Why did you pursue your graduate studies at the University of Waterloo?
There are a few reasons why I ultimately chose to start my PhD journey here at UWaterloo. I still remember when I emailed my current supervisor (Dr. John McLevey), and he said he wasn't taking any students but would make an exception for me. His immense faith and trust in me have given me the strength to do well in my grad school. When I got my acceptance letter from UWaterloo, I knew it immediately—I HAD to go. It was the best fit for my research interests.
The second reason I chose to come to UWaterloo is because of the university's internationally recognized hands-on and experiential learning approach. UWaterloo is the only University (that I know of) that offers two paid co-op placements to PhD students. I know it will give me an opportunity to make long-lasting connections not only in academia but also outside academia.
Describe your research and what makes you passionate about it
My research mainly focuses on combating online foreign interference (disinformation/misinformation), extremists' use of the internet, right-wing extremism, hate crime, research methods and methodology, and computational social science. I am still finalizing my dissertation research questions. Regardless, my main goal is to develop insights into racism, sexism, and how foreign actors and right-wing extremist (RWE) groups use the internet to recruit, organize, and spread hate messages. I also want to gain a deeper understanding of the networks within these groups.
Furthermore, I want to develop a toolkit (resources) that can help build an Artificial Intelligence tool that can allow social media platforms and government agencies to identify RWE content in near-real-time. My main focus is to enhance cybersecurity and reduce the abuse of social media when it comes to propagating misinformation and disinformation.
Tell us about where you are from
I was born in Punjab (India) and came to Canada when I was 15. I grew up in Mississauga, Ontario. I received an Ontario College Diploma in Police Foundations and a Bachelor of Social Sciences in Criminal Justice from Humber College.
After my Bachelor of Social Sciences, I moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, for two years to attend Simon Fraser University for a Master of Arts in Criminology.
What is the best part about being a grad student?
I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know all of my professors, classmates, and staff within the Sociology department. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a place where the spirit of the organization is based solely on collaboration and the good of all. I also feel challenged at UWaterloo and that I will receive a well-rounded education with deep research knowledge and practical application.
What campus services have you accessed and how have they been useful to your academics or your well-being as a student?
The Writing and Communication Centre has been an amazing resource to me as a graduate student. English is not my first language, so I have become a better writer through their one-on-one meetings. In addition, the staff has been so accommodating and kind to me.
Also, I really appreciate the Library staff because whenever I am confused with something or am unsure about the available resources, they are always there to help me.
Because this is my first year at UWaterloo, I am still learning about other available resources on campus.
How has grad school helped you develop your teaching skills?
I gained so much confidence. When I started my post-secondary education, I was so scared to even talk in front of people. I was afraid that people would judge my Punjabi accent or my English. However, Grad school has given me so many opportunities to learn to speak with confidence. I used to think that I needed to have a "Canadian accent" and know the "big words" to communicate with others, but that's not the case. I learned I just need to stand up and share my views.
How do you spend your free time?
Mostly I like to spend my free time with my family. I truly believe my family inspires and encourages me to do better in life. Spending time with family always clears my mind and makes me feel grounded.
What advice do you have for new graduate students?
If there was one piece of advice I could give new students, it would be not to get sucked into how much work or how little work others around you are doing. The comparison will drain you. Focus on your work. The most important thing you can get out of grad school is the connections you make throughout your journey—grades matter but not more than those relationships with professors and other students.
What are some of the challenging aspects of being a graduate student and how do you address these challenges?
Being a first-gen student has its own "special challenges." Most of the time, I am simply lost and do not know if I am doing something wrong. However, asking for help or just talking to others has opened many doors. I built great relationships with professors, including Dr. John McLevey and Dr. Adam Molnar, who never get tired of my questions. I also found a great friend Neela Hassan, who is always there for me.
Overall, I constantly look for things that I want and talking to people also has made me aware of many opportunities that I did not even know existed. Then, whenever an opportunity comes up, I immediately apply for it, even when it looks like a long shot, such as the SSHRC scholarship. When I started grad school (MA), I did not know what it was. Someone randomly told me about this scholarship, and I thought I would just apply for it even though I would not get it because, let's be honest, the "imposter syndrome" never enables you to believe in yourself. However, I not only received the scholarship, but I also received the highest tier of scholarship (CGS-D SSHRC). I think that curiosity and willingness really pay off.
Do you have anything else you’d like to share that is interesting about yourself?
I am a first-generation student who paved her way to a PhD, I have faced a lot of hurdles in the way, but I am determined to build a path for the next generations. I am thrilled UWaterloo has given me this opportunity to make my parents proud and create a way for the next generations.
Country of origin: Canada
Domestic or International: Domestic
Academic stream: Research
Full-time or part-time: Full-time
Research supervisor: Dr. John McLevey
Graduate student awards held: Joseph-Armand Bombardier CGS Doctoral Scholarship (SSHRC CGS-D) and President's Graduate Scholarship
TA/RA or GRS held: TA/RA