MSMS Connects recently caught up with alumna Sindhu Shivaji, who graduated from MSMS in 2010.
- Why did you choose MSMS?
My family is very science-minded, and my sister attended MSMS 10 years before I did (Sangeetha Shivaji, c/o 2000). I remember visiting her on campus and seeing how happy she was. I personally have a really hard time with change, so I was planning to apply “just in case,” even though I wasn’t 100 percent satisfied at my old school. However, when I came to campus for interviews and saw how engaged the faculty was as well as how much more interesting education could be, it was already decided. On that visit, I found myself relating to the other students interviewing so easily, and I immediately began imagining this dream, Zoey 101-ish high school experience. Even though it meant having to face some change, I could tell that MSMS was going to open a ton of new doors for me academically, socially, and personally.
2. How would you describe your time at MSMS?
MSMS, for me, was the first time I felt comfortable enough to just be myself and pursue my passions. I felt a lot of camaraderie with my classmates, who had all come from their own respective not-quite-the-right-fit schools looking for a better opportunity. It seemed to me like there was space for me to not just learn, but learn how to learn and to become a more independent student and scientist. MSMS was also my first experience with more specialized classes, so I was thrilled to be able to take things like Psychology, Shakespeare, Math Art, and Sculpture classes from teachers who seemed genuinely happy to teach. I loved dorm life, and the way it forged strong friendships so quickly. When I think back on those two years, I remember it being incredibly fun to be able to live, eat, study, and co-exist with all my friends. I also loved the traditions of the place—things that had been enacted before my sister’s time and probably continue on now—specific MSMS line dances, walking endless loops of the same square block at night, the haunted places on campus, etc. Looking back, I think I was probably very embarrassing and chaotic during my MSMS time (since I was a high schooler getting to live with all my friends and choosing my own, largely sugar- and caffeine-based diet), but they were also two HUGE years of growth as a person and as a thinker.
3. After attending MSMS, what university did you attend?
I attended Columbia University and received a B.A. in Psychology in 2014. I then earned my master’s degree at Baylor University in 2018. Currently, I am pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology at Baylor University.
4. What is your current profession?
Over the past year, I’ve worked as a Clinician-in-Training at a community clinic, focusing on evidence-based and culturally-informed therapy for substance use, depression, trauma, anxiety, personality disorders, and couples’ work. I also spent the year conducting research and dissertation work, primarily on guilt and shame experiences.
Beginning this summer, I’ll be a Psychology Intern at Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Houston, TX. This position is the last step in my graduate training program. At the internship, I’ll continue my research, while also broadening my clinical experience in trauma-related care and substance use recovery services with a veteran population. I’ve spent the last four years learning how best to apply assessment and treatment across populations, and I hope to use some of time working at the VA to also engage in advocacy work (re: mental health treatment’s fraught history/ present-day stigma).
5. What inspired you to pursue this line of work?
I knew I wanted certain ingredients in my career: something that involved a lot of human interaction because that is energizing for me, something science-based to satisfy my research interest, something dynamic that would force me to always be learning and growing, and something that (ideally) provided some sort of net positive effect on my community. Psychology seemed like a good fit, so I tried out some labs and volunteer work in college, and ended up loving it. There’s a ton of research, statistics, and objective analysis involved, while also leaving room for ethically incorporating your patients’ and your own personalities and strengths. Also, a large portion of my graduate education has been focused on the moral/social justice elements of this work—early psychologists’ actions laid down the groundwork for the mental health accessibility gaps that exist today, so part of what inspires me to continue pursuing this work is a hope that in some small ways, I can to help close those gaps.
6. Do you think MSMS helped prepare you for your future professional endeavors?
Yes, definitely. I think MSMS really showed me how many incredible brains there are out there. Watching my classmates succeed, and succeed differently, via the creativeness and flexibility of our work and course load, helped prepare me for college. MSMS assisted me not only in finding my strengths while also helping me to recognize, and accept, areas of struggle (chemistry. Agh.). Further, having lived in a dorm with shared bathrooms, fending for myself in the cafeteria, and largely structuring my own schedule all at MSMS, doing those things in college didn’t involve a huge learning curve.. MSMS also gave me confidence—being around peers who were kind, intuitive, and interested in learning did wonders for my self-consciousness. Overall, I think MSMS sent me to college feeling comfortable(ish) with independence and with a more solidified sense of self.