An international student’s public health career journey, with Nikita Sandeep Wagle

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In this episode, Sujani sits down with Dr. Nikita Sandeep Wagle, a physician-researcher from Mumbai, India who is currently working and studying in the US. They talk about Nikita’s experience as an international student and give advice for others who may be thinking about pursuing higher education in a different country.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Nikita’s journey into health care and what sparked her interest in public health
  • Nikita’s research interests and what she is currently working on 
  • Why Nikita was interested in pursuing her graduate degrees in the US as opposed to other countries
  • What factors international students may want to consider when they’re thinking about pursuing higher education in the US
  • Tips from Nikita on the application process and the process of moving to a different country
  • Nikita’s experience as an international graduate student at UNC and Texas A&M
  • The importance of having a support system and building a strong network in a new country
  • Where to find academic and financial resources as an international graduate student 
  • How Nikita’s Instagram page came into being and what she hopes to achieve from it

Today’s Guest:

Dr. Wagle holds a PhD in Health Services Research from Texas A&M School of Public Health and a Masters Degree from Gillings School of Global Public Health, UNC-Chapel Hill. Prior to coming to the US, she practiced briefly as a Physician in India. Her research focuses on cancer health equity. She is an incoming Principal Scientist in the Department of Surveillance and Health Equity Science at the American Cancer Society.

Featured on the Show:

Other Resources:

Episode Transcript

Nikita 0:00
There’s a need here, there are a lot of international students out there who need to see someone is succeeding. Or even if I like fumble here and there, I pick myself up and I do things. Again, you can be successful in a different country away from like your entire family and support system.

Sujani 0:23
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us Weekly right here. And I’ll be here too, your host Sujani Siva, from PH SPOT. Hi, Nikita, and welcome to the PH SPOT podcast. Thank you so much for doing this with me today.

Nikita 0:46
Thank you so much for inviting me. I’m glad to be here and excited to be part of this conversation.

Sujani 0:52
I think I’ve been following you on Instagram for I don’t know, maybe a few years. And I know we’re still virtual, but it kind of feels like we’re meeting in person. Aside from me watching all of your stories, binge watching sometimes if I don’t get on Instagram too much. So really great content. And for anyone who’s interested, we can definitely link up your Instagram handle for them to follow along. And as I mentioned, before we started recording this is a topic that I’ve been asked about for the past five years since starting PH SPOT, and so very, very excited to be bringing kind of you as a resource to our community. And yeah, I just want to say thank you from all of us for doing this.

Nikita 1:33
Thank you for having me.

Sujani 1:34
Yeah. So before we dive into this topic I wanted to cover on, you know, how does an international student then go about establishing a career in public health in North America, I thought maybe we could go back a few years and talk about what kind of got you interested in the field of health, and then maybe we can build from there and follow your journey along to then where you are today.

Nikita 2:00
So I guess that has to go back to at least now. A lot of years. So in India, we usually do professional degrees right out of high school, we do not have to probably feel think about medicine, we do not have to go to undergrad and then go into med school and then do the residency so we can directly do the med school part after high school, which is what I did. So I finished my med school in 2014. And I guess I was always connected to like the health care aspect of things as a physician. But I guess what drew me more into public health was the fact that public health was there was not a lot of focus on public health. And India, professors and people in public health are trying to get that attention, because like India is it’s a big country with a lot of people.

Sujani 2:58
Yeah.

Nikita 2:59
And public health is super important when you think about that kind of population. And that kind of like geographic variation among states and all of that. So we have to do a one year of internship, post our med school, and I did my, I guess my first rotation was community medicine. And I was like, fascinated by community medicine, public health field, right through that rotation. And I was like, there’s a lot of scope here to like, improve and help people. And I sort of started looking at what are the avenues that I can like, utilize for like higher education. A lot of people asked me like, why did you not go through like, the traditional residency route? I guess it was not to like happy with the way the examination structure in India is on the entrance examinations. And I was like, I don’t think I’m going to study for all of this. I just did not wide with my philosophy of how medical education should be.

Sujani 4:01
Okay.

