Juhi Nandwani, MEng ’20 (NE): “We enter our cocoons on graduation day”
On her experience as a 2020 graduate, her interest in healthcare and advice for future MEng students and graduates.
Juhi Nandwani graduated from the Berkeley MEng program in 2020 with a degree in Nuclear Engineering. Previously, Juhi has discussed her passion for radiation oncology, and her experiences as an MEng student. Here, she shares about her experience graduating in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and some advice for future MEng students and graduates.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
My parents moved from India to Belize where I was born and raised. I grew up in the south side of Belize City where my family has been rooted for 30+ years. My best memories include the beautiful blue Caribbean Sea, dancing palm trees, and “go-slow” island vibes. I completed my Associate degree in Biology and Chemistry there, too. When I was 18, I moved to Missouri where I attended Saint Louis University and majored in Radiation Therapy on the Pre-Medicine track. I lived in St. Louis for four years and built lifetime relationships. Shortly after graduation, I reflected on my career path and realized that I was more interested in the operations of healthcare systems rather than diagnosing and treating patients. This led me to seek other opportunities for growth and apply for the Master of Engineering program at UC Berkeley. I graduated in May 2020. I currently live in sunny Los Angeles, California, where the weather and the vibes constantly remind me of home. I love it here!
What did you study and why did you choose it?
I studied Nuclear Engineering at UC Berkeley. My undergraduate degree focused on pre-medicine and specifically on one of the modalities used to treat cancer: radiation therapy. At UC Berkeley, I wanted to further my knowledge of cancer and the health technology companies in Silicon Valley that are leveraging data to better understand chronic diseases and treatment options that can combat them. The beauty of this program is that you have several opportunities to advance your knowledge and build connections; for example, I chose to take Digital Innovation in Healthcare as one of my electives, and I also participated in the iHackHealth Hackathon. These experiences not only broadened my knowledge of present-day health technology, but also allowed me to meet some of the most incredible and intelligent people. I cherish these friendships.
What impact did the pandemic have on you as an international student?
I graduated in May 2020. I know everyone has probably heard these words several times, but 2020 was unpredictable and uncertain. The projected path I had in mind for after graduation instantly shattered when the pandemic was peaking and the job market declined. My dreams of being able to land a job as an international student on OPT felt unattainable. (Note: Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a type of work permission granted to international students on F-1 visas.) I must have received over instant 500 rejection emails within the span of three months. I felt hopeless. I was renting a room in Oakland at the time, and staring at the same four walls for over four months straight. It really started to take a toll on me. I had very limited physical contact with my friends since most of them moved back home. I was tired of staring at screens all day. Some airports closed. Flights got canceled. I became anxious and even more lonely. I didn’t have my family or any physical support. I lost family members due to COVID-19. It was truly a hard time, and I know that many of you, readers, can relate.
I did something I wasn’t comfortable doing — I sought help. I started seeing a therapist who taught me ways to build a routine and appreciate alone time. This is no instant solution, but it helped me make it to September 2021 when I applied for and finally boarded a repatriation flight home to Belize to see my family after quarantining in a hotel for seven days. The paperwork, applications, and patience were worth it for all the love and affection that I received from my family. It surely filled the overbearing void that I felt for the majority of the year.
“The paperwork, applications, and patience were worth it for all the love and affection that I received from my family.”
What have you been up to since moving to LA? (jobs, volunteering, etc?) What lessons have you learned from these experiences?
I moved to LA in early 2021. At Monti Kids (a Montessori subscription-based toy company where I currently work), I internally transitioned from Executive Administration to Data and Operations. I’ve been focused on not only learning from my direct supervisors and colleagues and enhancing my skills but also on building my network by continuing to reach out to industry experts on LinkedIn, including members of my MEng cohort. I’ve also been mentoring current MEng students, and I want to take this opportunity to encourage alumni to share their expertise with the current MEng cohort by signing up for the FI Industry Mentorship Initiative. It’s truly an amazing opportunity for us to form bonds with brilliant individuals while guiding them through the MEng program and job search.
