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Studying abroad is not an impossible dream anymore! With the right kind of motivation and support from professionals in the field and family, your ambition to lead a successful life is not far-fetched. Be it technology, management, sciences, fashion, research etc. - all fields of study have immense scope all over the world. All you need to ensure is to strike the right chord!
CollegeDekho.com got in touch with Dr. Mudit Chaand, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston (USA), who shared his thoughts on why he moved abroad for higher education.
1. Tell me about your origin, educational background, current work, when you moved to US and why.
I was born and raised in Delhi, where I spent 21 years before moving to the US in 2006 to pursue my educational endeavors. I attended Springdales School for primary and secondary education, after which I obtained a B.Sc. (Hons.) degree in Botany at Hindu College, University of Delhi. Next, I transferred to a B.S. Biotechnology program at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in upstate New York where I started working in a research laboratory that studied a bacterium that causes grapevine tumors. That was my first exposure to independent research in a laboratory, which motivated me to steer my career path towards becoming a research scientist. As a result, I pursued a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Microbiology and Immunology at University of Rochester where I researched cholera. Currently, I work as a postdoctoral fellow in a laboratory that researches malaria at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachussetts.
2. Why did you choose Science as your field of study?
I was always intrigued by the genetic complexity of all living organisms, which led me to select the Biology track in the XIth grade. In order to further my knowledge about biology, I decided to enroll in the Botany program at Hindu College because the curriculum there not only focused on different aspects of plants but also included advanced biology courses such as Cell Biology and Genetics. Next, I wanted to continue my education in a field that applied biological knowledge to practical needs and hence the transition to biotechnology and the move to the US.
3. Why did you choose USA as your education destination?
While I was at Hindu College, I visited the US multiple times for pleasure. During those trips, my extended family educated me about how most American colleges function. The fact that students could take classes outside their major area of study as long as they fulfilled the core requirements was very appealing to me. At RIT, I took classes in microeconomics, psychology, philosophy, foods of the world, and ballroom dancing, which made my college experience both well rounded and fun!
Another selling point for me was the Optional Training Program (OPT), under which international students who obtain a degree from a US institution can work legally in the US after they graduate. The OPT provides an excellent platform for applying the skills learned in a classroom setting and enriching one’s educational experience.
4. What kind of research did you do before taking the decision? Did you seek any counselling while planning your education abroad? If yes, how did it facilitate the process?
As a transfer student applicant, I sought extensive educational counseling to apply to colleges and programs I was interested in. My counselor and I used criteria such as college and program rankings, summer internship opportunities, geographic location, cost of tuition, scholarship opportunities etc. to shortlist colleges to apply to. One of the greatest challenges was to find a program with extensive overlap in terms of classes I took in India to get maximum transfer credit so that I could fulfill the degree requirements in the least amount of time as possible. My counselor also helped me organize all the supporting documentation for my applications and the visa interview, which made the entire process less taxing.
5. Did you take any exams like TOEFL and SAT?
All the colleges I applied to required both TOEFL and SAT. While I prepared solely by myself for the TOEFL, I took coaching classes for the SAT. Once it was time to apply to doctoral programs in the US, I took the GRE general test.
6. Could you please summarize your journey from Hindu College to Harvard University?
In one sentence: a lot of applications, standardized tests, coursework, writing, visa interviews and complying with all the immigration requirements! I had the support of my teachers at Springdales and Hindu College and professional educational counseling for college applications, the encouragement and guidance from my extended family, friends, and colleagues in the US for Ph.D. applications, and the immeasurable support of my thesis advisor that helped me land the postdoctoral position at Harvard. This educational journey, of course, couldn’t have been possible without the unconditional love and support of my parents.
7. What challenges did you face when you began your educational journey? How did you cope up with them?
One of the biggest challenges for me initially was to manage my time effectively between classes, my on-campus job, assignments and projects, and my social life. I attended workshops on time management and prioritization, which helped me tremendously. It also took some time getting used to to the 8 AM lectures (double shots of espresso), class and teacher evaluations, online homework, assisting teachers with labs etc. Having grown up in India with traditional values, I found it extremely uncomfortable to address professors by their first names, but in no time Dr. Smith became just John!
8. How was your college and doctoral student life?
I like to describe it as a healthy balance of work and play. Of course, there were stressful times, but that’s life. I got involved with various student societies and organizations and continued to pursue my passion for community service. Another great thing about coming to the US was that not only did I make friends with people from all over the US, but from all over the world. In my first month itself, I had friends from six continents!
9. What do you see yourself doing 5 years from now?
Researching something exciting in the field of infectious diseases and training young budding scientists!
10. What advice would you give to students planning to come to USA for higher education?
There is no perfect recipe to land admission at the college of your dreams, but researching programs and colleges well in advance and going to educational fairs is a great start. Be determined, be persistent, be optimistic, be true to yourself, and don’t be shy to ask for help. Your interests can evolve over time and the US is an excellent place to explore them. You are in charge of making your educational experience as enriching and as fun as you want it to be. Oh, and the most important thing - be prepared to do your own laundry!
11. What is one thing you miss the most about Delhi?
Mom’s cooking, foggy winter mornings, and the enthusiasm of Delhites count as one thing, right?
Inspired, are you? Do you also wish to live your dream like he did? Start preparing now! CollegeDekho experts will guide you through the entire process and ensure that you are channelised to the right college and course based on your skills and interests and provide you with the best career opportunities possible.
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