Ritika came from India to Australia at the age of 18 to pursue her dream of becoming a scientist and one day ending childhood blood cancers, such as leukaemia. By the start of 2020, the promising young Master of Cancer Sciences student was on the brink of graduating, working hard at three jobs and saving money to visit her partner and family, who were overseas.
Then the pandemic struck. Ritika was living with a friend in temporary accommodation at the time and, in rapid fire succession, she lost two of her jobs and her hours were slashed on the third. With her income crippled she was unable to pay for bills or living expenses. The situation was dire.
“I was really considering moving back to India,” she recalls of that stressful time. “However, before I could make that call suddenly the borders were closed and all the flights were gone. I couldn’t even go back if I wanted to.”
Just as all looked hopeless and she considered dropping out of her studies and thus ending her dream of becoming a scientist, Ritika received a lifeline. It came in the form of generous philanthropic support. “Thanks to the COVID-19 Emergency Grant, I stayed.”
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, applications for student support were on the rise. For Ritika and many students like her, the pandemic served to compound the problem. Thankfully, our proud donor community stepped up to last year’s unique challenges by providing grants through the Student Support Fund.
Established in 2020, the Fund aims to provide University of Melbourne students in serious and immediate financial hardship with assistance to cover the costs of essential items such as food, transport, housing, and medical or academic expenses. This philanthropy-driven initiative is leaving a profound legacy, ensuring that students can realise their true potential, regardless of individual financial pressures.
The support from donors allowed me to be in a position to undertake and focus on such important research and I am so pleased to have received a grade of 91 per cent for my thesis, something I wouldn’t have been able to focus on so much if I had to continuously worry about putting food on the table.
In Ritika’s case the grant is the sole reason she was able to sustain herself during those dark days, enabling her to find a place of her own, and resume payments towards her health insurance and phone plans, which had been suspended due to financial hardship.
“At the start of 2020, I was working three jobs and living temporarily with a friend. When the pandemic hit us, I lost most of my income. I was in no position to support myself.”
The assistance Ritika has received from our generous donors has been nothing short of transformational. Not only has it enabled her to continue her studies and get her life back on track, but it has been instrumental in empowering her to undertake crucial research experience, which has led to employment at a research lab and a PhD opportunity.
“During the lockdown, I started my research project at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, as a part of my master’s degree. I am pleased to report that I successfully completed that project just before Christmas,” says Ritika, who graduated from her Master of Cancer Sciences with First Class Honours in March 2021.
“I found my research project so engaging that I have decided to stay on with my lab as a PhD student to continue the work. I have been accepted into the PhD program at the University of Melbourne through the Department of Paediatrics.”
Thanks to our donors heeding the call of increased need in 2020, Ritika is one of many passionate and talented students who have been able to continue to thrive at the University of Melbourne.
This generosity has enabled them to pursue important work and careers that will ultimately benefit so many more lives. By overcoming financial stress, these students can use their talents to solve big problems and have huge positive impacts in Australia and around the world.
“As an international student, I often feel alone,” says Ritika. “Your support helps me feel more connected to the community and helps me feel like I do belong here.”
The grant Ritika received changed her life and came at a pivotal moment in her studies. She now has a bright future ahead of her and is back on track to pursue her dream of becoming a prominent scientist in the field of stem cells and cancer research. “While my life did a complete turnaround during 2020, I am acutely aware that this was only possible thanks to generosity of the donors who selflessly decided to support the educational journeys of students like me.”