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Episode Title: On Creating with Humility: Anika Gupta on her time at MIT.

Episode summary introduction: Anika Gupta wasn’t very keen on MIT. A campus visit to MIT changed all that. She was taken in by the “air of humility” that she felt in the students she interacted with during the campus visit. Anika went on to get a joint major at MIT in Computer Science and Molecular Biology.

Anika shares her undergraduate MIT experience in vivid detail.

In particular, we discuss the following with her:

  • Why MIT ?
  • The Intense Academic Program, the Peers
  • Advice for MIT Aspirants

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • MIT - An Iconic School in a Great Location [2:35]
  • Why MIT? [6:24]
  • High School Nurtured an interest in Science [8:32]
  • Start of the intense MIT Experience [11:10]
  • “Quirky” Students & “Welcoming” Profs [15:35]
  • Vibrant Campus Life [20:00]
  • Summer Internships and Externships [25:35]
  • On to Harvard with a double major from MIT [28:08]
  • Advice to Girls: Find Mentors in Science [29:26]
  • To Aspiring Students: Building Things Matter! [36:20]
  • MIT: Where Peers Care! [40:19]

Our Guest: Anika Gupta graduated with Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Molecular Biology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Anika is currently pursuing a PhD in Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics at Harvard Medical School.

Memorable Quote: “If I had to use one word to describe MIT students, it would definitely be ‘Quirky’, but in the best possible way.”

Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.

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Episode Transcript

Transcript of the episode’s audio.

Venkat  0:16

When you hear the name “MIT”, you think of a bunch of very smart students racing through their classroom assignments, building awe inspiring widgets, innovating for a better tomorrow. But, there is one important thing that you may not have known!

Hi! Welcome to this episode of College Matters. Alma Matters.

Anika Gupta has a joint major in Computer Science and Molecular Biology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology or MIT. From her MIT experience, Anika provides insight into another trait that her smart MIT student peers shared: Humility!

Anika is with us today to talk more about this, and her years at MIT.

Without any delay, let’s meet Anika!

Venkat  1:17  

Hi Anika!

Anika  1:18

Hello. Can you hear me well?

Venkat  1:20  

Yes, you're sounding really good.

Anika  1:23  

Okay, perfect.

Venkat  1:25  

So first of all, let me welcome you to our podcast College Matters. Alma Matters. Thank you so much for making the time.

Anika  1:34  

Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

Venkat  1:38  

Thank you. The pleasure is mine.

Yeah, so I thought it'd be a great opportunity to chat with you about your MIT years. And, our audience is mainly made up of aspiring students, focused on international students. So I thought they could benefit from your experience at MIT and, you know, talk a little bit about the before and after, as well.

So I'm really looking forward to chatting with you about this.

Anika  2:12  

Likewise.

Venkat  2:14  

Cool. So, like all good things, maybe we should start at the beginning. So, let's just start out, you know, getting some general impressions of your years at MIT, as you look back after a few years.

What did it feel like your undergraduate experience there?

Anika  2:35  [MIT - An Iconic School in a Great Location]

Yeah, definitely.

So it was definitely a whirlwind of an experience. The four years I had there involved a lot of growth, and in both academics and intellectually but also on the personal side and in understanding what it was that was important to me both for my profession and career but then also as a person, more broadly.

MIT had some incredible attributes to it. Some of some of the top things that I really enjoyed were its location. And that's actually something that I didn't think too much about before going to college. I had really thought about, okay, I want to go to school with a great program in science. And hopefully we’ll all meet some really smart people. But MIT is located in the Cambridge and greater Boston area. And it ended up being that many of the pioneers who actually created the fields that I was interested in computer science and biology and different types of engineering. They actually we're living and working, right, right where I was physically, and that in and of itself, made it very empowering to get up every day and to walk between classes or walk to lab and recognize that many of the giants in the fields were right there and as a result, were very accessible To me as a just a rising student. I would say that was a great part, the location being a student there.

It also was a great innovation hub, especially in the biotech industry, which is an industry that I realized that I'm interested in. And a lot of the, the companies that are spun out of academia in biotech, often they come from MIT. And so being able to be right at that epicenter, and actually interface with people who are working at the cutting edge of innovation, and to see the very common crosstalk between academics and people in industry was incredibly empowering.

