Four top tips for combining study with adventure from a fellow travel bug

29 August 2017

Lily Bentley (Bachelor of Arts ’15, Bachelor of Science (First Class Honours) ’16) has combined her passion for education and travel, in an experience that culminated in her receiving a Cambridge Gates Scholarship to commence her PhD in the United Kingdom in September this year.

Ms Bentley currently works in Kampala, Uganda as a data scientist for a solar company that gives off-grid customers access to affordable and clean electricity. She has travelled extensively with her studies, from Cape York, to Spain and will now have the opportunity to visit Antarctica as part of her PhD research.

UQ Alumni News recently caught up with Bentley to gather her top tips for combining your passions for travel and education to achieve career success.


1. Do your research and start your applications early

“Applying for PhD programs is a daunting experience, and sometimes it’s hard to know where to start,” Ms Bentley said.

“After discussing options with my honours supervisor and researching academics that I might want to work with, I found a PhD project that was a great fit advertised online.

“After chatting with the supervisors over a few Skype calls, I ended up applying for a different project with the same team, due to funding restrictions on international students. I never would have found this opportunity without personally reaching out to prospective supervisors to discuss where I could fit in their lab. Take the time to craft an email that shows your enthusiasm for your study and your understanding of their previous work, and you have a better chance of getting a reply.

“The application process for Cambridge was pretty straightforward, though there is a lot of waiting if you are applying early enough for funding. I submitted my application in early December, and received a scholarship in early April.” 


2. Good grades aren’t everything and giving back to your community through volunteering provides invaluable experience

 “Though my studies at UQ were absolutely essential to receiving a Gates Cambridge scholarship, they alone would not have been enough to receive the award,” Ms Bentley said.

“As well as making the most of the academic side of university, I volunteered for seven years with United Nations (UN) Youth Australia, writing and running educational workshops, forums and conferences for high school students on global issues.

“I also worked in animal behaviour and training with the RSPCA Queensland for eight years, helping rehabilitate shelter dogs with behaviour problems,” Ms Bentley said.  

“Articulating why and how the extra-curricular activities you’ve done make you a great candidate for particular awards takes time to perfect! One of the most exciting things about the Gates Cambridge program is its unique emphasis on scholars who have committed themselves in some way to improving the lives of others.”


3. Take advantage of exchange semesters offered in your program

“Studying Arts and Science at UQ allowed me to have a diversity of undergrad experience, including a semester exchange in Salamanca, Spain,” Ms Bentley said. 

“Even though I won’t pursue a career in language teaching or literature, now universities in Latin America and Spain are options for postdoctoral positions once I’ve completed my PhD. Additionally, balancing lab work and stats with conversation classes and foreign films made for a really enjoyable, diverse program of undergrad study.”


4. Take a broad range of subjects and take the time to get to know your teachers to discover where your passions lie

“UQ provided an excellent introduction to the world of scientific research, from first year through to honours. The School of Biological Science is filled with intelligent, passionate and supportive teachers who will help you to grow as a student and as a scientist.”

“Taking the time to study second-year statistics, field ecology, and ecophysiology, helped me to understand the types of questions that I found most exciting and wanted to investigate for my Honours project. I never would have found the right path had I stuck to where I thought my interests lay in first year.

“I was fortunate enough to complete my honours year with Professor Craig Franklin and Dr Ross Dwyer, tracking salt water crocodiles in Cape York.

“I got to spend two amazing weeks in the field, and the rest of the year was spent getting my teeth into cleaning and analysing eight years of telemetry data. During honours, I learned the quantitative and programming skills that will be directly relevant to my PhD, where I will continue studying animal movement behaviour — this time in Antarctic seabirds.”