while, my motivation for applying to PhD positions started fading due to receiving disappointing emails from research supervisors, the unsuccessful experience of my classmates/friends in their application process, and Corona pandemic. My friends with resumes much stronger than mine were not able to receive any funded PhD position. How can I? Moreover, as a working single mom, I did not have enough time and money to efficiently plan for taking an English proficiency test, e.g., IELTS Academic, TOEFL iBT, PTE Academic, etc.
My acquaintance with the Marie Curie PhD Scholarship
However, sometimes a person has no other choice than success and they must fight to achieve it. I began to prepare my academic resume or curriculum vitae (CV) and search for someone to revise it for me. While I could not find anyone, you currently have the chance to trust Applyindex for writing and revising your CV. A light came out from nowhere when I heard that MSCA considers female researchers as a priority for getting the Marie Curie PhD Scholarship.
I immediately started writing a cover letter describing my motivations, goals, and life challenges. In particular, I wrote about the difficulties of continuing my academic journey with a 10-year-old child. Ultimately, I applied for the scholarship with 15 research positions in various fields of wound infection treatment. Those 15 PhD students should collaborate at several universities in different countries of the EU such as BOKU, University of Bath, KOÇ University, etc. Although I could nominate a maximum of two positions, I only chose a position at TU Darmstadt in Germany that align best with my research interest. The employment of smart polymers in health-related applications is my principal research interest. After sending my documents and resume to my current supervisor, Prof. Dr. Annette Andrieu Brunsen, in the last step my motivation to continue my academic journey increased.
Journey to a 2-hour interview of Marie Curie Scholarship
(i) From disappointment to an interview invitation
If I am not wrong, I applied for this position in early November 2020. I did not receive any feedback for a while. Therefore, I started applying to other funding opportunities. I suppose there were 160 positions/supervisors that I applied for back then. It was the peak of the Corona pandemic, and they were not hiring new students due to the lockdowns everywhere. Everyone kept saying that the situation would remain the same until the end of the pandemic and that it was practically impossible to get a funded position. It is always true that the darkest night will end, and the sun rises. It was in mid-February 2021 that I received an email from Dr. Annette Andrieu Brunsen, inviting me to an interview on the 25th of March 2021.
(ii) Stresses before Marie Curie PhD Scholarship interview
It was the first interview I was going to experience. I needed to prepare a 20-minute presentation outlining my research background, skills and interests, and life goals. Since it was during the last days of the solar calendar, i.e., the busiest days in Iran, I could not take any time off to get prepared for the interview. All the work was overdue and I had to finish them before the Persian new year, Nowruz. However, a very strong feeling in my heart said that I will attend the interview in the best possible way. I had only 5 days to get prepared for the interview. During the preparation, I mostly focused on the alignment between Dr. Brunsen’s research group and my knowledge, research experience, and lab skills.
Since I used to live in the countryside in Iran, I had a weak internet connection. So, I had to go to my friend’s home for the interview. On the way, I was periodically thinking about the following:
- I should not disappoint my mother as my biggest supporter.
- I must do something for my son’s future.
- What if this is the first and last chance of my life?
(iii) What happened during the interview
The interview, which was initially supposed to be 45 minutes, took 2 hours. I tried my best to answer their questions properly. I talked about what motivated me to step into this pathway. Five professors participated in the interview and each of them asked different types of questions. After the interview, I felt strangely tired and received an email that they would let me know the result within two weeks as they were going to interview other candidates. I used to check my e-mail inbox several times per day. Even if they reject my application, I will try again somewhere else to finally reach my goal. I kept repeating this sentence to myself.
My application outcome
It was early morning on the 1st of April 2021, a day before Nature Day (Sizdah Be-dar in Farsi) in Iran, and I was getting ready to go for a picnic with my family. My son was sleeping next to me. I picked up the phone with my eyes half open and checked my e-mail as usual when my son suddenly woke up from my scream. My mother walked into the room and asked what happened. I will never forget that moment! Unexpectedly, I was the first-ranked candidate selected for the Marie Curie PhD scholarship.
The excitement of that moment is indescribable. I had taken the biggest step in my life, and I could do research away from the stresses of being a woman in Iran. The scholarship pays off all my living expenses plus the family allowances so that I can study with a relieved mind. Away from all financial and gender concerns, I could continue my dream of helping human beings by working on a wound dressing project. I kept repeating these sentences in my mind.
And once again I believe in this sentence that we should never give up our goals and dreams in life because the impossible is not impossible. ‘Says Mohadeseh’
2) Khanzadi Nazneen Manzoor, Winner of the Marie Curie Scholarship for PhD 2021
My name is Khanzadi Nazneen Manzoor, a PhD student at the University of Bath supported by an MSCA grant. I am primarily working at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) as an Early-Stage Researcher. I am also a member of the STIMULUS group. My project is focused on imaging, understanding, and attacking multi-drug resistant wound biofilms. This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program. I am happy to speak about and share my experiences on how I ended up winning the Marie Curie PhD scholarship. I assure you that you will find it an interesting and inspiring story.
