Thinking Outside of Statistics

How One PhD Candidate Is Expanding Her Degree
Portrait of Sanhita Sengupta
Photo by Phuong Tran, CLAgency student

“I was drawn to statistics because every data set is unique,” says Sanhita Sengupta, a PhD candidate in the School of Statistics. She continues, “It’s somewhat like a mystery trying to figure out which theory or statistical model to use.” 

Sengupta was chosen as the Statistics Alumni Fellowship recipient in 2018, an award previously given to one PhD candidate in statistics each year. According to Yuhong Yang, the director of graduate studies in the School of Statistics, “this fellowship is awarded to the best performing student who excels not only academically, but also in teaching and other services to the School of Statistics.” With her excellent grades, experience as a TA, and involvement on campus, Sengupta was the perfect choice for this prestigious fellowship. 

Beyond Statistics

For Sengupta, her PhD education is not just about statistics. “I have taken a variety of different classes here at the U,” she explains. Last year Sengupta was working on a research project with biostatistics. The Statistics Alumni Fellowship was instrumental in helping Sengupta secure this research opportunity. Not only did it give her the time to conduct the research, but it provided her with mentors that could guide her along the way.

Research in biostatistics led her to a number of different biology classes where she was surrounded by biology and epidemiology graduate students. The classes may have been outside of her comfort zone, but Sengupta found that as a group, she and her classmates made a good team. Sengupta understood the mathematical models and statistical theories, and the other students knew the medical examples.

Sengupta has been a teaching assistant for most of her PhD experience. She has taught 3000-, 4000-, and even 5000-level courses. She had never considered going into education prior to starting her PhD, but Sengupta says that teaching has greatly increased her self-confidence and her ability to talk about her research. 

“A big part of statistics is being able to communicate what I’m doing, why it’s necessary, and the results. I think the ability to do that effectively started when I began teaching.” These skills have translated over into her classes, her research, and even her professional experiences.

Campus Connections

Sengupta’s student group involvement provides an additional platform for her to develop her skills. As the event coordinator for the Bengali Student Society of Minnesota, Sengupta plans events, deals with logistics, and collaborates with other students to write grants to receive funding for the group—something completely different from her usual statistics work. 

Most graduate students are so busy teaching and taking their own classes that they aren’t able to get involved. As Sengupta explains, “I really appreciate my undergraduate students because so many of them are involved on campus. Their balance is so good.” 

Being so far away from home, joining a student group was important to Sengupta. Through the Bengali Student Society of Minnesota, she has had the opportunity to meet other students and celebrate her culture and her love of dance. “They are like my family here at the U.” 

Looking Forward

“I do want to go back to India at some point, but I really like Minneapolis,” says Sengupta. The convenience of the city and its proximity to the University has been a big benefit for her. Last summer Sengupta interned at Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, just a short metro ride from the U. 

Although she has enjoyed both industry work and teaching, Sengupta has not decided where she will end up after graduation. No matter the direction she chooses, her future is promising. “To do well in any field, you have to be ready to learn and get out of your comfort zone. Whether academics or industry, I have found that in statistics.”

This story was written by an undergraduate student in CLA.

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