Nikita 4:01
So I was like, okay, let me think about how I can like, enter into the field of public health and India started looking at a lot of schools, but most of them to my experience back then, which was like 2014 ish, was a lot of them, like, focus on hospitals. And I wanted to have like, basically expand out from hospitals because we have a lot of things like public health departments, local health departments, and all of those things, healthcare systems, more like Academy healthcare centers and all of those things. I was like, okay, I want to look at the spectrum of healthcare, that was sort of not available at that point of time in India and I was like, okay, let me look outside of India, what is available? So the first country that came to my mind was the US, essentially, because a lot of Indians are exposed to the US as a place where you get good, higher education. question, I guess now that’s changing a lot where a lot of international students are now going to other countries, Canada is like, I think one of the most important choices of going for higher education, Australia and New Zealand and all those countries, again Germany also people go for like public health. And I then started like looking at programs and I was like, really happy with UNC Chapel Hills program. So I sort of applied there. And I got in, I did get in. And my degree was a Master of Healthcare Administration. So I wanted to essentially bridge the connection between a physician and the administration part of it, because there’s a lot of disconnector, just because like, there are players in the field, and there are players who are like, overseeing all of it. And sometimes there’s a disconnect where the perspective of the physician differs from like the admin side of things. That was like, okay, I am a physician, maybe I can get into the admin side, so I can connect to other physicians better along the way, I got to know a lot of professors doing research. And I experience early in my childhood, one of my family members, she died because of breast cancer. So that was barely very monumental in my life when I was a child that time and that light sort of stuck in my head. So if I wouldn’t have gone into public health, I would have definitely pursued a residency and like gone into like oncology as a specialty. So I was like, can I bridge what I have? And can I move into cancer research? Can I do that? So I started looking at professors and not essentially I was thinking about like doing a PhD at that time, I just wanted to learn about different aspects of cancer research and like, financial toxicity aspect of it. So I was fortunate to do a little bit of dabbling into cancer research at Chapel Hill with one of the professors who was actually looking at breast cancer, and how much financial burden do the patients have face. And that kind of stayed with me, and I was like, I really liked doing this. And I think I will be good at it. So I started looking at PhD programs all over the US. And I got to Texas a&m. And fortunately, very luckily, I also got to do my dissertation on cancer, I did my dissertation on hepatocellular carcinoma, which is a type of primary liver cancer. And I started doing basically looking at the interplay between race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status all along where I wanted to do, I got to do for my dissertation as well. And I think I want to stay in that area of cancer research and how it impacts the public. So like, that’s kind of a short story. And I guess I have a lot of diverse background where I’m like moving to a lot of pieces, I guess.

Sujani 8:04
Sitting and listening to your story here and trying to imagine you going through med school, and then discovering community science, and then discovering public health, and then thinking about how you can bridge that gap and really tapping into your interest. And, you know, along the way, there’s been a lot of decisions you’ve had to make. And a lot of them at least, you know, from my perspective are kind of life changing, right, you’re moving to an entirely new country or, quote unquote, like changing your area of work, you know, from clinical to research. And so, just curious to know along the way, all these decisions that you’ve had to make, was there, someone who is supporting you? Or has it just been you being super reflective, that’s been able to guide your journey so far?

Nikita 8:53
Fortunately, or unfortunately, I don’t know how to put it, but I do not have any sort of support. So my parents essentially don’t know a lot of things about the US even now. Now, It’s been like seven years that I’ve stayed here, and I still tell them things that they’re surprised about. They do not have Academy connections or like, connections in the US like someone who’s doing some sort of thing in the US who could guide me did not have that. So possibly it was me reflecting on all of what I wanted to do. And like them just being supportive of it. Like that is super important for me, because like, sometimes Indian parents can be a little conservative. And essentially, I was when I was moving to the US I was 25 years old and a lot of like Indian society thinks that very essential step in a woman’s life is like getting married or like, all of those things. But I was very fortunate to have parents who were more interested in me building a career independent, and pursuing my dreams, essentially, they did not know anything about medicine, or public health or the kinds of things that I wanted to do Cancer Disparities Research. They did not know anything about it. But I think there’s support and like believing in me, but okay, she has thought about it. And I guess she will achieve what she wants to. That was super important to me. So long answer short, I did not have any background or anyone supporting me through all of that.