Bachelor of Science (BSc)
I had an interest in biology from my school life and I find it endlessly fascinating because of numerous prospects. Biology is unique because of the complexity of living organisms. I have always wondered how nature has created such things. Meanwhile, when I was in my bachelor’s studies I become more interested in microbiology. Because I further learned how it is playing a vital role in human life. I was impressed by how much unseen organisms are responsible for the complexities of life. That inspired me to step into a pathway to contribute to solving problems and improving our life quality. My passion to become an independent woman motivated me to work hard in my field. Such motive led me to win an HEC scholarship for the entire 4 years of my BSc degree. Eventually, I won the gold medal award for being a top first-ranked student, class of 2017.
Master of Science (MSc) and COVID-19
Upon completing my BSc in microbiology, I received Pakistan Scottish Scholarship Scheme for Women 2018 to peruse my studies, which helped me do my MSc in Microbiology and Immunology. During the last semester of my MSc degree, I began to search for PhD positions. I used different platforms to search for overseas PhD positions like LinkedIn, EURAXESS, and DAAD, as well as university websites. By writing a research proposal and finding a host professor at Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, I initially applied for a DAAD PhD scholarship, and my application ended up being rejected. At one point I was very disappointed by the multiple rejections from the different positions I had applied for. With COVID-19 conditions, the situation worsened and made me unhopeful because it was impossible to travel abroad when the entire world was at risk.
I used to ask myself the following questions: What would I do and how would I pursue my life and career? Would this be the end of everything and all the sacrifices I made in my life to reach that point? How can I find an overseas PhD position where I can become an independent researcher? My master’s professor, Dr. Abid Ali Khan, used to tell me that you should never give up, and one day it will pay you off. I had two choices at that time: (1) one was to quit and become a woman who has no ambition. (2) the other was to continue fighting. I chose the second option because gaining the value I deserve in society as a woman was only possible by fighting for my dreams.
My journey to get Marie Curie PhD Scholarship
Application for Marie Curie PhD Scholarship
While digging for various open PhD positions, I finally got my first interview for a position at Nexbiome Therapeutics. However, they rejected me at the end of a three-step interview process. On the other hand, being interviewed for several positions helped me build up my confidence. I was also writing applications to several professors to apply for DAAD once again by revising my application packages and cover letters over and over for every position.
One day while I was searching on the internet, I found a PhD position covered by the Marie Curie PhD scholarship matching my research interest and hiring students from all over the world. I immediately prepared my application for that with a cover letter explaining all my obstacles, fights, challenges, values, and goals in my life. I spent a few days applying for that position on the Trac portal, i.e., the online portal system of UKHSA. After a few weeks, I received an email inviting me for an interview on 8th June 2021. The email also asked me to prepare a 10-minute presentation about a project I had recently worked on.
I prepared myself for the interview as best as I could. I presented the project I worked on during my master’s degree. The interview panel asked different questions regarding my project, research experience, and lab skills, as well as some general questions. I was living in a hostel at that time with improper living facilities. I remember that day of the interview, I was sitting inside the room, and it was so hot probably more than 35 °C, and switched off the fan so that there should be no noise. The internet connection was not too strong, so I borrowed internet from my friend for the interview hour. The interview took a bit longer than one hour, and I tried my best to answer every question properly. After the interview, I was not feeling positive about the outcome because of being rejected from a lot of interviews before.
My application outcome
It was the next day while I was applying for more positions. I received an email on 9th June 2021 in the afternoon time. I will never forget the moment I read the email, screaming and having tears in my eyes. It was an email from my current line manager (Charlotte Hind) and supervisor (Mark Sutton) offering me this my PhD position. I can not explain what I felt at that very moment. That was a huge jump my life was going to take. The amount of funding in the position was quite good, and I would be able to live independently while continuing my career as a researcher. My life took a major turn from there. Such a relief!
I am currently on track to gaining more experience and knowledge under the supervision of Mark Sutton and Charlotte Hind. The group “Antimicrobial Discovery, Development, and Diagnostics” at UKHSA is my primary workplace. I am working independently, along with many talented, experienced scientists. My group members are very encouraging and helpful. My supervisors’ guidance and shared experiences are invaluable. While I am currently halfway through my PhD journey, I got married on 27th May 2023. Now I have another huge supporter in my life – my husband Kabeer Ud Din – and he motivates me a lot.
Now I can say this with a firm belief that our hard work pays off eventually. We can learn from life challenges which makes us grow stronger. No one gets the same version of life so learn from your challenges, fight for yourself, and have faith. You will get the reward in the end. ‘Says Khanzadi’