So I would say for all of that, it was, it was really, really fun to be a student, coupled with the fact that there's so many other colleges in the area. And so the random chance of running into people who were interested in similar or very different things as you but who are thinking about ideas and thinking about ways to shape and change the world is just really high.

So I love that and, and talking about people, I would say that some of my closest friends who have diverse academic interests, but who went through the rigor of MIT with me  were, were my classmates, and most of these people I actually met quite early on in college. And just being able to meet people who were so passionate about the things that they wanted to work on, so smart, but also very humble. And I'll return to this in a bit. But the humility was a factor that I deeply, deeply admired. And something that has remained in the people who I befriended throughout my time at MIT.

Venkat  5:34  

No, go ahead.

Anika  5:37  

Yeah, so I would say the, the opportunities are provided as a result of this location and the the just incredibly rich content and what kinds of people that were there were really nothing I could have ever imagined.

But that being said, it was also a very intense atmosphere, where there was a somewhat of a work hard play hard mentality and I did feel like I was sometimes dropped in the deep end and just expected to learn how to swim.

And so as a result, I found that I did trip and fall a lot metaphorically speaking. But it challenged me to constantly try to improve and get better and also learn to rely on myself more.

Venkat  6:24  [Why MIT?]

So I kind of want to ask you why you chose MIT. I mean, obviously, it is an iconic place. But what, you know, was it something that was a childhood dream, or was it something that you figured out later in high school? How did that happen?

Anika  6:50  

Yeah, so I actually thought that I would never want to go to MIT based on what I had heard until I visited the school. I had a chance to do a road trip with my dad in high school where we visited a couple of schools in the northeast and MIT was our very last stop. And I had very low expectations. I just thought it wasn't an environment that I would fit well in. And then I arrived on campus and I shouted to students, I met with a couple others sat in on a class. And I remember it being almost like the middle of winter, so end of January, early February, and the weather wasn't particularly inviting.

But, all of the students who I've met there were brilliant. That was just kind of the baseline. But in addition to that, there was just this air of humility and this air of, I am a part of something that is much bigger than me, and I am contributing to read something but there was very minimal ego that I saw in the students that were there. And that is what really, really I found compelling and that these were really smart people.

,But I think and this is something I've come to appreciate more As I've gone through the years is that there are a lot of smart people in the world, but to find people that are both smart and who also recognize that they are a piece of a greater puzzle, and really just channel their energies towards creating and improving society without necessarily needing personal recognition or fame, as I think that confluence of qualities was something that I very much admired. And at the end of the day, that's really what made me the biggest fan of MIT when I left.

Venkat  8:32  [High School Nurtured an interest in Science]

Before we jump into MIT, I just want to kind of dwell a little bit on your interest in science, while you were in high school. Is this something that you naturally fell into? Were you encouraged? You know, how did that happen?

Anika  8:52  

Yeah, definitely. I have always had an interest in science that, initially stemmed from little bit of math interest and a little bit of biology interests. And initially growing up, I thought that they were pretty disparate fields. Math is very theoretical, and biology I was particularly motivated because of its applications in medicine.

And then I had some, I was fortunate to have some very inspiring teachers throughout middle school and high school, who really showed to me that there's actually possibility to intertwine these fields and combine even physics and chemistry.

I remember, I was walking down the stairs of one of my high school buildings one day and reading a physics textbook and I saw that they were explaining principles of physics in the double stranded helix for a DNA molecule. And that to me was the first time I actually saw that there are these fields that we have been taught separately from each other actually have a lot of intersections. And that was just one microcosm of so many other examples that have come to experience. But I think it really did come down to, I had an innate interest in some of the science and math.

But then I was really, really fortunate to have some mentors in my life who took me under their wing who showed me different examples of how science can be deployed to actually solve problems, how it isn't just disparate fields, but you can actually think creatively and combine different fields.

I had started doing some research in high school, and that I think, really kicked off as a result of being nurtured by some science mentors in high school.

And so having that nourishing environment to develop my skills in and to take just like a raw interest and to make it actually something that yielded findings or yielded answers to questions, I think was very encouraging for me.

Venkat  10:51  

So let's talk about MIT. So you arrive, your first day at MIT, you're at this you know, awe inspiring institution, iconic place. What are your first impressions or thoughts? Like, you know, once you were actually there as a student?