Sujani 10:35
I was going to say it’s kind of a huge step that you took to move to a different country and super brave of you. But then now that I’m hearing this side of your story, I want to say that your parents are quite brave to trust that you will make the right decision. And yeah, sit with that and know that you’re going to travel 1000s of miles away from home. And you’ll- you’ll do well, I think that takes another another set of bravery to know that.

Nikita 11:03
I always say whenever like anyone asked me like about my journey, I always say that having like supportive parents like that, it was super important, super critical for me to get to where I am. And there’s no denying that fact. And support doesn’t usually just come through like domain expertise, or like having connections in academia, or knowing about the country support also comes through. And I guess this is the most important piece of support is believing in your child, letting your child fall, if they make wrong decisions, that’s fine. But believing in them that even if they fall, they’ll pick themselves up and move ahead. Having that trust, of moving to a different country to a different culture. And all of those things are always super important. I guess, for me that they sort of believe in me even now they do. I’m super fortunate to have that kind of support.

Sujani 12:00
Yeah, no, it’s- That’s great. And feel like you’re giving me a pep talk, I have a nine month old and that’s something I need to get okay with is that as we have children around us that we need to trust that they’ll pick themselves up and continue. And the most important thing we can do is trust that they can figure things out for themselves.

Nikita 12:20
Yeah, yeah.

Sujani 12:21
Okay. So I know you said, when you were looking outside of India, for a public health program, kind of US was the top one in 2014. And now, there are many other countries that individuals from other parts of the world are kind of looking into for higher education. And, yeah, I don’t know, if you have any tips around how an individual can go about choosing the right university or right program or right country for themselves. I can kind of paraphrase some of the questions that we get. And it’s kind of like, what’s the best university for me in Canada? Or what’s a good university for me in the US? And those are kind of the questions that we receive. And obviously, the answers are specific to the individual. But if you could give these individuals some sort of guidance, what are some factors or criteria they should assess against just given your experience to date? What could you tell them around those questions that they may have?

Nikita 13:21
Yeah, yes. When I made that decision, I absolutely had no strong idea, apart from the fact that I knew US was considered by a lot of people for higher education. Apart from that, I did not have that kind of information about other countries. So I guess now people have that kind of information. So I would say that if I went back in time, I would think about what my goal is, is my goal to stay in that country? Or is my goal to come back to my home country? That’s an important thing, because in the US, it’s a little bit complicated. when you’re thinking about staying here, more of my stories are centered around now that I’m like thinking about work visa, and all of those things. It’s complicated, it’s tough, it’s hard. There’s no other way to say it. It is not impossible to get a work visa, a lot of people do it, but the journey is hard. So they have to think about also the fact that work visa is usually considered as a temporary thing. You are a temporary person who can sort of get kicked out of the country anytime. And that is a very risky position to be in. So if a person thinks that well, they want to move to a different country and probably like stay there be a resident of that country, US, the path to citizenship or residency, it’s difficult, but if you think about a country like Canada, from my friends that I’ve heard, it is a little bit easier and easier. I feel like the system of Canada having like the merit based application system for like permanent residency is really good. You get points for your merit, whatever you have achieved, and then you apply and you wait, that part is way easier than what US has us has a lot of uncertainty. I’m sure Canada does have that too. But from whatever I’ve heard from my friends, it seems a little bit better than the US. So that’s the first thing that I would want people to think about. Are you thinking of moving to that country staying in that country, possibly thinking about citizenship anytime in your life, or you just want to come back then if you just want to come back to your home country, I guess any country is fine, then it depends on like the program, what kind of program, what kind of professors are there in the program, what kind of courses are there in the program, then it is more like tailored towards like your individual goals that you want to achieve through this degree then moves to that space, I did not have the information about all these things like being like a resident of a country, I did not like think about any of those things. What I thought about that time was basically, where am I going to get a good education in terms of what I want to look at? Like I looked at all of the courses that different public health universities and those degrees were offering, what was interesting to me, those were the first things that came into mind. And sure, like even now students can go through the route that I went through, like straight away thinking about the programs, not thinking about residency or all those like Visa things. Sure. But I guess they should keep those things in mind when they’re thinking about a different country.

