Student researching renewable energy wins Rhodes scholarship

8 November 2018
Current undergraduate student Brian O'Callaghan will take his research in renewable energy to the next level when he heads to Oxford as the 2019 NSW Rhodes Scholar.
Brian in the Solomon Islands

Brian O’Callaghan (Bachelor of Engineering Honours / Bachelor of Commerce) has spent the year studying in Singapore, working on renewable energies in the Solomon Islands and travelling in the Asia-Pacific region – all while completing his undergraduate degree, having received a 2018 New Colombo Plan Scholarship

Next year he’ll be attending the University of Oxford to continue his postgraduate studies as a Rhodes Scholar. 

We sat down with Brian to find out what life as a budding PhD researcher is really like and what he hopes to gain from the scholarship. 

What will you be doing as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford?

I am passionate about exploring how renewable energy solutions can be used to improve electricity access in lower and middle income countries.

I will be studying for a DPhil (PhD) in Engineering Science, particularly looking at marine renewable energy solutions and their economic viability. I will work with both the Department of Engineering Science and the Oxford Martin Programme on Integrating Renewable Energy.

I am excited to be a part of the Rhodes community and look forward to learning across a broad range of areas over the next three years.

What are your tips for other students applying for scholarships, such as the Rhodes Scholarship or New Colombo Plan?

My first tip is to actually apply. Don’t psyche yourself out thinking that you’re not good enough or that the process is too long to be worthwhile. If you meet the criteria, you should apply.

Once you’ve decided to apply, my most important tip is to be true to yourself. Don’t try to inflate your achievements or be the candidate you think the panel is looking for. The panel does not have an ideal candidate in mind, they want to know the real you.

Solomon Islands, Singapore, Myanmar, Lisbon, and now Oxford. How did you fit all of these overseas experiences within your studies?

I’m often asked this question. I capitalised on scheduled university breaks – for instance I used the long winter break between finishing Semester 1 in Sydney and beginning Semester 2 at the National University of Singapore for my internship with the Asian Development Bank.

I used the mid-semester break to facilitate my travels to Myanmar. With pre-planning and discussion with lecturers, organising overseas experiences within your degree program is quite doable.

What advice would you give to a student considering going on an overseas program?

I would strongly encourage students to consider opportunities outside of the most common destinations. 

Don't psyche yourself out thinking you're not good enough - just apply.
Brian O'Callaghan

Focus on locations which best meet your interests and goals. From my perspective, Singapore has been one of the most exciting destinations to study in and travel from.

The Asia-Pacific Region is growing rapidly in economic size and global influence and it has been invaluable to see this growth occurring first hand. I know that the relationships I have established here will continue for life.

How have your experiences overseas developed you as a person?

New experiences broaden our perspectives and push us to reconsider our place in society. Working with the Asian Development Bank provided insights into the intricacies and difficulties associated with working in the development space. I think any overseas experience will push a person to gain more independence and that has certainly been true in my case. Greater independence has translated into greater self-confidence.

What has been the most memorable experience from your time in the Asia-Pacific region?

Living and working in the Solomon Islands was a particularly interesting but also trialing time. I stayed with a local family and walked 3km along dusty roads to and from work every day. I endured frequent power and water outages but gained a first-hand perspective into the impact of the work I was doing.

Scholarships available at Sydney

Since 2015, the University of Sydney has received government funding to send 27 students to spend a semester abroad in the Asia Pacific region.

Funded by the Australian Government, the New Colombo Plan Scholarship Program (NCPSP) provides opportunities for high-achieving Australian undergraduate students.

The Rhodes Scholarships for Australia were established in 1904, and enable nine outstanding students nationwide to study at the University of Oxford.