By Rebecca MacFarlane
Published Tuesday December 15, 2015
Thursica Kovinthan left Sri Lanka as a refugee when she was six years old. Today, as one of this year’s recipients of a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, the third-year PhD student at the Faculty of Education conducts research on gender equality in Sri Lanka and other post-conflict countries.
“This research is a passion and a calling. It is part of my own lived experience and a way to reconcile my identity as a Canadian and as a conflict refugee from Sri Lanka,” she says. “I’ve never gone back to Sri Lanka, but I want to return and I want to return doing something positive.”
With help from her supervisor, Professor Richard Maclure, Kovinthan conducts research examining the role of education in social cohesion and citizenship.
“Research shows that the more gender equitable a society is, the more peaceful it is and the more socially cohesive it is,” she shares. “What I want to do is look at a society that is currently recovering from a conflict and look at gender equality in terms of how men and women are trained to be active citizens in society within schools.”
Kovinthan, taught by excellent teachers in the Canadian school system after arriving here as a young child, decided she too would become an educator. She eventually got a job as a teacher with the Toronto District School Board. Although she left her native country at a very young age, the issues surrounding areas of conflict nonetheless resonated with Kovinthan, mainly because she worked in schools with large refugee populations.
Helping others apply for funding
The Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, which is valued at $50,000 per year for up to three years, is a prestigious scholarship that helps Canadian institutions attract top-tier doctoral candidates. It is the only Tri-Agency scholarship program that is open to Canadians, permanent residents and international students.
While preparing her application for the scholarship, Kovinthan sought out help from the Faculty of Education’s Student Mentoring Program. At group workshops and individual meetings, students who had received similar scholarships in previous years helped her to prepare her research proposal. Now, she will return the favour by being a mentor with the same program.
“The mentorship program really hones your ability to clearly explain your research to someone who isn’t necessarily familiar with your field of study,” she explains. “One of the most important things committees look at in terms of evaluating your application is that element of communication.”
So what advice does the winner of such a prestigious scholarship have for future applicants?
The main thing, she suggests, is that students should apply, even if they don’t think they have the proper credentials. If they do apply but aren’t selected, Kovinthan says they shouldn’t be dissuaded from applying again in the future.
“Applying for scholarships in graduate studies is not a one shot deal, but rather a process of constantly honing and improving your program of study and research potential,” advises Kovinthan. “You get a few tries, so keep applying and keep building your portfolio as a researcher.”