Sujani 16:42
And when you talk about like, the program’s professors and courses, would you lump in kind of the institution into there as well? And I guess I’m curious to know if the kind of acceptance rate or experience for international students vary from university to university, if there’s anything that people should keep in mind in that sense?

Nikita 17:04
Yeah, definitely. There are universities like Texas a&m, where I’m at right now. It’s fabulous. In terms of diversity, fabulous, the amount of international students are here, I did not experience that kind of thing at Chapel Hill, because Chapel Hill, the acceptance rate for international students was low. And they’re pretty, like, very transparent about it. I found a lot of students there, like particularly for my program, I did not find that kind of diversity in international students. But when I came here, I was like, so surprised to look at people from different countries coming together, it was such a joy. So it definitely differs from university to university. So there are a levels of things that happen here. There are universities, which may not be like the number one university in the US probably, but the- That program is number one. So there is a level of program achievement, and there’s like university level achievement, I went for the program level achievement, I was more interested in how good the program is, more than how good the university is. The second thing that was very important for me was the living conditions. I don’t think I could have survived with whatever financial background I have in a city like New York City. I don’t think I would have, for me those things factored in my decision. When I got like, acceptances from programs, those things mattered to me, I did apply. I mean, I did apply to New York University, because it is a good program. But when I got acceptances, I was like, well, this is super important for me to not be like super stressed out financially, and put a lot of burden on my parents for that. So it was like a mix of what’s a good program? Where are like considerably affordable living conditions that I can thrive in, and possibly the whole, like program achievement. Yeah.

Sujani 19:07
Yeah, those are some good things to keep in mind. You want to make sure that your mental health is also optimal, right, with good living conditions and a diverse group of individuals to lean on for support. And I’m curious, is that sort of information like how diverse the program is, or the acceptance rate for international students available on most institutions website? Or was that something that you kind of just discovered after you started?

Nikita 19:33
I can talk about Chapel Hill, especially like for the program I applied, they had that kind of information for international students like what their international student acceptance rate was, but for Texas a&m, I did not specifically know about that information. However, I had friends in Chapel Hill, who were like, oh, Texas a&m is wonderful. In terms of diversity. I got that reassurance from them that oh, you will be more than fine. If you’re thinking about like having a community of international students around you, you should be more than fine going to Texas a&m. So sometimes that information is there. Sometimes you might have to reach out to international students who can help you. And I think one of the ways like one of the most important questions that I’m always asked is like, how do we do that? Every program website should have the information for Academy coordinators. Now, these are the people who kind of like look at connecting incoming students or prospective students to the current students so they can get to know more about the program. So I at Texas a&m had a specific request, I was like, I just want to talk to international students and alumni. Because the level of experience or not the level, I would say, the perspective is different from citizens and international students like, it’s- it’s natural, I mean, it’s not a bad thing. Because I was in the US, I know, the whole vibe of it. So I do not want that kind of information. So I wanted information specifically from international students and how comfortable they are at the university, and how comfortable are they in the program. So I did that to the academy coordinator, like information, which was mentioned on like the program website. So that’s number one thing that you can do, usually pretty responsive, because they want students to come into their like programs. So I guess prospective students should look at that information.

Sujani 21:38
So did you just email the Academic Coordinator and ask them to share any contact information of maybe like, alumni who are international students? Or like, how did you go about that request?

Nikita 21:49
Yeah, so I directly like went in like a cold email to them. And I basically introduced myself, who am I, what am I trying to achieve through this email? What am I looking at? What program I’m interested in? And why am I requesting this information that is important, like I just did not went like blindly into like, I want contact information for someone, that email will probably get ignored.

Sujani 22:11
Yeah.

Nikita 22:12
So I guess the most important thing is making them understand that you are a prospective student extremely interested in their program. And you’re requesting the kind of information that will help you to make that decision of going into their program. They are pretty much interested in like talking to you, I got connected to the program director, I got connected to alumni, current students. So there are a lot of people that you can get connected to, you can even get connected to any professors that you’re interested in. But I guess the two important things is talk to the program director, and international or like non international students, depending on what perspective you want, that would be helpful.