Anika  11:10  [Start of the intense MIT Experience]

Yeah. So I'll say that the first semester for freshmen. And it may continue to be the case. But when I was there, and the first semester was passed no record, so we didn't actually have grades. And I think that gave a false sense of security, that it was a really, really nice opportunity for me to explore life at MIT and being in college beyond just the classes.

So I committed to six different extracurriculars, and then realized in the spring I had over committed but as a result, I was able to meet a lot of people think about a lot of different ideas that I had never really been exposed to before, and really just start to broaden my worldview.

And then academically, I would say that my high school I had thought was very intense at the time. When I was going through it, and, I very much appreciated the support and the nurturing environment there from the teachers. And I thought that it would be probably as intensive as it could get. But what I realized was that at high school, I learned how to work really hard. And yeah, that was my baseline coming in. And I was prepared to work hard.

But at MIT, I found out that often wasn't enough. I had to learn a little bit of how to work smart as well. So whether that be identifying which topics to prioritize, and other ones to de-prioritize, or identifying subjects studying, studying approaches that were higher yield, which for me was often really going through the motions and doing things rather than just trying to hold it all in my brain. I think it forced me because of the rigor of the classes forced me to really try to think more creatively about how I approached learning and at the end of the day, what mattered to me, which was learning and understanding the content enough that I could do something with it.

So I would say I came from the Silicon Valley and Silicon Valley and MIT are both stem oriented bubbles of science, technology, engineering and math. And so that that's part of the transition was quite seamless. But there was adoption that I had to take in learning how to study effectively, and how to first identify what I wanted to get out of classes and then understand, okay, what would it take to get there?

Venkat  13:31  

So was the instruction good, or were the assignments harder? I mean, what aspect really challenged you on the academic side, just to get a little sense of that?

Anika  13:47  

Yeah, I think the assignments were, in most of my classes, created to challenge students. I think in the less ideal scenarios, and some Professors earlier on in college at least take some pride in and really living up to the stereotype of it being a challenging institution. And yeah, I think I think there was some amount of...I had a Nobel laureate as a professor who gave some of his work that he had actually pioneer to receive the Nobel Prize as one of our problems sets that even the graduate students couldn't solve.

So that was I think, I think less ideal, but I think on the more ideal, and there were, it was just a lot of, I guess, memorization got you nowhere.  And it was all about critical thinking problem solving on the spot. And I really do think that there is some creativity involved, even though it's science and engineering.

I think some of my favorite classes were my algorithms classes. And in those you're, you're given sort of toolkits for different types of algorithms for different kinds of problems. But in many ways, you can actually start to think about combining them in creative ways or choosing specific ones to optimize for the task at hand or to make it more efficient. And none of that can really be taught in a lecture.

Although the foundations are there, a lot of it just comes down to a little bit of pattern recognition, a little bit of understanding what the professor's goals and teaching are and really understanding the context and the problem that you're trying to solve.

Venkat  15:28  

Tell me a little bit about the types of students you met there and the diversity as well. of your classmates.

Anika  15:35  [“Quirky” Students & “Welcoming” Profs]

Absolutely. If I had to use one word to describe MIT students, it would definitely be quirky, but in the best possible way.

Um, so there is a part of campus that, where the students never wear shoes even in the middle of winter. There is a large part of campus that solved equations for fun as you might imagine, and one of the universally loved activities was to climb certain buildings at night, and this is known affectionately as hacking are one of the many manifestations of hacking.

So peers were quite diverse. I think there is a big interest in building and creating and, and destroying and then rebuilding and in just using the university as a playground in a sense, which I really really thought was fun.

Intellectually, I would think, I would say that I was definitely an average student. And mostly that was motivating because it always gave me a really high bar to aspire to. But as I mentioned before that my peers were really brilliant. And within STEM there were people interested in Aero Astro to chemical engineering and everything in between.

And I'd say that by and large, I my students had baseline smarts buut more than that, they came with the sort of spark in their eyes and a willingness to work. So I think that's how I would characterize MIT students.

Venkat  17:01  

Cool. How was the teaching overall? over the four years? What do you think?

Anika  17:10  

Yeah, definitely. So for almost all cases, I found that whenever I was in a class and I took the initiative to go to office hours or talk to professors, I learned tremendously. And I often discovered how much many of the professors actually cared about the students.

