When I received admit from Rice University in 2014, my joy knew no bounds. I was working as a Junior Research Fellow at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, India in the field of Nanoelectronics at the time and what better place to do a Ph.D. working with nanomaterials than Rice University! Coming to Rice was my first trip outside India but as I stepped into the campus my anxiety was gone in a short time. If I had to describe my first impression of Rice in a phrase, I would say ‘celebration of diversity’. On my first day at Rice, I was sitting in a room full of graduate students from around 80 different countries and we all wished each other “Good morning” in our own languages. It’s been 3 years since then but the welcoming environment that I experienced on my very first day has not changed at all.
When I say diversity, I do not just mean diversity of ethnicity, race, gender or geography, but diversity of ideas and opportunities. Be it a thesis defense or a town hall meeting, I have seen an open and welcoming discussion between faculty members and students and new ideas are always appreciated. Being a small-sized university compared to many other universities in the country, it is easier to interact with people from different departments. Interdepartmental and intradepartmental collaborations in research are thus very common and make more impactful research possible. Applied Physics Graduate Program and ECE Graduate Program give you the freedom of choosing your advisor after you come to campus and get an opportunity to interact with the professors and students. Friendly department administrators, brown bag talks, discussions with senior grad students, attending different group meetings and getting research experience in various labs helped me get into the lab that I wanted to work in. This whole process is a bit challenging, but it gives you a glimpse of what is in store for you in grad school and tests whether you can take it, because in research you may not get the expected results even when you strive hard but you have to keep working with the same patience and calmness. I met some of the best mentors in the form of senior grad students in my lab and in the department who taught me how to be an effective researcher and helped me smoothly kick start my research journey at Rice.
Along with working in the lab to solve challenges facing the world, you also get opportunities to shape your personality at Rice. Through Grad Student Show and Tell initiative, I got to show middle school and high school students how exciting the world of science is. Through Doerr Leadership Training I developed my leadership skills. Through the various positions I have held like Community Service Director of GSA, President of ExCEL, Education Director of ECE GSA and Vice-president of Indian Students at Rice, I learned how to listen to others, work in a team and bring a plan in action. Platforms like Graduate Student Association (GSA) bring all the graduate students on campus under one umbrella to take part in social, professional and community outreach events.
I feel blessed to be part of Rice where I have experienced both the happy moments and challenges of being a researcher and have learned and grown through all of them. This diversity on campus extends to the city of Houston too, where you can enjoy amazing food and culture from all around the world and I hope this celebration of diversity continues forever!
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Pratiksha Dongare is from a small town in Maharashtra, India called Karanja (Lad) and she did her undergraduate work at Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) Pilani, Rajasthan, India. In the final year of her undergraduate studies, she conducted her Master’s thesis at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai working with Graphene Nanoelectronics. She continued as a Junior Research Fellow at TIFR the following year. She joined Rice University in 2014 and has been working in the field of Plasmonics and Nanophotonics with Prof. Naomi Halas. Her focus of research is using nanophotonics and nanomaterials to develop sustainable methods for water purification. In her leisure time, she enjoys painting, sketching portraits, dancing and playing Badminton. She is President of the ECE Graduate Student Association.