Case study

Developing research skills on 'tailor-made' course

The prestigious Vice-Chancellor’s Scholarship has helped Merin Matthews take another step towards her dream career and develop her research skills on our Social Sciences MRes.

Looking beyond home

Industrious student Merin had already completed a bachelors and masters in India. Not ready to stop pursuing her passion for studying and research, she wanted to delve deeper. So, she started to look for a research degree abroad and carried out intensive research.

"I have been searching for courses in India as well as in various universities in the UK," she says. "Derby was the first one I applied to as the course felt tailor-made for me.

"Though I got through some of the preliminary stages for a PhD admission in India, I was not entirely happy with the research areas those institutions offered. I also researched various other universities in the UK. What made Derby stand out was the perfect blend of teaching and learning.

"Studying abroad is a huge investment for an international student like me. I was happy to find various scholarships and a degree that is worthy of the investment, along with the number of research collaborations. Derby seemed promising in comparison to other universities."

A stepping stone

Merin decided to apply to study for an MRes in Social Sciences specialising in Humanities at the University of Derby. "An MRes degree is a postgraduate taught degree which combines both theoretical and practical aspects of research," she explains. "It is basically a stepping stone to a research degree or job in the field of research.

"Of the four subject specifications, I chose to specialise in the Humanities element of the course, my classmates being a part of social research and other fields. I am currently exploring the area of medical humanities, integrating various theoretical considerations.

"I chose Derby as I felt the course would allow me to develop my research skills and techniques, learn how to analyse ideologies and theory, and gain practical experience.

“Once I had chosen the course, I looked into student life at Derby. I found out about the city, followed the University on social media, and explored the Union of Students. I felt like I was almost there, I felt assured I would be one of the students in the pictures.”

Merin stands grouped together with two female students smiling while looking at their work set out on a table
Merin studying with her friends

Scholarship success 

The global pandemic preceded Merin’s unconditional offer to study at Derby. This presented challenges. Merin felt tense about moving to a different country, as well as considering the financial implications of university as a whole. Days were uncertain, sometimes filled with self-doubt but Merin remained positive, convincing herself that it was the best decision she had made during the indecisive times.

She started applying for scholarships to help pay for her studies. This included our Vice-Chancellor’s Scholarship, which covers one full year’s tuition fees and is awarded to a limited number of exceptional undergraduate and postgraduate students. The financial security offered by the scholarship helped Merin convince her parents that studying abroad was right for her.

“My parents were apprehensive about me studying abroad, but the scholarship set their minds at rest," she says. It was not just the fact that the scholarship would cover my fees, but the promising impression set by the act that helped them stay optimistic. It helped them distance themselves from the rumours about studying abroad not being a good decision, especially for a girl. They were happy to stand with my decision and were proud of me.

“The application for the Vice-Chancellor's Scholarship asked for a 500-word written summary of the subject of my interest and how that subject has inspired and led me to the selection of my course at Derby. I could also elaborate on how various volunteering opportunities and experiences have helped me enrich my knowledge and passion. Since I was sure of the fact that the course and my choice of university were right, it was an easier task than anticipated.”

Recognition of work

Merin believes that students may misconceptions about scholarship opportunities. She says: “I do feel most students may not pay attention to various scholarships available as a lot of us perceive that it is very tough to apply for or to be selected for one, even when they have experience and passion. I also feel most international students may have different ideas about scholarships as a prospective student’s financial background is often considered a criteria in various developing nations. But scholarships offered at Derby are a recognition for the work one has done and the perseverance one continues to have to accomplish greater success.

"I am aware of peers who have missed important information regarding scholarships or have unfortunately missed deadlines even when they were worthy of the honour. Being a person who has personally experienced the struggles to get a student loan sanctioned for international study options, I am aware and grateful for how the scholarship can change one’s perception, keep one more motivated and inspired as well as feel more confident and happier about a major decision in their life.”


Armed with her scholarships, Merin arrived in Derby and embraced her studies. “The teaching staff are aiding me to reach my goals," she says. "It feels like a collaboration between staff and students. My professors are helping me to reframe and structure my thinking. After each class, we can all see how much it is developing us.

“My research interest is around Medical Humanities. I am specifically interested in graphic novels that deal with mental illnesses and disorders. Most of the assessments are taking us a step forward to structured research. Professors are respectful and appreciative of each of our areas of interest, helping us all through the process via feedback and criticism. The dissertation would be our contribution to research itself, taking on all the practical aspects taught through lecturers and seminars. Lecturers are always on the lookout to help us with our queries, however trivial they may seem.

“As well as from the professors, I have received immense support from other areas of the university, such as the student wellbeing centre, library and the Careers and Employment Service. They have all integrated to help every student have a holistic learning experience. There is always a place to go and there is always someone ready to help you. That is a great relief and brings happiness to international students like me.”

'Forever grateful' 

Merin’s happiness knew no bounds once she was informed of her success in achieving the Vice Chancellor’s scholarship. She was content about her decision and satisfied with her perseverance. She says: “Even after joining the course, I have seen how the scholarship has entitled me to the privilege of concentrating more on my studies and research leaving me little time to worry about the financial issues and money. I feel so blissful when I think of the benefits and satisfaction that has come along with the scholarship and I am forever grateful."  

Her desire to give something back, along with her thirst for research, has led Merin to achieve a role as a Research Assistant supporting an education project run by Paula Shaw, Associate Professor of Online Teaching and Learning. This is bringing her one step closer to her goal of completing a PhD in the field of mental health or social matters. “One day I hope to become a professor myself,” says Merin. “My time at Derby has helped me towards this goal, and the scholarship I received has made this possible.”