Sujani 22:56
Yeah, that’s very helpful. Okay, so maybe I thought we could spend some time talking through what that like application experience looked like for you. Talking about your application to your master’s program probably makes the most sense in this podcast episode. So once you decided that the US was where you are going to do your master’s level education. Could you talk about what those next steps look like for you?

Nikita 23:24
Let me try to remember. Yeah, so I guess I went to the US, I guess. And I looked at like top programs in Master of Healthcare Administration. Now there’s a caveat to this thing. US world and news ranking is not the end all thing. It’s just a guideline of looking at or finding probably good programs, I would not like base my entire decision on those rankings. So what helped me there was to look at universities like which other universities that are available, have a good program. Then what I did was I individually went to each of the university’s websites and look at their like program, their courses, all of that information is usually mentioned on the program website. And then I was like, okay, well, which are the universities that I think I want to apply to and I looked at their process. So sometimes what happens is there is a central application system called as SOPHAS, which is sort of centralized where you put in all of your information. And all of the universities can look at your application or some something like that. The other routers, every university will have their own mechanism of things where you have to go to like their website, create an account and like follow through whatever they need. So that is what I did. But like way before that, I knew that there are a lot of things that I would need, a letter of recommendation statement of purpose, my transcripts. If you are from a different country, sometimes the university requires what you call as evaluation of your degree where basically they evaluate your degree, which gives them sort of an idea like, okay, what degree is this equivalent to an our country, and like if your education is like you have taken enough credits, and all of those things, because India doesn’t have credit system or anything, India is completely different than that. So they have to understand your transcript in the way they understand it in their country. So you have to like think about all of those things before you essentially start the application process. And what will help you again, is the program that site all of these things are mentioned, like what they need, I guess I went through that route. And I guess for my masters, if I clearly remember, I did not do it through a centralized portal. I individually applied to each university website. But now for my PhD applications, I did it through a centralized thing. So you just have to see on the program website, like what their application packet needs, and what is the way to apply everything. Usually, the best source is the University’s program website.

Sujani 26:22
And I suppose if there are maybe special instructions for international students, that would be listed there, too?

Nikita 26:28
I think, yes. So when I say like, you have to evaluate your transcript, all of those things are mentioned that what extra information would they need from international students. So for example, your TOEFL scores or your English proficiency. So for me, Chapel Hill waived that because I have a medicine degree from India, so they kind of waived my requirement for having like English proficiency, because that kind of fulfills the requirements. So you have to like, keep in mind about all of these things, and everything was like mentioned on their website that okay, you will be waived, like your English proficiency if you have a degree from one of these countries. So yeah, there are instructions for international students.

Sujani 27:12
Okay. And do you roughly remember how many programs you shortlisted and applied to?

Nikita 27:12
I was stupid, I just applied to like five programs. I shouldn’t have done that. I think I applied to more programs when I applied for my PhD.

Sujani 27:28
Oh, yeah.

Nikita 27:28
But I applied to just like five programs, because I was like, oh, I will get in. Because I mean, I did not have any kind of information, like how competitive it is, or what exactly goes into all of these things?

Sujani 27:41
Yeah.

Nikita 27:41
For my master’s, I applied to five programs. And I got in two of those. So I applied to much more programs during my PhD, I think I applied way more than I should have, because I was like a little paranoid, due to my past experience that I was like, only five programs versus like, 10 programs for the VHD.

Sujani 28:04
And then once you got those acceptances, did you make your decision based on kind of the criteria that you already talked to us about, you know, which program had a higher reputation or yeah, like the living conditions of the city that you’d have to take on? Are those some of the things that made you decide to, I guess, go to Chapel Hill?

Nikita 28:25
Yeah, so I guess my decision making was much more nuanced for my PhD where I actually spoke to the alumni and ask them about like job acceptance after your PhD. So I did not do that for my masters. Because, again, I was a new student, I did not know anything, I did not have that kind of support or thinking through all those things. But after living in the US for so many years, looking at how these things were for my PhD, I guess I spoke to the alumni program director and all of those things before I made my decision. And one of the important factors for my PhD was funding. Texas a&m offered me four years of funding, no questions asked, that was super important as a PhD student, because I did not want to have additional financial stress. But when I think about masters, there’s a lot of I would say difficulty in obtaining funding if you’re an international students coming here for the Masters, you may or may not have the sources like getting teaching assistantships or research assistantships. I know people have gotten but I can count those number of people. It’s difficult and getting funding for PhD because PhD is like, well, they are training you but you are also providing them some kind of service. Right? So I would say for Masters, it was a lot difficult. I want to put it like, frankly, to get like funding, but once you get into the university, you form connections and you kind of try to like paddle your own board and like find those small things where you can either work on campus, or you can like find professors who are interested in like talking to you and eventually get something in the second year of your master’s program.

