Chinese grant recipients

A few months ago, I briefly mentioned Chinese grant recipients, and how they were easy rejects for American and perhaps European PhD programs, because they exhibited large discrepancies between their test scores and their actual language abilities as evidenced by their personal statements. But the Chinese equivalent to, say, the NSF GRF is, like its Western counterparts, highly competitive and, in practice, those with the actual grants are among the best and the brightest in China. These grants come with bonuses that can make GRF recipients jealous, and they can get reimbursed all of the following:

  • Application fees
  • Test-taking expenses, including travel costs
  • Supporting materials (however, consulting services other than transcript translations cannot be reimbursed)

But the grant, along with its supremely lavish bonuses, is disbursed only if the student is admitted; if the student is shut out, on the other hand, the grant is revoked and the bonuses are gone with it. For this reason they tend to have extremely long application lists, in hopes that the expenditures will be outweighed by an acceptance (although not often at schools near the top of their lists). Oh, of course, once the student is enrolled, the student has the same obligations towards the government as any other government grant awarded to graduate students, so these extravagant bonuses really are the only difference between an ordinary grant and that one.

So, yes, it can be quite lucrative for students, but, because the lucrative bonuses are granted conditionally to an acceptance, at least a wide coverage is important to them. For them, just being within range of the grant. let alone receiving it, can lead to a year of spendthrift that can either lead to a five-year adventure of graduate study and, upon their return, vastly different prospects on the job market, or a financial disaster that they will have to pay for over many years, their lifetimes even. That is, if the crushing blow of so many rejections won’t lead them to suicide first.

I also mentioned the infamous Chinese grant recipient that applied to 40 schools under such a grant who applied at Vanderbilt. It turns out that he was rejected from both Vanderbilt and the University of Montreal (however the other 38 verdicts are not known) and that grant recipient must have spent over $5,000 in application-related fees… More typical of actual Chinese grant recipients is applying to 15-20 schools.

However competitive the application process that might be, getting that grant is not much different from Western graduate-level scientific grants in terms of paperwork. They have to write an essay (in Mandarin though) about what they intend to use their advanced degree for, an idea as to their proposed research directions, and, whenever possible, relevant bibliography. Since China believes much more in STEM research than in humanities research, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a completely different grant for humanities and social science, which is much less generous in cash terms than this grant, if any.

But, because the students awarded that grant are among the best and the brightest of the Chinese STEM cohort, and the grant is a symbol of society’s belief and trust in them, as well as of high hopes, most of them truly will do everything they can from the moment they apply for both graduate school and the grant; however, they hear back from the grant before they hear back from graduate schools. They may well apply for both the same year but the grant deadlines are months before the schools’ deadlines…


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