Student Success Story: Kritika Shankar

Kritika Shankar earned a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from the College of Liberal Art and Sciences with a minor in Molecular and Cell Biology at UConn in May 2019. Since graduating, Kritika is in pursuit of a Master of Public Health focusing on Public Health from UConn. While taking classes, Kritika was also able to secure employment working for Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield as an Implementation Coordinator. Hear Kritika’s story about navigating college as a student of color and staying true to her cultural values.

How did you choose your major, program, and/or minor?

I came into UConn as a Physiology and Neurobiology major on a pre-med track. In my first semester, I took an Anthropology class entitled “Other People’s Worlds” to fulfill a general education requirement. I absolutely fell in love with the field of anthropology because it can truly be applied to any situation. It was the perfect intersection for my passions in public health and cultural factors that influence health and wellbeing. In addition to this, I pursued a minor in Molecular and Cell Biology to further my foundations in genetics.

How did you find out about your current job?

I found the posting for my position at Anthem on Indeed.

Please share if groups, organizations, or other resources at UConn contributed to your career success and how.

Working at the Center for Career Development was a fantastic opportunity to engage with and learn from a wide variety of people including other Career Center staff, students, and recruiters either in the office or at a career event. I was able to learn a lot about how to apply for jobs and tailor my résumé, but I also learned a lot of professional skills that are universally applicable in many situations: from the basics of using Outlook to being able to communicate with other professionals.

I was also part of a UConn a capella group for all 4 undergraduate years and it allowed me to develop leadership, organization, and communication skills. Being in an on-campus group reinforced the importance of having a good support system as I was able to get both professional and personal advice from older members and later get the opportunity to pass down my own advice to the new members.

What experiences during your time at UConn contributed to your current success?  

In 2015 after graduating high school a semester early, I interned in the Minnesota State Senate with Senator Carla Nelson. The highlight of my internship was working with the senator on SF 247 (2015) Alzheimer’s Research and Support Act. This exposed me to the legislative side of healthcare and the fundamental role of public health policy in influencing health outcomes.

Following an internship at the Jackson Laboratory, I submitted my research for consideration to the 2017 Cancer Genetics Consortium annual meeting. My work was selected to be presented as a podium presentation, a significant achievement for an internship project. The opportunity to meet with and learn about the work of other scientists through posters and lectures highlighted the significance of my contribution to the field of precision medicine and reinforced my passion for scientific research.

My Master of Public Health program had a practicum requirement to identify a problem, design, and implement a solution, allowing us to develop and show our application of public health techniques. I chose cancer biomarker identification as my topic with the use of computational science (CS) techniques as my solution. CS is a fairly new and underutilized field in cancer research, and I wanted to demonstrate its utility in translational research, addressing the unmet needs of the patient. Through this experience, I was able to learn R programming, big data analysis through R Studio, and interpretation of genomic results which can be applied as substantive public health solutions in precision medicine.

What academic, career preparation, or job search obstacles did you need to overcome and how did you do so?

I always knew I wanted to work in healthcare, but I was never entirely sure what exactly I wanted to do. I think because of this it was difficult to decide on my next steps, whether it was applying for jobs or pursuing more school. In the end, I applied to both and ended up pursuing a Master of Public Health degree and a full-time position in an adjacent healthcare position. This gave me the opportunity to learn public health principles in class and apply them in the real world.

Please share any other skills or competencies you have found essential to your career success and why.

I have found that a willingness to learn, communication, and listening skills have been essential in finding unique opportunities and succeeding within them. Even if I did not have as much experience in a field, people are more willing to take a chance and mentor you when you show that that you are willing to put in effort and time and you have learned from previous mistakes. I think the best way to succeed is to treat every day as an opportunity to improve upon weaknesses in a way that promotes your strengths.

As a student of color, what advice would you give to other students of color at UConn?

UConn has a lot of resources and outlets for students of color and I would advise other students to use these resources to find their support systems and engage with others. I found it especially beneficial to be involved with my cultural center, the Asian American Cultural Center, as there are a lot of opportunities to both get and give help from/to other students of color and have a little piece of home on campus.

Many students that were involved with the cultural center had gone through similar struggles to me – both personally and professionally – and finding out that I was not alone in my struggles helped me a lot, both mentally and academically. Indian festivals are a huge part of my home life and the cultural center hosted many festival events throughout the year that allowed me to still keep that part of my culture while being away from home.

What advice would you give to current UConn students who are looking to follow the same career path?

I would advise students looking to work in the field of healthcare to investigate every type of opportunity, not just the standard requirements. You never know what you will end up finding as a passion and you can always find a way to apply what you learn in your future career.

I had a different type of internship every summer during college and this allowed me to gain a wider skill set which gives me more pathways for my career. I would also advise students to talk to their professors about what they are interested in and potential opportunities as I never would have found out about the FastTrack Master of Public Health option at UConn with my professor’s advice.

My overall goal is to become a doctor (MD or PhD) but I am still exploring different options and making sure to learn as much as I can in my current position. Lastly, I would advise that there are many ways to get to your end goal so it’s okay to take more time and try unconventional paths.

Please feel free to share recent accomplishments and achievements in the workforce.

My Master of Public Health thesis work was accepted for a poster presentation at this year’s Connecticut Public Health Association Annual Meeting and Conference: Dietary Inflammatory Index, Food Insecurity, Race, and Adolescent Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.