The main lesson I’ve learned is to persevere, especially when it comes to networking. I know. It can be draining. Many times we send hundreds of LinkedIn messages and only get two responses. It gets frustrating. Many of the opportunities that I have come across have all been thanks to networking. I also met many of my best friends through networking! I encourage you to keep trying. I promise you, it’s worth it.
How have your experiences post-graduation informed your career ambitions? Has anything changed for you since your last feature?
Working in industry has allowed me to do a lot of self-reflection. I always thought I knew exactly what job title I wanted to apply for. After working at a startup, I realized that job titles are not always indicative of the range of roles and responsibilities that come with it. I was once packing a large pallet of charitable toy donations with shrink wrap right before attending a meeting with the CEO to review finance reports. What one company requires a Project Manager to do is not identical to what another company requires; in fact, they are almost always super different. I have reflected and solidified what type of tasks I would like to perform on a day-to-day basis and what overarching impact I would like my work to have.
Since my last feature, I have explored different roles which led me to work in analytics and operations. In my previous feature, I spoke about working to provide my country with cancer care by facilitating connections with healthcare facilities in the United States and establishing a fund specifically for this cause. This still remains my long-term career goal, and I hope to accomplish this sooner rather than later.
What kind of impact do you want to have on the world?
I was raised by two parents who had little access to education. They knew no English when they moved to Belize, so speaking with healthcare providers was not only expensive and unaffordable, but it was also difficult. I didn’t grow up learning concepts that may be considered basic knowledge — that brushing your teeth twice a day keeps cavities away, that playing in muddy water can cause diseases, and that health checks should be performed routinely. This lack of knowledge resulted in myself and most of my family developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. I lost my dearest uncle who was a father to me to a heart attack at age 52. This is what initially sparked my interest in healthcare — the fact that it is still inaccessible for many. Specifically, I hope to someday have this impact on Belize, my home country, where the health sector is still underdeveloped. My immediate career goals are to join a passionate and diverse team that is committed to improving digital health and health technologies with an overarching goal to make healthcare more affordable and accessible. I hope to soon work in Digital Health Operations and Analytics.
What are some of your non-academic hobbies, and how have they inspired your professional goals?
Listening to different individual life stories through rap and R&B music really inspires me to keep going. Anyone that knows me knows that I am the biggest Drake fan. I truly enjoy listening to his music through which he voices techniques that he has implemented in his adult life to overcome generational traumas. He also speaks a lot about manifesting the life that you want and vocalizes prime examples from his personal life. I gain a lot of inspiration and perseverance from his music. Another hobby that I’ve recently started is indoor gardening through Aerogarden. It’s truly made for brown thumbs. I’ve been able to grow many different vegetables indoors, and it’s been a great pastime while working from home.
Is there something you are currently interested in that you would like to share?
Since the pandemic began, I’ve become more interested in reading self-development books and exploring the idea of “self.” I really appreciate and enjoy the book “The Untethered Soul” by Michael A Singer. Each page is so carefully written that it sometimes takes me an entire day to grasp the content on one page. As I grow older, I start to think more and more about what our purpose is as human beings. Engaging in conversations about the different realms to an individual has been one thing that I have been mentally elaborating on more and more as time progresses. I encourage everyone to explore these dimensions and get to know themselves better. It is only after we truly understand ourselves that we can make great impacts on the world.
Do you have any advice for future MEng students?
This program is very short. Nine months fly by in no time. Use your time wisely. Do not be afraid to branch out of your concentration and broaden your network. But most of all, take breaks and take care of yourself and be your #1 cheerleader!
Do you have any advice for new graduates of the MEng program?
“I believe that we enter our cocoons on graduation day. We start to develop and flourish after.”
Many people believe that when we are in school, we are in our cocoons and on graduation day, we blossom into butterflies. I have a different mindset. I believe that we enter our cocoons on graduation day. We start to develop and flourish after. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t land your dream job right after graduation. Life has a way of forming a path on which we learn the necessary skills that we need for our dream opportunity. Many present opportunities prepare us for future roles and positions that we dream of. Just keep swimming!
“A chance is like a picture. It’d be nice if you just take it”. — Drake
Connect with Juhi.
Edited by Danielle Valdez.