I will say earlier on in MIT, there are many required classes that everyone has to take as a freshman. And those can often be very large. And often not every student is interested in every subject. And so those can feel much more impersonal. Except for the fact that everyone's kind of going through these classes together. So there's a sense of solidarity there.

But as I went into some of the upper year classes in the slightly more nuanced or specific classes, I, even if the classes were a little bit bigger, I think I personally took more of an initiative to talk to professors. And I learned that they're actually not only are they very smart, but many of them care a lot about teaching, actually have a couple of favorite memories with some of my professors, one of them being, I had an algorithms professor who actually shared my love of poetry. And so we would exchange poet recommendations. And I just never would have predicted that from an algorithms class. But from the very first day of lecture, he committed an analogy between coding and poetry. And I just thought that type of link was was very beautiful and reminiscent of the sort of STEM centric perspective but intertwined with, with the arts and intertwines with what else then in the context of the role that MIT exists in.

And I also had once I was like, getting lunch with another algorithms professor, and this is over summary, and I don't know but nowhere as is typical in Boston fashion, it started thunder storming. And so we extended our lunch from one are three hours, and just completely spontaneously so that we wouldn't have to walk in the rain. And we continue to talk about computational biology and innovation, and some of his other students and what they had gone on to do. And it was just a very seamless interaction where I didn't feel the sort of formality necessary. While there's respect, of course, it was very fun in the sense that I got to understand what motivates him and, and vice versa in a complimentary way to class. So I would say as long as students took the initiative, professors, I've found in my experience, were very welcoming!

Venkat  19:41  

So let's segue to campus life. You know, the living quarters, the food, you mentioned a whole bunch of clubs and things you had signed up to early on extracurriculars. So what was it like being on campus?

Anika  20:00  [Vibrant Campus Life]

Definitely.

So I lived in what I thought was the best dorm, but I'm probably biased. But many of MIT's dorms are right on the Charles River. And so, if you have a room that faces the river, like I did, for most of my time there, I had a view of sunrise and sunset after most of my time at MIT, and it was the most liberating thing to wake up and sleep to. So I know that they're opening new dorms, they're rebuilding or revamping a couple of the old dorms. And I think they're building more space for the students that are coming in. So I think it's only only improving from there.

And then I would expect the dining hall food I started off freshman year, and I think this is the general consensus was that it wasn't amazing, but it was part of our meal plan that if we lived in a building where the dining hall that it would be a part of the tuition, and so it was it was okay when I first started, but I will say as I progressed throughout my time there the food increased in quality. And I actually really missed it after graduate. Even that I did say, took a took a turn for the better.

And then yeah, for Oh, and I guess one more thing to add there is that MIT, again is in Cambridge or in the greater Boston area, the city there, they're pretty small and so walkable and the weather's nice. But as a result, if you want to, have the means to spend a little bit then you can check out one of the many, many restaurants in the area. And it's, it's very much a college aged and college friendly city. So I really enjoyed that as well, just exploring the city a little bit more through the food scene.

Venkat  21:45  

Hmm. It's pretty cool.

Anika  21:46  

So, as I mentioned, I joined six clubs, freshman fall, yeah, and I actually really enjoyed almost all of them.

But I remember having a meltdowns freshman spring on the steps of Killian Court, which is right underneath the main dome that you might see in pictures of MIT, and I was talking to my mom about how I had over committed and I wasn't able to devote enough of myself to any one of them. So that was a, at the time, it was pretty bleak moment, but I looked back and it was a little comical.

And what that actually made me do is I actually like cleared, cleared up my schedule and re-thought about how I wanted to be spending my time. I think something that differs between high school and college that you might find across college campuses is that in high school, people tend to be involved in a lot of extracurriculars, a lot of activities, and it's easier to do so because often the commitment for any given one may not be too time intensive.

In college, what I found is that you're living on campus you're studying on campus, you're doing everything on campus. And so as a result that extracurriculars you're involved in often are much more time intensive and you really are committing a significant part of your time and your semesters to, to making those great communities and, and actually working on whatever it is the club does.

So what I did that freshman spring was I realized that at that time, I was getting interested in the biotech industry. And I decided that or I looked around for groups that were connecting students with opportunities in biotech, or even just to learn more about the industry, and nothing existed yet.

