Embarking on a Chevening Fellowship in the UK as a woman and mother

Fernala Sejmen-Banjac is a Chevening Fellow on the Western Balkans Cyber Security Fellowship. She shares her experience juggling family and work commitments during the programme and encourages women to apply for the opportunity.

Discovering the Chevening Western Balkans Cyber Security Fellowship was a turning point for me. After meeting alumni and learning more about the programme, I decided to apply and embrace the new challenges it offered.

Applying for the fellowship meant considering several factors. My most significant concern was leaving behind my family and my role as a leader of a long-established company. The decision was far from simple, especially as a mother of three sons and a partner in a supportive marriage. Each family decision involves careful consideration, and this was no exception.

“The complexity of balancing professional aspirations with family responsibilities was at the forefront of my mind.”

What truly encouraged me to take this leap was the unwavering support from my family. My eldest son studies in the USA and is currently participating in the Erasmus Mundus program that has taken him across Europe. He played a pivotal role in helping me understand the magnitude of the opportunity that awaited me in the UK. Drawing from his own rich experiences abroad, he insisted that I embrace this fellowship, regardless of my apprehensions.

His insight was affirmation for me that stepping outside of my comfort zone would lead to significant personal and professional growth. Thus, with my family’s blessing and a heart full of ambition, I accepted the fellowship, ready to embark on a journey of exploration and discovery in the UK.

“My fellowship experience turned out to be immensely positive.”

The Chevening Fellowship was a transformative experience, offering an immersive and intense three months of learning and networking. Working alongside brilliant professionals from the Western Balkans was particularly enlightening. The program’s rich content included insightful lectures by key figures in cyber security. This experience broadened my understanding and reaffirmed the need for more professionals from our region to engage in such programmes, driving progress and innovation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The bonds of trust formed with fellow participants are a testament to the program’s impact on fostering long-lasting collaborations.

The hesitation that women often experience when approaching career opportunities like the Chevening Fellowship is multifaceted.

Beyond the lack of visible role models, there’s a crucial need for effective mentorship for women in cyber security. A mentor provides more than knowledge; they offer insights, perspectives, and a framework for navigating challenges. In my experience, the presence of a mentor can dramatically alter a woman’s career trajectory, instilling confidence and providing a road map for professional development.

Women in our industry must not only seek out mentors but also be prepared to mentor others. Encouraging women to participate in mentorship programs, both as mentors and mentees, is a step towards overcoming hesitation and career barriers. It’s a strategy that fosters resilience, skill development, and community support, crucial for women’s advancement in any field.

“My message to women considering the Chevening Fellowship is one of encouragement and support.”

This fellowship is more than a professional opportunity; it’s a chance for significant personal growth and to contribute meaningfully to our society. I urge you to view this as an opportunity to expand your horizons and to build a support system that allows you to embrace this experience fully. Returning home, you’ll find yourself enriched, more qualified, and happier, benefiting not only yourself but also your community and family.

Applications for the Chevening Western Balkans Cyber Security Fellowship are open now and close on 6 March 2024. Apply today to boost your cyber security career.

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