My research has direct implications towards the benefit of society on multiple levels. The most direct and unspecific benefit my research will supply to society is the benefit of fundamental knowledge. Particularly, my research will help us understand the general mechanisms involved in transcription regulation in bacteria (B. subtilis). This is important because this information can be used for various applications. Some of which include drug design, hygienic routines, and engineering of certain bacterial species to produce molecules which are otherwise challenging to synthesize. The fundamental knowledge gained can also be used in lecture during teaching to help students understand how this phenomenon occurs. In addition, this information has the potential to be applied to research in humans, alongside current popular technologies such as gene sequencing (23andMe and DNAfit) to increase the amount of data that one can tell about themselves to understand their predispositions. These benefits to society can only be seen as one side of the spectrum, such as preventive care, but my research also has benefits to society on the curative end of the spectrum. One major goal of my research is to contribute to the development of new age antibiotics to target multi-drug resistant organism, deadly pathogens such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, while limiting the possibility of new resistance being developed. This helps society in two ways, with the most important being therapeutic relief for patients that are suffering from infections by these pathogens. The other way this helps society is that it limits the potential of having to develop new types of treatment for an extended period because the applied treatment based on my research will not allow the organism to acquire resistance.
Being a scientist, particularly one in research, we can have a dramatic influence in the discovery of knowledge. It is our responsibility as leaders in science to spread this knowledge to everyone not just for the recognition of the work, but because the unselfishness of sharing yields the enlightenment for those who want to learn. We strive to provide all others with a similar learning experience that us scientists encountered so that all will be encouraged to follow a path which not only betters themselves but others as well.
Over my graduate studies, the experiences I had and will continue to have will influence me to take a path of professorship, particularly at an institution with societal values like Loyola, so that I can provide the same learning experience to the future minds as I have had that led me to the position I am at currently. If the opportunity presented itself, I would be honored to work at Loyola as a leader in science, promoting the universities core values. These experiences will also prepare me to be a leader in society for those who do not have the same scientific understanding as my peers and I do. As a Ph.D. the understanding of our discipline is at the highest level, and this will prepare me to be a leader in this discipline. As with any great talent, there comes great responsibility, understanding, and sacrifice that must be met to completely full-fill one’s greatest potential. Just as doctors or nurses are leaders in medicine, they take an oath to their patients as their priority over everything else. As a leader in science and a professor of Chemistry, my responsibility is to continue to do relevant scientific research to help solve some of the problems society faces. It is also my responsibility to share the knowledge I gain with other scientists, students, and the greater society, so we all may apply it where it is useful.
I grew up in Jharkhand, a small, coal mining town in India. This town is also home to the insurgent Communist Party of India-the Maoist. Unlike other towns, Jharkhand did not have bustling streets, crowded with people, and vibrant shops. Streets were often empty due to ongoing protests, and conflict between the Maoist and law enforcement. Growing up, the only place I could go other than my school was to the community hospital, where my mother worked as a nurse. In the hospital, I cherished watching her aid patients and striving to provide adequate care to all irrespective of caste or religious identity. Helping my mother set up kiosks in the hospital once a month, usually on a Saturday, to provide prenatal medical care to low-income women was one of my favorite family weekend activities. My childhood in Jharkhand exposed me to the poverty and discrimination that widen social inequalities in a society. At the same, assisting my mother in her efforts, inspired me to become an effective leader pursuing a just society that serves all irrespective of race, religion, class, caste, and gender.
After I completed high school in Jharkhand, I moved to Bengaluru (India), where I lived out my commitment to social justice while pursuing undergraduate degree at Christ University. Always ready to embrace emerging opportunities, I initiated efforts with my peers to organize and resist redevelopment projects. We worked with community-based organizations and alongside women and men living in the Bengaluru slums, helping them secure their homes that were being destroyed by privatized reforms. This engagement promoted the collective creative process to address the needs of the urban poor. Such organizing efforts improved my ability to understand the complexity of urban development. Collectively working with community members made me eager to explore new ideas and approaches for sustainable development projects.
A few years later, my life’s journey brought me to the United States. I have worked with various community-based organizations in Chicago that provide resources to immigrant and refugee communities. Volunteering with community-based organizations and working alongside community members is a key way to create sustainable communities. As a volunteer with Heartland Alliance, I worked with Rohingya refugee families living in Chicago, helping them adapt to their new country. I met with families on a regular basis to understand their challenges and struggles. I took the responsibility to keep families informed about locally available employment training, housing, childcare, and mental health support. Access to this information enabled individuals and families to become familiar with the resources that are critical for their lives and well-being.
My experience as an immigrant woman in the U.S. and the knowledge gained from working with underrepresented groups inspires my interest in sociology with a focus on immigration and gender. My dissertation focuses on the lives of first-generation Pakistani and Indian immigrant women who own, manage or work in small ethnic beauty salons. I find that restrictive immigration policies, cosmetology license rules, and labor practices along with gendered expectations create structures that marginalize immigrant women in the labor market. My dissertation uncovers this new knowledge about gendered subjectivities. At the same time, this study also describes how low-wage immigrant women of color shape unique spaces and identities while navigating and negotiating familial and gendered expectation and adapting to a new country.