And so I started the undergrad chapter of the MIT biotech group the summer after my freshman year, as a way to, both for myself to learn more about this. But then also, I recognized that there must be dozens or if not more students that also had similar interests.

So to connect students with mentors in the space to connect them with opportunities to actually get their hands wet and experience what is it like to build a biotech company? Or what do I need to do? How can I work backwards to think about different goals that I might be interested in, and even starting with summer research or MIT research opportunities that can maybe lead into something that was more industry-oriented.

So I started that group, with a couple of my friends and throughout my time at MIT grew to almost 400 students at a time. So that was definitely the best decision I could have made. It was incredibly empowering and motivating. And it really encouraged me to continue building communities and opportunities that others could also benefit from. And definitely, it was not a one man effort. I think the whole team as a group was very solid. And we benefited strongly from being in the region geographically that we were, as there's so much activity happening, that there was a lot of interest in both the people who were actually in industry and connecting with students, and then also from the students connecting with some of those other folks.

So that was really fun. I would say that took up most of my time, in terms of extracurricular clubs, and it was really, really neat opportunity to build something and watch it grow. In addition to that..

Venkat  24:57  

Yeah, it's awesome. It's awesome. And it's, it's continuing now, and it's still alive and well at MIT?

Anika  25:04  

Yeah, it's still alive and well, and I'm, I feel like the it's grown and they're they've kind of established a branch for themselves in the greater Boston area and that if they invited speaker people, people are will readily say yes, they will retweet them, they will publicize them or they'll try to associate themselves with the group. So it's been very exciting to watch.

Venkat  25:24  

Very nice, very nice, very rewarding. Congratulations. I mean, super, really great.

Anika  25:29  

Thank you.

Venkat  25:35  [Summer Internships and Externships]

What did you do in the summers? The different years. Did you intern? Did you research? Do you do something else?

Anika  25:45  

Yeah, so for all of my summers, I partook in different research internships. Two of these were in industry and then one was in academia, and I also did a couple what we call externships at MIT, which are month long mini internships that MIT offers with different companies, often, alumni from MIT are now working in companies and they have spot to host an intern for a month or so. So there's sort of shorter term exposures.

So I did an internship first at a pharmaceutical company at Merck, and this is in bioinformatics. That was what really exposed me to this intersection of the fields and really sparked my love for it also benefited from an incredible mentor there, who continues to be a really near and dear mentor for me.

And then, my sophomore year, I worked at eight, what was then a smaller stage by a tech company in Cambridge called Foundation Medicine. That was what exposed me to the idea of precision medicine, which is something I become very passionate about, about using molecularly driven medicine. So it's, we're diagnosing and then treating patients in a very objective manner. And so all through the lens of data science.

And then my last summer I spent at Stanford University. I'm from the Bay Area. So I was at home and I really was enamored by this lab I had discovered that works in autism. I was working on autism, genomics and trying to better undercover, the molecular wirings of the spectrum.

And then I also, I mentioned the externship opportunities. I spent one at a very small startup. It was a four person startup at the time. And this was in health tech. And then I also spent another one at a venture capital firm in Boston that was focused on biotech company creation.

So really through the lens of I guess, between bioinformatics and biotech, where most of my experiences, but they all complemented each other from small to really big size companies and academia to industry to even the intersection where that the VC firm, we were taking our ideas from academia into industry.

Venkat  27:51  

Yeah, yeah it looks like you got a great opportunity to survey different things and sample them, you know, from different perspectives. So this is, this looks like you had an outstanding experience with all that.

Anika  28:08  [On to Harvard with a double major from MIT]

Yeah, so my major was a combined major,  it was officially in Computer Science and Molecular Biology.

So it was about two thirds of a traditional Computer Science major and two thirds of a traditional Biology major based on MIT terms and MIT class requirements. So the courses themselves were quite independent in the sense that I did the foundation and fundamentals of CS and the fundamentals of Biology, and then only really through my internships and through senior year was able to really start to integrate the two.

But this provided, I think, very complementary perspectives and that these two fields have traditionally in many ways, viewed problems in, from a very different perspective.

 And for me to be able to start to piece them together and actually not some of them tools and Computer Science to some of the questions in biology, but very exciting because it did kind of feel like the cutting edge of what was happening.

Venkat  29:08  

So you took that interest and you moved over to Howard to do a graduate program right to do a PhD.

