Undergraduates looking to use their long summer break to enhance their skills, experience and employment prospects face the tough task of finding a suitable placement.
The Laidlaw Scholarship Programme offers an exciting opportunity to students with an interest in research and a desire to develop their leadership skills.
Funded by Lord Irvine Laidlaw of Rothiemay, the Laidlaw Scholarship is expanding each year and currently runs at six UK universities and a further six in Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada and the US. The overarching goal of the programme is to build a “new breed of adaptive, passionate and committed leaders” by funding students to pursue their own research interests over two summers, alongside a bespoke leadership development programme.
I first became aware of this scholarship in the second year of my studies in international relations at the University of St Andrews. The idea of becoming a Laidlaw Scholar was appealing – not only could I win funding to conduct research in my area of passion, I would also be trained in the leadership skills that are important to scoring places on competitive graduate schemes and master’s programmes.
I found a lecturer in the school of international relations willing to supervise my research and submitted my application with a view to investigating democratic backsliding in Hungary and its consequences for the future of the European Union. After an exhaustive interview process, I was delighted to be chosen as one of 25 scholars from a range of disciplines at St Andrews and began preparation for what promised to be an interesting and mentally taxing summer.
Now in the third week of my five-week research programme, I have realised that trying to create an original piece of research is beyond difficult – even more so when one has little background knowledge in their field.
European studies was completely alien to me, despite my studies in international relations. As I began to read, words such as “conditionality”, “neofunctionalism” and “narratology” began to arise regularly and I found myself wrestling with my own sanity as I tried to come to terms with the perplexing vocabulary I was coming across.
However, the nature of the programme prevents scholars from becoming disheartened when faced with new concepts and heavy literature. I have been in constant communication with my supervisor Dr Mateja Peter, whose knowledge of the subject matter and understanding of the challenges of research has proved invaluable.
Engaging in regular meetings and Skype calls with her has ensured that I have someone to bounce ideas off and has helped me to stay on track.
The network of other scholars conducting their research has also been vital. As a group, we regularly share common problems and are each assigned to an Action Learning Set that provides us a forum to discuss specific issues. As a result of this framework, I have felt my confidence as a scholar grow and I’m more productive.
The skills I have learned as part of the leadership development programme have also helped me achieve better research results. During a residential leadership weekend I attended in March, a big focus was on self-leadership.
Self-leadership is the ability to lead yourself to achieve optimal performance, with scholars encouraged to be meticulous in their organisation, clear in their communication and honest in their self-reflection.
I utilise these skills regularly – setting myself targets for each day’s research and clearly outlining what I intend to achieve, communicating with Dr Peter and the Laidlaw team and constantly reflecting on how my to improve my practices (something made easier by the requirement that all scholars contribute to the Laidlaw Blog).
Such skills are compatible with Lord Laidlaw’s vision to create thoughtful and methodical leaders and are crucial in achieving success in any future work environment. After completing my five-week research period in St Andrews this summer, I can look forward to a further block next summer when I can follow up on my findings.
I intend to use the generous Laidlaw Travel Fund to visit Hungary and conduct primary research – interviewing academics and civil society groups about how the changing democratic conditions there have affected their lives and work.
Furthermore, I eagerly anticipate the annual Laidlaw Conference, taking place this September at UCL, which gives scholars the chance to network with those from other universities and further develop our leadership skills by attending lectures delivered by leaders in academia and industry.
I will also have the opportunity to attend further leadership events in St Andrews, as well as being granted access to a leadership coach once my time as a Laidlaw Scholar has ended. Each of these opportunities will be extremely useful in helping me develop the organisational, communicative and entrepreneurial qualities required to lead myself and others in later life.
As someone who intends to pursue postgraduate study after completing my degree, I feel my experience as part of the Laidlaw Scholarship Programme will be invaluable in giving me a head start in developing my skills as both an academic and a leader.