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The little things I do

I do some good little things that aren't exactly asked of me. It's because of my uncle, Dr Rajendra Sharma - who raised me as his own daughter. He passed away before I got accepted in the PhD program, he was the one who recommended that I go the research route - he thought I was curious and enjoyed teaching and this degree would open new doors for me.

A year before he died of brain cancer, we were driving to a doctor's appointment in India. On the way we stopped by to get the car tires inflated at a roadside auto care shop. It was basically just one poor guy wearing torn-up clothes, sitting on a rock holding a handheld air pump and some cleaning rags, waiting for someone to give him a chance to inflate car tires and clean up cars instead of going to the expensive brick-and-mortar auto care shop. This was his only livelihood. And my uncle had used his services for 15 years, always paying 10x his fee. 

That day, we didn't find our guy on his usual roadside spot. My uncle got worried. After dropping me off back home, he drove up to all the nearby hospitals looking for him. After several hours, when he finally found him, he paid all the hospital bills, and also gave him some extra money for food and recovery. Having witnessed these small acts of kindness all my life, my uncle really inspired me to look out for people when they're least expecting it.

In the last few years as a PhD student, I decided to follow my uncle's 'surprise kindness' philosophy. Here's a short list of things I do/did, in case it inspires other students!

  • I make several handmade presents at local makerspaces for friends and professors in LDT. I've gifted hand-stamped jewelry, ceramic holiday ornaments, paintings, homemade cookies, and handwritten notes on illustrated pages.  
  • In 2020 I hosted 'just checking in' zoom calls with friends to support their mental health
  • I've volunteered as the campus tour guide in the new student orientation in 2019 and 2021, and talked to each student on the tour individually, offering PhD survival tips, taking care of mental health and work-life balance
  • I randomly leave bird feeders across campus (rice cakes covered in peanut butter tied to branches with natural twines - all fully biodegradable)
  • I've offered new international students help with looking for apartments, pickup from the airport
  • I've held brainstorming sessions for other PhD students, for 'finding a dissertation topic' at the Krause Innovation Studio conference room, mostly offering them a safe space to talk about their interests, their backgrounds, their wishes for research and their vision for life beyond the degree
  • I've pledged to donate 50% of my first income after graduation to Center Safe, a wonderful organization that offers transitional housing to the homeless or people at risk of homelessness due to domestic violence or other harassment. 
I can't wait to graduate and find a job - it will enable me to do more with my life, with my time, be of more service, surprise people with kindness on a larger scale!