Student Profile: Shirsa Udgata

Student Profile
Shirsa Udgata
(Dustin Deming Laboratory)

Where are you from? Why Madison and the Cancer Biology program?

I am from India, but I have been living in the US for the past 6 years and moved to Madison from Philadelphia. I chose the Cancer Biology program because of my very positive interview weekend here. Everyone was so friendly and helpful, and it was my most relaxed interview. Dan (Loeb), Elaine (Alarid), and Jenny (Schroeder), as well as the graduate students, made me feel at home. The Cancer Biology program has some interesting courses to make sure all aspects of being a scientist is being developed in us, which attracted me more to this program. I chose to come to Madison particularly because it is a campus city so there is always something to do, and the living expenses are affordable. Madison is so beautiful with lakes all around, which is a bonus since I like hiking and there are many great hiking places nearby.

What was your favorite place/activity to hang out when you need to de-stress? 

I haven’t been able to find a lot of places to hangout in Madison due to the pandemic, but I usually paint/sketch at home or play games on my PS4 to de-stress. I occasionally go for a walk or run along Lakeshore Path/Lake Mendota for the scenic view, which is a great relaxation activity.

You came to Madison during a most unusual time, while the stay-at-home orders were still in place. What was it like trying to decide on and do lab rotations to find a home lab? How did you set those up and what was your experience like? 

Jenny [the former Graduate Program Coordinator] made sure we all were keeping up with the necessary deadlines for rotations and home lab selection, which made it easier for me. We all met the faculty over WebEx where they gave a presentation about their research.  We then reached out to those of interest to us and met virtually again to make final decisions about rotations. There was an initial hesitation of going in-person to labs due to pandemic, but every lab that I rotated in had schedules so not everyone was at the lab at the same time, which was helpful. Even though I could not work in the lab full time due to COVID restrictions, all the PIs I rotated with made sure to check in with me frequently and answer any questions I had.  Lab members also were very helpful in making sure I was comfortable and getting the necessary resources to make my decision. Dan, Elaine, and Jenny also helped a lot by meeting with me every other month over WebEx and giving helpful tips and addressing any issues I was having.

Any new advice for incoming students, especially under these new circumstances? 

I think what helped me the most was being vocal about any problems I faced. I reached out to PIs I rotated with and to Jenny to address my concerns regularly. It was also very helpful to keep in touch with other students in my cohort, especially regarding classes. We studied (and vented) together over WebEx every weekend in the first semester since all of us were going through the same thing. It is important and necessary to take a break and do something non-science-related every now and then to avoid burnout.  I cannot wait to meet and get to know the new students entering in Fall 2022! Congratulations!