When Trisha Chanda arrived in Madison, Wisconsin to begin her studies as a School of Human Ecology PhD student, it was her first time in the United States. Nearly 8,000 miles away from her hometown of Kolkata, India, Trisha found herself in a new city brimming with opportunities.
The Consumer Behavior & Family Economics PhD program in Human Ecology was one that Trisha wasn’t sure she’d get into. But when she received the admissions acceptance via email in the middle of the night, she was thrilled and excited to move across the world to continue her educational journey.
In India Trisha grew up around strong women who were simultaneously taking care of a household and juggling a career; not compromising on either front. This experience piqued Trisha’s interest in women’s employment in India, which had been falling despite a huge growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that typically indicated a strong economy.
“The biggest inspiration for me is my mom,” Trisha says. “She has been the main breadwinner in my family, and she inspired me to study how women use their time, their employment trajectories, and how that changes with life events.”
Although Trisha didn’t have enough data to explore determinants of why women were and weren’t working in India, she was hopeful to conduct similar research in Madison through her PhD program.
And she did just that.
Growing research skills and confidence
Trisha’s research covers a variety of topics including: effects of shared care of children after divorce, how Wisconsin mothers increase their employment and earnings before divorce, how children’s living arrangements impact mothers’ employment and earnings, and much more. Earlier this year, through a nomination by her academic advisor, Dr. Judi Bartfeld, Trisha was awarded the Schurch Thomson Graduate Research Excellence Award for her dissertation.
In addition to her coursework, Trisha has worked as a graduate research assistant at the Institute for Research on Poverty for more than three years and also as a trainee at the Center for Demography and Ecology.
“The Consumer Behavior & Family Economics program taught me not only how to do research, but how to do it well,” Trisha says. “ My advisor is a rigorous person, and through her support I learned how to pay attention to all of the important details in data and how numbers can speak volumes.”
Along with honing her research skills, Trisha experienced significant personal growth, specifically in advocating for herself and her work. When she began attending conferences during her second year in the program, she would often feel shy and want to hide.
Fast forward to mere months before graduation, and Trisha now attends conferences with more confidence, such as the Population Association of America Conference, where she won an award for her research poster titled “Children’s Living Arrangements and Mothers’ Economic Well-being Post Separation in Finland and the United States”.
“I was just thinking, ‘this is something I could not have imagined for myself when starting the program,’” Trisha says. “My advisor has had a big role to play in pushing me to put myself and my work out there for people to see.”
Reflecting on accomplishments and stepping into the future
As Trisha’s time as a School of Human Ecology graduate student comes to a close, she finds it bittersweet to reflect on everything she has accomplished.
Aside from the recognition she has received for her impressive research, Trisha is particularly proud of her work as a mentor to other international graduate students (which she won a 2022 Graduate Student Mentorship Award for) and as a founding member of the Graduate Student Organization (GSO) of the School of Human Ecology.
Trisha along with six other graduate students from various Human Ecology graduate programs banded together to advocate for the GSO, which now consists of several student-run committees focused on joint interests in research, peer mentorship and socializing.
“The fact that fellow peers take the time out of their very busy and demanding schedules to focus on students and their well-being shows how the School of Human Ecology is inclusive and sensitive to students’ needs,” Trisha says. “That makes me feel so happy and proud to be part of this amazing community. I take a lot of pride in my Human Ecology identity.”
Moving forward as a School of Human Ecology alumna, Trisha has no intentions of slowing down. After graduation she will make another big move, this time to New York City with her husband and will join the Institute for Research on Poverty full time as a postdoctoral researcher. Trisha and a team of other researchers will be spearheading a project that studies how low income debt in America contributes to income inequality.
“I’ll be bringing my perspective on families and how family structures can impact these inequalities and debt structures,” Trisha says.
When asked what advice she would give to prospective and current students of the Consumer Behavior & Family Economics program, Trisha is quick to say believing in your work is key.
“You may think that another student is doing so much better work than you are, but you don’t know if someone else is looking at everything you’ve done and thinking the same thing!” Trisha says. “The program contributed so much to my career arc and personal arc of being confident in what I’m doing and respecting myself for it.”