Leading the way with Westpac

UQ Master of Bioinformatics graduate Michael Hall was awarded the Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship in 2016. This set him on a life-changing journey. 

As many university students will no doubt understand, when you give in to procrastination during a study session, it's somewhat like a crazed monkey taking control of your brain. You start off with something that doesn’t seem too counter-productive, like a TED talk, and then one hour later you're watching interviews of Justin Bieber's mum.

Luckily for me, during one of these sessions towards the end of my undergraduate degree, I ended up on UQ's scholarship page. What happened next set me on a life-changing path that I am loving every minute of – the Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship. But applying for the scholarship wasn't the profound moment many people assume it must have been.

When I first saw the scholarship, I remember thinking "HA. That's one of those scholarships that extroverted people who 'network' get." Seriously, I thought it was way out of my league.

At that time I was finishing a Bachelor of Biomedical Science at QUT and had been accepted into UQ’s Master of Bioinformatics. I had started to realise – although I was super motivated to get stuck into postgraduate studies – how was I going to juggle work and full-time postgraduate study?

After a while I found my way back to the page on the UQ scholarship website. Reading through some of the criteria, I started to realise that maybe it wasn't your typical 'prestigious' scholarship. For me, the requirement that stood out the most was ‘Possessing a desire and potential to lead’.

They weren't expecting that I had already shown that I am a leader. This seemed like a key point of difference when I read through the criteria for other scholarships. Let's be honest, how many students fresh out of an undergraduate degree have even had a chance to be real leaders? Not many – but how many have wanted to?

It's not everyday you get to meet a recipient of a Nobel Prize in Physics. Fellow Westpac Scholar Clare Stephens, myself, and Professor Brian Schmidt.

While the financial assistance you receive from the scholarship is no doubt a fantastic enabler – providing $120,000 over 2-3 years – the biggest take-away from the scholarship has been the leadership development. As the name of the scholarship suggests, there is quite a bit of leadership development during the program. The best thing about it? It's not what you would expect. I'm going to be honest: I thought "Westpac, leadership development, future leaders – this is going to be a bunch of corporate workshops. I hope I don't fall asleep." Oh man, was I wrong!

Rather than telling us one way that everyone can be a leader, we were taught about the various forms leadership can take. You don't have to be the extrovert up the front banging the drum. You could be the introvert who is the best at what they do and leads by example. Or, you could be the person who helps others to be a great leader.

This was a revelation to me. My whole life I had assumed that to be a leader you had to be extroverted. Yes, this is a form of leadership, but there are so many more. Think about it, who are the people you look up to the most and admire? I bet they don't all conform to the mental picture that most people have of leadership – yet they are leaders.

This new-found mental picture of leadership has given me boundless self-belief. I’ve grown more confident to chase goals that I previously never would have thought possible. For starters, I am about to begin a PhD at the University of Cambridge in the UK. I hope to bring the skills, knowledge, insight and connections I gain there back to Australia in order to bring our wonderful nation to the forefront of genomics research.

The self-belief I’ve gained was in no way the only highlight of the program. During the mid-year break in 2016 I used some of the funds allocated for international experience to travel to the University of Washington and attend an intensive three week workshop run by their biostatistics department (one of the best in the world). Of course, I also managed to sneak in some hiking and climbing around the stunning Pacific North-West.

Colchuck Lake, Washington. Yes, I did swim in the lake. And yes, it was "refreshing".

Another aspect of the scholarship that blew me away was the people. Every single other scholar is so inspiring. The bonds we formed happened so quickly and it amazes me how strong those connections are. It’s like taking a shot of enthusiasm every time we see each other.

So, what are you waiting for?! I hope I’ve been able to convince you that this scholarship will change your life in so many wonderful ways. But, you need to apply first. This is what I want you to do right now. Go to the application page and start an application right now – enter in your address, phone number, etc. The process of just starting the application will make a huge difference. It's just like an assignment, the hardest part is writing the first words. So do yourself and Australia a favour – start the process now.

Last updated:
6 July 2017