A day in the life of a graduate student researcher

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Archita Sharma in Yosemite National Park

Archita Sharma ’24 is driven to create actionable solutions for how climate change affects vulnerable populations — and her work with the 21st Century India Center is helping her get there

Master of Public Policy (MPP) ’24 student Archita Sharma knew early on that in her career, she wanted to weave together her technological savvy and her deep commitment to social betterment. 

Hailing from Delhi, India, Sharma first earned her bachelor’s degree in electronics and communication engineering at Northern India Engineering College; then, to deepen her understanding of how technology intersects with societal needs, she pursued a master’s in social work, with a focus on livelihoods and social entrepreneurship, from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai. 

She worked as a deputy manager in corporate social responsibility at Maruti Suzuki India, Ltd., in New Delhi, orchestrating projects that translated corporate resources into community welfare, and as an associate software engineer at Accenture in Pune, India. 

“In my professional work, I’ve embraced diverse roles that showcase this synergy,” Sharma explained. “These experiences have not only enriched my skill set but have also solidified my resolve to use technology as a force for positive social change.”

When Sharma decided it was time to expand her skill set further, she found the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS). 

I was attracted to GPS for its rigorous focus on quantitative skills, which are highly sought after in the job market,” Sharma said. “The program’s practical orientation appealed to me, offering a robust foundation in analytical tools such as R and GIS. San Diego’s dynamic setting also provides an enriching backdrop for policy study.”

In this Q&A, Sharma explains how she is making the most of her time in San Diego, what has enriched her time at GPS, and the importance of balancing social life with a busy academic schedule. 

What are your areas of specialization, and why did you choose those? I chose Environmental Policy and Program Design and Evaluation, both within the MPP degree, because of my experiences back home in India. I’ve witnessed the challenges faced by communities grappling with the impacts of climate change. This has fueled my desire to forge a career path where I can make a significant difference. The specialization in Environmental Policy aligns with this goal, while the focus on Program Design and Evaluation equips me with the quantitative skills necessary to effectively shape and assess impactful policies.

What do you like most about the program so far and being a master’s student in general? What I appreciate most about the master’s program at GPS is its holistic and supportive educational environment. Both the Student Affairs and Career and Professional Development Center staff here ensure that we, as students, are well prepared for our future careers. Additionally, the city of San Diego itself adds to the experience with its beautiful landscapes. The accessibility to the beach at Scripps Pier with the campus bus provides a perfect counterbalance to the rigors of graduate study. It’s the combination of these academic and environmental factors that makes being a master’s student here a truly rewarding journey.

What’s been your favorite class so far and why? So far, my favorite class has been Climate Change Impacts and Adaptations with professor Kate Ricke, where we delve into the complexities of climate change using the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports as our guide. The discussions are enlightening and thought-provoking. I’ve also greatly benefited from the Quantitative Methods classes with professors Jennifer Burney and Craig McIntosh, which have strengthened my analytical skills. The geographic information systems (GIS) class with professor Gordon McCord has been instrumental in understanding spatial data and its implications for global policy. Additionally, Evaluating Social Programs with professor Nico Ravanilla has been one of my favorite classes.

Are you involved in any GPS/UC San Diego student groups? I am working as a graduate student researcher at the school’s 21st Century India Center, where we focus on policy research and initiatives concerning contemporary India. This has been an enriching experience, allowing me to contribute to meaningful discussions on policymaking and development. In addition to this, I serve as a legislative liaison for state affairs within the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA), which allows me to actively participate in legislative matters affecting the student body. I am also president of the GPS Development Club

Is there a particular professor or staff member that has made a big impact on you? My time working with GPS professor Achyuta Adhvaryu, who also serves as director of the 21st Century India Center, has been incredibly formative. As a graduate student researcher, the regular interactions and the depth of research on India-centric issues have significantly shaped my practical understanding of policy and development. Hismentorship has been instrumental in honing my approach to complex problems and has undoubtedly enhanced my skill set for my future career. In addition, professor Burney has also left a lasting impression on me. Her guidance in the Quantitative Methods and Food Security classes has been invaluable. Her approachability and the supportive learning environment she fosters have pushed me to excel.

Is there a facet of the program that has been most challenging? What is it, and why? The initial quarters can be particularly challenging. The quarter system, combined with a dense schedule of classes, requires quick adaptation. I found that making the most of office hours and teaching assistant sessions during these periods is incredibly beneficial. The program’s intensity calls for a strong commitment and the ability to effectively manage your time. Prioritizing tasks and adhering to a well-structured schedule are key strategies that have helped me navigate these challenges successfully.

Tell me about some of your interests outside of school. Outside of my academic life, I’ve taken up snowboarding in the last year. It’s quite a change from the snowless environment of Delhi where I grew up. This new hobby has given me the chance to travel to some of California’s renowned spots like Lake Tahoe. I’ve also started to get into hiking, exploring the trails and enjoying the outdoors whenever I can. It’s a great way to stay active and see more of the area around San Diego.

Amid your rigorous academic schedule, what steps do you take to strike a work-life balance? I make sure to set aside time for relaxation and hobbies. Regular visits to the beach, exploring San Diego, and enjoying its vibrant culture help me unwind. I also find that scheduling study sessions with friends blends productivity with social interaction, making the workload more enjoyable.

What advice do you have for students admitted to your program? To the students starting their journey at GPS, my first tip is to consider living in UC San Diego graduate housing, and apply for housing as soon as you accept the offer through your personal email ID. It’s not only cost-effective but also simplifies life logistically, keeping you close to the heart of campus life. Embrace the power of study groups early on. Collaborating with peers on assignments and presentations is a powerful way to learn and understand different perspectives. Also, immerse yourself in the wealth of resources available at GPS. The Career and Professional Development Center team is a fantastic asset, and joining student groups can enhance your educational experience with real-world insights and networking opportunities.

After graduation, what do you hope to do? After graduation, I aim to apply my expertise in environmental policy and program evaluation to drive sustainable development initiatives. Whether it be through a nonprofit, government or a policy think tank, I want to focus on creating actionable solutions for climate change and its impact on vulnerable communities.

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Virginia S. Watson is the Assistant Director of Communications for the School of Global Policy and Strategy. She has spent her entire career in editing, writing and design, both in industry and higher education. She holds a master's in technical and professional communication from Auburn University and a B.S. in journalism from Troy University.
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