Kritika Gupta earned her PhD in nutrition and hospitality management at the University of Mississippi.
Why did you decide to study in the USA?
I was six years old when I knew I would pursue a doctoral degree one day. It was, however, during my master’s degree I discovered an inbuilt passion in myself for conducting research. Research capacity of professors [and the] commitment of the federal government for conducting research were my primary reasons for opting to study in the U.S. These reasons were further fueled by availability of funding for the duration of my study.
Why did you choose this particular college or university?
I did my PhD at the University of Mississippi. The University is an R1 institution that produces some of the nationally renowned research. My primary reason to enroll at this university was commitment to research, and the fact that my research interests greatly aligned with that of my PhD advisor. The university is situated in Oxford [Mississippi], and Oxford is a home to some of the world-renowned people like [author William] Faulkner. It would be unfair if I do not mention that the university has one of the most loved football teams, and Oxford attracts most of the U.S. football fans every year for game days!
What do you like best about your program or university?
The best thing about my university is the approachability of all faculty and staff. Of all the institutions I have attended or visited in any capacity, the University of Mississippi has by far the most easily approachable and humble faculty and staff members. [Another great] thing about my university is the unlimited number of opportunities for students from all kinds of backgrounds. There is something for athletes, musicians, writers, readers, leaders, painters, dancers, engineers, doctors, and teachers. If you enjoy any hobby beyond your major or stream of education, the University of Mississippi is the right place to go!
What do you miss most about home?
Food is probably what I miss the most.
What was your biggest surprise about U.S. life and education?
Biggest surprise was to learn how informal and approachable the overall education system is here in the U.S. I almost do not have to make appointments to clarify the doubts from class. Most professors focus on learning, and they realize and emphasize that learning is not reflected in grades. I also appreciate how adaptive the U.S. faculty is to new technologies and they are always looking forward to learning more every day.
.... your biggest disappointment?
I am rather privileged to be able to pursue the highest degree in the U.S. at no financial cost. I do not think I am disappointed in any way.
How have you handled:
... language differences?
Since all my formal education has occurred in English, I never really had to “handle” language differences. Yes, at times the Americans might have found it difficult to understand my accent, but the difficulty is both ways and they understand it. In fact they are almost always astonished at how I am fluent in three languages, and all I answer is “most Indians are.”
As I mentioned, my PhD was fully funded because I always had an assistantship — research or teaching. At the University of Mississippi, you can apply to be a graduate research/teaching/administrative assistant. For your assistantship, you have to work 20 hours a week. Most of the times, the responsibilities closely align with your field of interest and really help you build capacity over time. All graduate assistants who work 20 hours a week, have their tuition waived and instead are paid a monthly stipend fixed at a rate that you are able to pay your rents. I did not have to depend on my parents or a bank loan to fund my PhD.
.... adjusting to a different educational system?
Yes, the U.S. educational system is very different from the education system in India. It was difficult in the first couple of months. However, it’s worth noting that most of my department faculty were an international student at some point in their life. They share similar lived experiences and hence were able to guide students like me from the very beginning about the do’s and don’ts of the American education system. For example, I knew I did not have to seek permission to use the restroom.
What are your activities?
I was able to fund my conference trips and stay either through departmental or university funds or through competitive scholarships offered by societies across the U.S. Professional memberships were not covered by the program.
How easy or difficult is making friends in the USA?
It really depends on your social skills. I am an extrovert person, and I usually do not have difficulty in socializing with people. It hardly took me two weeks to make a couple of friends who are still with me. Americans in general are easy to talk to.
What are your career goals? How is your U.S. education relevant to your personal goals and to the needs of your country?
I have always wanted to become a professor. My U.S. education has uplifted my education, persona, research skills, teaching skills, and personal skills beyond imagination. In India, there is a dire need for conducting good research, and while we are producing thousands of PhD graduates in India, they may not necessarily be employable. I have started working as a postdoctoral research associate in the U.S. I still provide workshops, training programs, and consultations to graduate students in India.
What is your advice to other students from your country who are considering a U.S. education?
Go for it! If you are genuinely interested in accelerating your professional growth, the U.S. education is beyond doubt the best decision. Even if you have to invest money, and step way out of your comfort zone, it will all be worth it in the end. A U.S. education can make you employable not only in your home country but other countries as well. A good professional is always seeked out everywhere.
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