Anika  29:17

Yep, exactly.

Venkat  29:18

So, tell us a little bit about what you're involved in this. I think the listeners would like that.

Anika  29:26  [Advice to Girls: Find Mentors in Science]

Definitely.

So, I had done most of my research while an undergraduate at the Broad Institute. This is actually a major extracurricular I didn't mention because it was just so interwoven into my daily life. But I did a lot of genomics research there that was where I was first exposed to the field and really was able to build my scientific foundation and rigor and thinking, and I thought that before graduating, I always thought that I was going to go somewhere else for my PhD, because I had seen an experience Broad and enjoyed it but was ready for something new And it ended up being that I explored so many other places and really came back to the Broad because that is the environment where I just felt energized every single day, and ended up being able to work. Now in my PhD. I'm working in bioinformatics and human genomics. And my mentor in my lab is the director of the Broad. And so I really lucked out with being able to work with some of the brightest minds in the space and to learn and develop my own skills from that through the PhD.

So my program is officially based at Harvard Medical School. But I will say as a graduate student, and specifically in this ecosystem, everything kind of feels amorphous, and that I am out on my tear at the Broad in typical circumstances, and non pandemic times. I'm there every day, but I used to live at Harvard Medical School, and now I live near the Harvard undergrad campus. I've taken and I'm allowed to take classes across Harvard and MIT. This was also the case in undergrad.

And my research opportunities could really be anywhere between the two schools. So it's.. the lines are kind of blurred between the institutions, which I have been trying to take full advantage of. It's, it's really fun in such an intellectually rich community.

And during the PhD, I feel very lucky in many senses that I am still a student. And I get to think about problems that I found, find interesting and compelling. And think about them. Reach out to people who I think are doing neat work in the area, get their thoughts, brainstorm with them. And then hopefully, the end goal is to actually create and build something that would be a value to other people.

Venkat  31:40  

With this kind of background and experience, I'd love to hear what you have to say to girls, especially in high school, you know, and why they should take science or you know, inspire them to continue in science. Do you have any ideas and thoughts for them?

Anika  32:00  

Absolutely. And thank you so much, Venkat, for asking this, because this is something that I have been passionate about throughout my life in middle school and in high school. But I think I've, it's grown in importance to me over the years.

And I think we still have ways to go for better gender representation and stuff. And that's really starts at the earliest levels, with education, with access to opportunities, and something that I really experienced was the presence of mentors who both support the growth of younger girls in STEM, but then also who they themselves embody examples of women in STEM that younger students can see their future selves in for me that that has been absolutely critical.

So what I tell girls who are currently in high school is that being a member of a traditionally underrepresented group in STEM is actually in many ways a superpower. I think that you can harness a unique perspective when you're tackling problems in STEM and that you have the opportunity to also bring up others with you along the way.

Personally speaking from personal experience, what we may think of as weaknesses may actually sometimes be your strengths. And yeah, I think going forward, there's going to be no shortage of assistance or hard work or creativity that's required. But I really do believe that it's never been a more exciting time to pursue science and engineering. And the world is aching for more of us to lead the way.

Venkat  33:25  

Did you, Did you have any, I don't want to say resistance. But did, did you feel like people were supportive of you? I mean, because one of the big narratives out there is about girls and science. You know how there's always some level of discouragement as girls try to pursue science when you're growing up or you've never had that feeling and you you always felt that that was you had you had all the encouragement and the positive strokes from people.

Anika  33:59  

I would say I have definitely been very lucky.

That being said, I have encountered experiences where, for example, not myself personally, but some close friends who are female, were told, oh, you only got into MIT because you're a girl, by some of their male peers, or myself, I've been many, many rooms and it just continues to be the case. I am one, if not one of the few female, females in the room, and I can feel intimidating that can feel like maybe you feel out of place. I am definitely more soft spoken than many of my male counterparts. And that's something that I've, I've had to try to figure out my relationship with.

If there are aspects that being a girl, maybe sometimes we are overlooked. Sometimes we have to speak up for ourselves a little bit more. I think it takes a little bit more conscious effort on our part, you ensure that we can be raise your hand and be like, Hey, I'm here. have an opinion. And I think that this can be valuable too, to actually add value to the conversation. So I think there's a little bit of self advocacy that's necessary. And then I have a tactic personally of finding neat role models and reaching out to them, and then asking them to mentor me in any informal way.