Sujani 30:16
I mean, the theme that I’m picking up here from the point that an individual decides that they want to pursue higher education in whichever country is that, you know, they need to start establishing good relationships, because it’s going to not only help them throughout their application process, but also once they’re in a certain program, then funding and opportunities, kind of just build on that relationship.

Nikita 30:41
Yeah, I guess that is super important. And that is something I did not do during my master’s. And I would definitely encourage students to do that. And it’s not like sending an email, Hey, I want to draw, your email is going to get ignored, you’re never going to get that. But like, hey, I’m interested in your research, I read this paper, really fascinated by who we have some small chat about, even if you’re a master’s student, it doesn’t hurt to like talk about different amount of work that people are doing there.

Sujani 31:11
Yeah.

Nikita 31:11
And research experience is always valuable. Whether you go into the industry, as a public health professional, or like you, you may decide to go for higher education, which is PhD. So yeah, I guess I would encourage students to kind of try to build those relationships. Even if you are applying for a master’s program. PSD. Definitely, like a lot of people do that. Like they send emails to labs, and all of those things, I guess, PhD students have that idea that their whole life is going to based on either teaching or like research or both. But I guess master students should also try to establish relationships.

Sujani 31:49
Yeah. And like I’m even thinking, you mentioned the like, Academic Coordinator, like that’s a great touch point, to first kind of start with and they could help you connect with other individuals who have done the program and who are maybe in a similar situation as you and I think from there, you’re just going to keep expanding your network.

Nikita 32:08
Yeah, they can definitely connect you with students who are already presented the program, alumni, and all of those things, master’s students should take advantage of that kind of results.

Sujani 32:17
Yeah, I just want to touch a little bit more on the financial side of it. I know, it’s, it’s another kind of big piece, big question. And you talked about, you know, TA opportunities as teaching assistant opportunities or research assistant opportunities. Are there any other ways that either like you or people in your network, who are international students kind of found ways to support themselves financially, while they were pursuing either Masters or PhD, I’m just curious to hear if there were any other creative ways or other opportunities there.

Nikita 32:49
So I guess Texas a&m, again, I am talking a lot about Texas a&m, it’s not just because I am here right now, but actually like the kind of opportunities they make available for international students. So here, international students, and I have a lot of friends who have done their masters here, so I can talk to that piece as well. So for Masters a lot of opportunities in terms of finding on campus jobs.

Sujani 33:15
And this is as an international student, right, they still are able to work, okay,

Nikita 33:19
yeah. So you can work on campus for 20 hours as a master student, you just have to like go through, like all the employment stuff that is needed to do if you want to work as a teaching assistant, or as a research person. It’s not impossible, but it’s difficult for a master’s student to get that kind of opportunity. A lot of master’s students here in like public health programs that I’ve seen some of them what they did was they kind of established a relationship with a professor who’s like doing research. They did that when they came in. And what happened was many of these students caught like a paid research assistantship position the second year with the same professor that they kind of established that relationship with, for PhD students, it is super better, because the program kind of tries to find those funding opportunities for you. For me, I was a teaching assistant when I came into the program, just because how the structure of the program was based. Some of us were research assistants, some of us were teaching and then I kind of established a relationship with like my current advisor. Now what I did first year of teaching assistantship, and then in the summer, I directly got a research assistantship from her. That was in 2018. And I’m still a research assistant with her. So again, yeah, relationships are important to establish the relationships even if you are in a Ph. D. program, you still need to do some legwork there just depends on how your program is structured. Some programs are structured in a way that you kind of establish that relationship before coming into the program and they kind of accept you and tie you to someone, my program was not that way my program was like you come in, and then you make your way to the person that you want to work with.

