Walking Left to Walking Right – A Thousand Miles Away #7 (Life of an MS Student in US)

by | Mar 26, 2018 | General Information, Life | 4 comments

[responsivevoice_button voice="US English Female" rate="1" pitch="1" volume="0.8" buttontext="Listen to Article"]

Last month has been a roller-coaster ride of experiences. I was fortunate enough to meet and talk to some incredible people, go through a dozen more rejections and have some unforgettable experiences. More than ever, I find time racing past right now. Realizing that this is the 7th article that I’m writing tells me that more than half of my time here is over – and the rest is going to go by equally fast.


During sunset in Orlando, Florida

As I’m going through a month, I tend to take down notes every time:

  1. I hear something impactful
  2. I meet someone inspiring who have a valuable message to share
  3. I go through an experience which leaves a big impression on me

When I started writing these articles, I was very confused upon how to elucidate my experience here, and what aspects to focus on. There’s just so much going on all the time. Eventually I decided to take notes and write down the most impactful moments. The articles are quite scattered, mainly because they are raw thoughts written with a detailed storyline. I really hope it gives you a good insight into certain aspects of grad school.

  1. Passion does not have to stop at one job:

Sometimes in life you meet someone and desperately wish you could replicate at least half of what they are and what they’ve done. At the same time, you feel incredibly fortunate to have met them and feel nothing short of admiration. LeanIn (the organization started by Sheryl Sandberg) at Columbia organized an intimate and lovely dinner with April Tam Smith, an Executive Director at Morgan Stanley by day and a patroness by night. It’s hard to compress the stories and anecdotes that she talked about in those three hours here, but I vividly remember one piece of advice: our problem is not that we do not find our perfect job, it is that we believe there is only one perfect job.


A play by Gioia De Cari on ‘Truth Values: One Girl’s Romp Through MIT’s Male Math Maze’ where she talked about dropping out of her grad studies to pursue acting

April told us that she liked working at Morgan Stanley, but she loved giving back to the society. We all kill ourselves by chasing after one job or career that we believe is the ideal fit. And eventually we succumb to disillusion. Make a list of all the things that make you truly happy (and those that make you sad). Simply start focusing on the former – it really works in leading a peaceful life.



  1. You can live without big successes. But you cannot survive without little wins.

This was not a recent realization. But this has been a constant and recurring occurrence that I feel strongly that this should be stressed upon. Most recently, a day passed by where everything that could go wrong did go wrong. In an academic environment where you’re working on multiple projects, and constantly searching for new opportunities, failures are bound to happen. At these times, it’s imperative that you have a constant: either a person you talk to, a place you can go to or an activity that keeps you sane.



  1. Great professors bring out greatness in you:

I absolutely love this Professor of mine who takes a course on Demand and Supply Analytics. Since the first day, I have been annoying my friends by talking about how good he is. One day I tried thinking about why I find him to be special: keeping aside the fact that he loves the subject and teaches well (as a lot of others do too). I realized 3 reasons for my admiration: his carefree engagement with the students, keeping a set of principles and following them staunchly, and having a charisma that makes him very approachable (and firm at the same time). When it comes to the other subjects, I like reading the material and doing the assignments. However, my enthusiasm for this subject is easily threefold and you can guess why. This goes to show how, if every teacher out there cared about the subject as much as you cared about it, wonders can happen.


Watson Library, Uris Hall

Academic integrity is taken very seriously in the US (as it should be taken everywhere, but sadly not). Professors go as far as letting you write the exam without supervision as they have complete trust. For this subject, the Professor had a system where there was no constricted starting or ending time for the exam: we could go write it any time between 10 AM to 6 PM. This way, the exam truly tests the intelligence of someone and not if they can think fast under pressure. I found this system to be close to ideal.

  1. Lowering expectations and expecting the unexpected:

The biggest mistake I made when it came to getting an internship was restricting my net of companies. I am planning to make a video exclusively on ‘How to go about getting an internship in the US’ very soon, where I will talk exclusively about the common mistakes one make and how to avoid them.


For now, I wanted to point out the importance of leaving behind every preconception one might have about how good their profile is, and be okay with working anywhere. As a Product Manager I spoke to recently put, care about two out of three things when applying: the location, job role and the company. If 2/3 checks out, go for it!

  1. Message to upcoming graduates:

A huge congratulation to each and every one who got their admit! The feeling you get looking at the selection email is unparalleled. In one of my previous articles, I had briefly mentioned that I’m working with a startup that helps students like you. This is it: http://gradly.us/. Go take a look – it is not just one of a kind, but the only of its kind. Every step from the minute you start dreaming about a life in the US till you get settled here will be taken care of with this. Gradly is the brainchild of a friend of mine, Rishabh Singh, a CS grad from Brown University and MIT Media Lab. After working on it for close to two years, it is in the final stages and I’m so excited to see how it plays out.

I’m currently helping out in small ways possible, by creating a network of grad students in the US and thinking on how to launch the product in India. I’ll be happy to answer any and all questions related to this. Rishabh is planning to release a video on talking extensively about the H1B visa situation and how we will be affected by it. I’d love to share the video once it’s out – it truly clears many queries. For now, all you need to know is you do not have to worry about not getting the visa because of Trump. The lottery system still stays the same, and it’s a matter of luck (but you can easily work around it).


At a Ethiopian restaurant, Massawa.

This has been a slightly longer article, one reason being I’m writing it later than normal. I’d like to conclude by a line that I read recently which had a subtle but powerful message: We spend so much time supporting people we do not know – celebrities, religious deities, politicians, and world leaders. And when I say support, I’ve seen some people go to the verge of jingoism. But, sometimes, we fall short of supporting the people around us as vigorously. Something that I want to change from now, and hope others change too.

Do you feel like talking to me?

Follow me on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/pooja_balasubs/

Follow me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pooja.balasubramani?ref=bookmarks

Cheers! 🙂


Tried to get an aerial view of NYC