But I think a little bit of the onus does fall on the mentee and just being aware of trying to find cool people whose work you admire and having them take you under their wing, I think there's a lot of power that that can come from having a mentor like that, and they may not these mentors may not initially identify you. But if you identify yourself to them, I think that can go a really long way towards building a relationship that you would actually learn and grow a lot from.

Venkat  35:50  

Now at MIT, what was the, How many, what are the ratio of men to women or boys to girls was, in classes?

Anika  36:00  

Yeah, I mean, she's pretty good about that as 5050 overall, okay, I'm actually not sure what the split is in different domains.

Venkat  36:08  

But, but yeah, that's, that's at a high level. That's good. So that's quite equitable.

Anika  36:13  

Right. And they've done a lot of work to try to increase representation too.

Venkat  36:20  [To Aspiring Students: Building Things Matter!]

So let's move to another aspect here, which is 10s of thousands of students, you know, every year aspiring to get into MIT, and as someone who's been there, what would you advise to them be how to put their best foot forward as they think about applying to MIT or hoping to get in there?

Anika  36:47  

Right. I'd say that MIT is an incredibly unique place. One that values building things that really matter for the world. If you can find a problem area where the status quo makes you deeply uncomfortable and which you'd really like to change or contribute to solving, and if you can channel your instincts to create and then showcase how you can put ideas into action, I think that'll be a really, really good step towards demonstrating your, your interest and demonstrating that it goes beyond the school, but it actually goes to this innate desire that you have to create something, put it out there in the world, and hopefully change people's lives as a result.

And beyond even MIT and admissions there, you may be surprised with how much good you can do once you actually or they say put the hammer to the nail and start making and building.

Venkat  37:41  

Yeah. Is there any piece of advice for people as they think about MIT? I mean, if they evaluate is should I be applying, should I be doing this at all or not?

Anika  37:51  

Yeah, that's an interesting question.

I would say the baseline requirement is that the students should have an insatiable, an insatiable passion for STEM and for something in science, technology, engineering or math that they know they want to spend their days thinking about. Because if they come to MIT, they will be spending all of their days thinking about that, so much so that if it's if it's something that they don't actually enjoy it, then it can be, I think, a very painful experience.

But I think given that baseline, if the student knows that he or she wants to pursue something in one of these fields, then I think that everything else can be learned and it might take some adapting. I definitely took some adapting for myself. And I think there's a lot, a lot of other skills beyond just the intellect that are very helpful to make it through and to enjoy your experience.

Being just really learning to persevere learning to value the process of learning, beyond just a greater GPA, learning to identify what problems are important to you. Learning to not be afraid To ask for help and to ask if you have questions, it's only a sign of strength and of openness. And at the same time learning to be able to rely on yourself more than you think you're able to.

Like, I think there's a lot of learning in the process for myself, where I learned that I was stronger than I thought I was, by virtue of going through a tough experience. And I think the great thing about MIT is that the students are all really in it together. There's, it's the least competitive place I've ever experienced. And so I think something that students can rely on is just having that foundation of peers who are going through the experience with them.

So if there's a basic passion for the content and for STEM, I think really anybody can learn and can adapt to work, work hard and work smart through MIT.

Venkat  39:49  

That's actually a wonderful insight.

Venkat  39:56  

Okay, so we're nearing the end of this podcast. So I kind of want to give you a chance to talk about something that we may not have covered, Or if you have some fond memories from MIT to share anything else that we may not have covered. So it's all yours and freeform.

Anika  40:19  [MIT: Where Peers Care!]

Okay, sure. Um, will you be so I realized I missed talking briefly about two extracurriculars that I was involved in and undergrad.

Should I mention them?

Venkat 40:31

Please do. No, I would love to, I'd love to Yeah.

Anika  40:34  

Okay, I'll talk about those. And then I'll talk about one of my favorite just experiences or time parts of MIT, and then I'll be done.

Venkat  40:43  

Sure. Sure. No, we don't need to be done. We are enjoying it.

[Laughter]

Anika  40:47  

So, the other two extracurriculars that I was involved in throughout my time at MIT, where one was I was actually part of a sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta. And this is a social group that I would have never imagined being a part of pre MIT, but it's actually something my dad encouraged me to do, or go through recruitment for it.