Sujani 35:11
I think, yeah, we keep going back to building relationships. And I think a different way of framing that is that you don’t need to do this whole thing by yourself. But you can always find support and help. So, you know, rather than making it seem like a scary thing, where you have to reach out to people think of it as you don’t need to do this alone.

Nikita 35:31
Yeah, and there are so many students who have been in your shoes. So number one resource that I always recommend, to, like students who reach out to me to my Instagram is like, talk to the students in your field, talk to the students in the program that you’re interested in, talk to them, they have a lot of information that I cannot provide you because I can talk to people about my program.

Sujani 35:55
Yeah.

Nikita 35:56
But I cannot talk about another universities program that I have no clue about. And I don’t want to give out wrong information to international students, because we are like, sort of in a vulnerable position.

Sujani 36:08
Yeah.

Nikita 36:08
We are trying to find opportunities and all of these things. So like, your number one resource should be like students who have been in your shoes like and can guide you to, hey, you can apply here or here. You can apply here you can go talk to this person. And all of those things.

Sujani 36:23
Yeah, no, absolutely. Okay. With the kind of remaining time I’m curious to hear, you know, once you’ve sent in, that you’re accepting for your master’s program, how was that move from India to the US and kind of your transition period, maybe you could tell us a little bit about that. And anything that folks should keep in mind when they find themselves in a similar period as you.

Nikita 36:49
During the time when I was moving to the US in 2015, my cousin was also moving to the US. And we are pretty close. But we were like talking to each other about Hey, what should we pack or like all of those things are important. But like, I also reached out to one of the students at Chapel Hill, who told me about the kind of clothes that I needed to bring because Master of Healthcare Administration program is sort of like MBA. So you have to be like your dress, and like professional attire, and all of those things. There are a lot of guest speakers coming in. So we had to wear business formula and all of those things. So she helped me a lot in like, telling me like, this is what at least like for your stocking to like bring in and all of those things, all of my visa, and all of those things that was my cousin and I we kind of relied on each other, like, what do we need? We need to like go to the US Embassy and Mumbai. So I’m from Mumbai. So we had to go to the US Embassy, all of those things that most of the international students have an idea about, like, what do you need for your visa? Once I got my visa, it was more about me packing my bag. Unfortunately, my luggage was lost by British Airways, all of all three of my bags.

Sujani 38:15
Oh, gosh,

Nikita 38:16
That was horrible for years. Now, if someone like loses my luggage, I will be fine, because I know these things happen. But that time I have no clue. So one of the tips that I received from like international students is always keep a pair or two clothes in your hand luggage. All of your important documents like your visa, all of your transcripts, whatever important documents, passport, everything should be in your hand luggage. They should never be in like your check in bag. So these are like the small small things that I kind of had help from my parents like packing my bags and like carrying all that stuff.

Sujani 39:01
And did you have a place already picked out? Oh, yeah.

Nikita 39:05
Okay, that is that is like one other thing that you have to sort out before you like I reached out to I think there was some websites which were available back then. Which were I really don’t remember what websites they are now. But like, think about like something like as a Facebook group for incoming students.

Sujani 39:29
Okay.

Nikita 39:30
So you know who’s in like, coming into your program and from where I found my roommates like that.

Sujani 39:37
Okay.

Nikita 39:38
We sort of like came together and like looked at a place like all of this virtually, and decided that we wanted to settle in a place because one of her friends. Her parents were already present in the US or dad was working for some companies so she had the opportunity go and look at that place. That was pure luck what happened with us.

Sujani 40:00
Yeah.

Nikita 40:01
And we knew that okay, let’s stay with her because like, she knows more than we do. So we kind of stayed in the same apartment complex that she and her parents like looked at. Yeah, those are the things that you have to do before you, possibly after you get your visa. That’s when you know that oh, this is definitely happening.

Sujani 40:23
Yeah.

Nikita 40:24
That’s when like, you start looking at places and finding roommates and all of those things.

Sujani 40:29
Okay. Yeah. What a journey, Nikita.

Nikita 40:33
Oh, my goodness. Yeah. Now I think about it, like I’m so tired even talking about. I don’t even remember or like, not remember, in the sense, I don’t even know how I did it back then. For my PhD, it was so easy that I was already in the US. I knew what to do. I knew how to find people. I knew how to find roommates. And yeah, it was super easy.

