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In his first year of a Bachelor of Science at The University of Melbourne, with a focus on genetics, Abir Srivastava should be residing at St Hilda’s College. Like students around the globe, he’s back home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Abir faces extra isolation, studying remotely in Alice Springs.

Meet Abir

Mary Vernon – CEF  Scholarship Recipient

Abir Srivastava

Local Foundation:
CEF Central Australia

University of Melbourne

Bachelor of Science

On receiving the Mary Vernon – CEF scholarship…

When asked for his first reaction on receiving the Mary Vernon – CEF Scholarship, Abir had a one-word answer; “Relief!”

“I just felt this huge relief that I had some financial support so I could go on and make the most of university and really focus on my studies.”

Indian-born Abir moved to Australia with his family at the age of two. And while his parents have always supported him in every way possible, the prospect of moving across the country to study and reside at The University of Melbourne was always going to be an expensive dream that would put considerable financial pressure on the family.

And so, it was cause for enormous relief and celebration when Abir discovered he would receive this generous grant of $21,000 (over three years).

In the words of Chris Tudor, CEF Central Australia, “Abir Srivastava is a talented, hardworking student with a true desire to make a difference in the community”.

Working hard is something Abir has proven to be particularly good at. Even before commencing his Bachelor of Science, he had accrued an impressive track record of academic excellence and community involvement.

What does this scholarship mean to Abir in practical terms?

Students like Abir who travel from country towns or regional centres are faced with many unexpected costs when starting out at university. So, scholarships like this go a long way to helping stay afloat and stay focused on the reason they are away in the first place – their studies.

“When I moved into my college there were all these things I didn’t realise I needed. For example, I didn’t think about an iron or ironing board until the day before I needed to wear a suit to a formal dinner at college!”

“There’s also public transport, which is not something you think about when you come from a small town. And new clothes! Obviously, it’s much cooler and wetter in Melbourne than Alice Springs. Plus, books and computers and other gear for university. All these errands and costs really stack up and so the scholarship helped me stay on top of it all.”

All these errands and costs really stack up and so the scholarship helped me stay on top of it all

Thanks to the scholarship, even if I didn’t get a job straight away, I could still focus on studying.”

Studying in the time of COVID-19

Abir was only just getting settled in Melbourne when COVID-19 hit.

In addition to college fees; he now had to buy flights home, part time jobs became suddenly impossible to secure and the expenses still rolled in.

“If I didn’t have the scholarship, I’d be so stressed about trying to get work and finding other ways to support myself so I am not fully relying on my parents and feeling guilty.”

“I had started looking for jobs pretty soon after I arrived in Melbourne, but around that time things started getting bad and nobody was hiring. Thanks to the scholarship, even if I didn’t get a job straight away, I could still focus on studying.”

On challenges

What have been the biggest challenges for Abir in moving from his tight-knit community in Alice Springs to college in Melbourne?

“Trying to reform connections. You are in a brand new place, a totally different environment and it can be really overwhelming! I’m still trying to figure out where I fit in this new world. COVID-19 has made all of this so much more difficult.”

“You have to be honest about yourself and not sell yourself short.”

Abir’s advice for students thinking about applying for a CEF scholarship?

When writing your application and in the interview Abir says; “You have to be honest about yourself and not sell yourself short.”

“It’s pretty natural not to want to talk yourself up too much but if you don’t include something on your form, then nobody will ever hear it. Give as much information as you can so people can understand where you are coming from.”

Abir also recommends doing your application with a friend or at least running it past someone who knows you well, “they can remind you of what you might have missed out about yourself.” As he says, a friend can point out any strengths or achievements that you might have forgotten or not thought relevant.

On the role of CEF in his community

CEF is all about the power that education has, to impact individuals, families and communities.

Abir is a strong believer of the ‘rising tides lift all boat’s’ theory. And his CEF and school community is living proof of that.

“The people you surround yourself with is your community. It can be your friendship group, your school peers and teachers or your neighbours. And when good things happen to people in your community, it rubs off on everyone.”

CEF provides far more than simply financial support. Abir explains, “I feel like I’m part of a real support network now and it means a lot. It is pretty important – especially in Alice Springs.”

“Being awarded this grant has absolutely changed how education will affect my life. Access to education is so important, and I really feel this especially with my Indian background.”

“I can’t speak for my family, but for me, I would like to come back to Alice Springs at some point and do some good work here because I owe it a lot.”

Speed Round with Abir

Best place on campus for coffee?
I’m not much of a coffee drinker, but I do enjoy tea so I have quite boxes of tea in my room. So my room is probably my favourite place!

Favourite park/museum/public space in Melbourne?
Melbourne Museum. I went there all the time as a kid and it has so many interesting exhibits. I was planning to visit but unfortunately the lockdown happened before I had a chance

The place you always take visitors to Alice Springs?
The Desert Park is a bit of a must see location. It’s the equivalent of our zoo, and it is the best way to see some of the local wildlife like perenties and dingos. Simpson’s Gap is another good place to go for a picnic.

Best study playlist?
Music from Studio Ghibli movies (Spirited Away, Totoro, Princess Monoke) is always very soothing. Nice orchestral pieces that don’t distract you.

Fantasy study group (like fantasy dinner party… if you could start a study group with any 5 people, dead or alive, who would they be?)
John Maynard Keynes, Donald Glover, Salman Rushdie, Jacob Collier and Rosalind Franklin.

The one thing you never leave your college without?
My earphones. Normally I’m walking around so having my earphones means that I can listen to music or a podcast while I’m going places.