And so I tried it out and turned out to be a very special environment and special community where I actually met a lot of peers, and a lot of people who ended up ended up becoming really good friends of mine, but who superficially may have never reached out to him I have never connected with just because we operated in different environments or different circles.

And so I would say that was a very, for me, it was a very unstructured part of college but it was a very special opportunity to really meet people who are now some of them still my closest friends and who I connected with over things I could have never anticipated.

 And then the other extracurricular was I was an Associate Advisor. So this is a role I had every year where I worked with freshmen who had just come onto campus and worked with them throughout their freshman year as they adjusted to life on campus and college, and extracurriculars and personal life even. And this was unexpectedly fulfilling for me, I got to meet some really, really smart, but also really cool and really fun freshmen and learn about their stories and their lives and work with them at a time when the transition period could be really tough for some people. So that was very fun.

And I think both of these extracurriculars were, were different groups that I was a part of that I really couldn't have predicted the value that either I could provide or that they would provide me, but they were definitely examples of where the more I invested into them the more I also got out.

Venkat  42:38  

No, this sounds great, thanks, for thanks for sharing. In fact, the second one sounds like a buddy system, which is really a good thing to have, you know, where you'd generally Yeah, freshmen are bound to be lost the first, probably the first semester the first few weeks anyway, but so yeah, Somebody to sort of guide you or, you know, be there I think is immensely immensely helpful. Right.

So yeah, so thanks. Thanks for sharing that. I think that provides more insight and more understanding of the place. So you had something you said you had some memories you wanted to kind of close out?

Anika  43:24  

Yeah, yeah. So when I was thinking about some of my favorite memories, I was going to list a couple specifics. But then I realized that what it really came down to was some of the people that I met, and we had different experiences, whether that be climbing a building and seeing the Boston skyline, or I had regular Tuesday dinners or going to a sports game.

But what really it came down to was just meeting some people who are still some of the most cherished people I have, I have in my life, and people who I deeply admire. This could be mostly these were peers. But I did have a couple advisors and mentors who were there through the thick and thins of everything.

I once saw a comic that described MIT as a fire breathing dragon, and all the students had to make their way in order to get the A, they had to like make their way together to the A flag. That was a little intimidating before. But I actually think it's partially true. And the silver lining to that is that really, some of my peers and some of my mentors were some of the most incredible humans, not just until intellects, but also humans that I've met. And I'm really fortunate to have been able to go through MIT with them by my side and knowing that we're all really here supporting each other.

Venkat  44:48  

This is, this has been outstanding. I mean, I think, I think you've painted such a beautiful picture of MIT, beautiful in the sense of completeness and comprehensive. I mean, it looks like a test for But you Come out, come out a much better person. And with lots of skills, lots of experiences, and you know, and the will or the want to change the world.

So that's, that's really great. So I really, really thank you for taking the time to share in so much detail about your years at MIT. And I really appreciate the time and effort. And I hope to be talking to you again, and maybe drill down on some of the things in the future. But this has been wonderful and very helpful to our aspiring students, I'm sure.

Anika  45:43  

Thank you so much Venkat. Thank it for reaching out and for giving this chance. It's been really fun to reflect on my time. And I really hope that those who are interested in MIT have the opportunity to explore their interests and passions at MIT or beyond.

Venkat  45:58  

Thank you. Thank you so much. Be well. Take care.

Anika  46:03

You too.

Venkat  46:04

Thank you.

Venkat 46:11

Hi again!

Hope you enjoyed this podcast with Anika Gupta.

Anika’s comprehensive portrayal of MIT is big on three areas - the students, the campus opportunities and the location. Anika attributes her growth - both professional and personal to these areas.

Her advice to aspiring students about MIT’s bias towards those that build things is key. Hope the college-bound are motivated to explore MIT further.

For questions to the guest or comments on this podcast, please email podcast at almamatters.io [podcast@almamatters.io] .

Thank you so much for listening to today’s podcast.

Transcripts for this podcast and previous podcasts are on almamatters.io forward slash podcasts [almamatters.io/podcasts].

To stay connected with us, Subscribe to Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify or visit anchor.fm forward slash almamatters [anchor.fm/almamatters] to check us out.

Till we meet again, take care and be safe.

Thank you!

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