Sujani 40:58
I’m just kind of pulling up your Instagram account right now and going to get people to also follow along your journey if they’re looking for, you know, more from you. Yeah. When did you start that account? Because, you know, it’s titled The International PhD and I am assuming there was some sort of need or gap that you were filling with this account?

Nikita 41:19
Yeah. So I guess I did not have an Instagram account, which was public. When I was in my masters. When I came to the PRC. I think I started this account in 2019.

Sujani 41:31
Okay.

Nikita 41:32
I don’t know what came over me. I don’t really remember where the motivation came from. But the motivation was to share my journey as an international student. Okay, now I remember I had a photography account.

Sujani 41:44
Yeah.

Nikita 41:45
And through that photography account, I came across Code Academy accounts, and one of the most important one of them was academiology.

Sujani 41:54
Okay?

Nikita 41:55
Saara does a lot of work on bringing the academy community together. And I was like, wow, that is super great. And I wanted to start my own Instagram account, where I talk about my journey as an international student who is doing PhD in the US. When I did not find any other international student account back then I was like, there’s a need here. There are a lot of international students out there who need to see someone is succeeding. Or even if I like fumble, here and there, I picked myself up and I do things again, you can be successful in a different country away from like your entire family and support system. Then I like closed my photography account, because I was like, well, I just want to put my entire passion into this account.

Sujani 42:42
Yeah.

Nikita 42:42
That’s how it all started.

Sujani 42:44
That’s wonderful. And I guess you are helping about 14,000 people and more. So that’s, that’s amazing. And I really hope some of our listeners will follow along your journey there. Yeah. So where are you kind of now? And what’s the future looking like for you?

Nikita 43:03
Oh, my goodness, the future again. Unfortunately, a lot of it depends on my work Visa, and all of those things. But I have been talking to a couple of people for postdoc positions. My next step would be a postdoc position that is for sure that I can say, but I don’t want to get into like where it is, because I just want all of the things to be like sorted out before I make that official announcement.

Sujani 43:32
Yeah. And we’ll definitely have to have you back. I’m sure once this episode releases, we’ll get a lot more questions as well. And I hope we can keep bringing, you know, some more valuable conversations on the podcast with you.

Nikita 43:47
Definitely, definitely interested in doing that.

Sujani 43:50
Perfect. Thanks so much, Nikita. And we will definitely link up your Instagram for our listeners to follow along your journey and, you know, get inspired and like you said, See that someone did travel across the ocean, and they’re here in North America and are able to whether it’s succeed or stumble your way through and you- you’ve made it, you know where you are now and are giving back and willing to support others who are interested in a similar journey as you

Nikita 44:20
Yeah. And I think I always say this, I can do it. Anyone can do that. Like I told you so many things that I have no clue about. And now, I guess students have become so smart. They’re like, way smarter than like I was back then. And that just gives me a lot more hope that you know, they have that kind of information. They have resources like you and I where they can like read over all those things and like reach out if necessary, but give me a lot of hope for international students.

Sujani 44:57
Hey there I hope you enjoyed that episode and And, as always, if you want to get the links and information mentioned in today’s episode, you can head over to pH spot.org/podcast. And we will have everything there for you. And one more thing before you go, have you been looking for any of these three things? Number one, guidance to establish a clear path towards your dream public health career to mindset and resources to help you continuously progress in your career, and three, complete confidence to take control of your career to ensure long term job satisfaction and employment. If you answered yes, then you have to check out our Career Program is an intensive hands on training program for early public health professionals, including recent graduates and students. We help you take the uncertainty and overwhelm out of building your public health career through this program. And so you can find out more about the program and join the waitlist for the next cohort at pH spot.org/program. And until next time, thank you so much for tuning into this podcast and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.

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About the Show

PH SPOTlight: Public health career stories, inspiration, and guidance from current-day public health heroes

On the show, Sujani sits down with public health heroes of our time to share career stories, inspiration, and guidance for building public health careers. From time to time, she also has conversations with friends of public health – individuals who are not public health professionals, but their advice and guidance are equally important.

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