Loyola’s commitment to empowering and transforming lives through building knowledge resonates with my own desire to be a person with and for others. My research and engagement with the community empower me to remain committed to my goal to serve others. Many of my research participants experience financial hardship and uncertainties due to immigration status and religious antagonism. In recent months, I have organized workshops such as ‘know your rights’ in various ethnic beauty salons around Chicago land area. Through these workshops, immigrant families learn about their relation to law enforcement and gather knowledge on how to protect themselves from harsh enforcement policies. Such workshops are critical for immigrant communities because it keeps them informed about individual rights and opportunities that this country provides. These spaces also foster community building, enabling immigrant families to come together and find support.
My education and training at Loyola University Chicago shapes my pursuit of social justice through knowledge. When teaching classes at Loyola, I bring my own service-based learning experiences. I encourage students to focus on social problems that matter to them and urge them to use the sociological concepts to broadly inform their work, thinking, and action. As a researcher and a sociologist, I strive to conduct research that has positive implications for underrepresented groups. For example, recently, I collaborated with other academics and community organizers to argue against detention centers that operate to make a profit while forcefully separating immigrant families. The final report emphasized the need to create trust between local policing agencies and immigrant communities more so than working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This report later became 'The Illinois TRUST Act,' which was signed into law in August 2017.
My research, service, leadership, and teaching activities overlap, inspiring, and guiding me in the pursuit of knowledge in the service of humanity. My dissertation will contribute to the broader knowledge about immigrant experiences in the U.S. by highlighting the processes that draw many immigrant women of color into the informal economy. As a future faculty member, I am committed to the Ignatian Pedagogy that emphasizes being attentive to what one is experiencing, reflecting on it, and then connecting it to the world around oneself. Like Arthur J. Schmitt, one of my main goals is to pursue innovative approaches by working alongside community leaders and policymakers, striving to support women workers in the informal economy and finding pathways to reduce gender inequality. I imagine an inspiring future that serves humanity. I aspire to become a leader for Loyola and society by building knowledge that promotes justice and care for others.
1. How will your research benefit the general public?
“Science says. . . ” It’s a phrase advertisers trot out to encourage us to trust them and to believe that we need their product. When “science says,” we listen. Yet how did a discipline—away of knowing—acquire a voice to speak directly to us with such authority? During the period I study, roughly from 1890 to 1950, science became increasingly abstract and inaccessible to the layperson. New discoveries bombarded society: the world is not made of solid objects, but mostly of empty space, with shivering atoms in it. The earth, long since demoted from the center of the solar system, was now just a tiny grain on its way through a life cycle spanning billions of years. Life, including human life, was just a freak accident, a wildly improbable blip soon to flicker out. It wasn’t just the specialized nature of new sciences like quantum mechanics and microbiology that made even simplified accounts of their discoveries out of the layperson’s reach, it was also the heady spans of time, space, and abstraction that they introduced into our world. No longer equipped to discern what science is telling us is correct or not—perhaps most vividly recently illustrated in the Lancet’s vaccine debacle—we listen to the news reports of some discovery or health promise and nod along. Ah, well, if science says, it must be so.
It is our erstwhile national poet and amateur botanist and astronomer, Robert Frost, who stood up to scientists and philosophers as the lone poet on a panel and told them science was unqualified to pronounce its (then accepted) eugenic ideas because it is, itself, a human production that cannot stand outside humanity to make such judgments. He describes in a poem how modern science as having made us “sick with space,” and prescribes
the study of poetry, wherein we find metaphor and what he identifies as the two base human procreative drives—love and money—not science. Wallace Stevens enumerates science as one of the “pressures of reality” that inhibits our ability to imagine, for him a transcendent, almost salvific activity. From just these two examples, we see these American modernist poets, even of the most abstract and aesthetically theoretical bent, grappling with the authority science was asserting and staking a claim for the important balance offered humanity by imagination, language, and art.
Though not conducive to public consumption in its current dissertation form, my research and its future in more open and accessible formats demonstrates how science started to claim its authority over us and our cultural productions and how a range of poets, from the scientifically invested to the scientifically inept, responded to the nonstop barrage of scientific discoveries and assertions. In their work, they keenly point out some of the weaknesses of the scientific thought and method then, and still now, ascendant, questioning the very abstract and mathematical methods scientists were beginning to use. They show how science itself is an imaginative activity, and should be understood—not fought, but understood—as such. To readers increasingly feeling imperiled by the evolutionary, eugenic, entropic things science was saying at the time, they bring balance, comfort, and assurance that humans get to say, too. For a public that may have little interest in the vagaries of defining literary periods, it is this salutary historical perspective, through American modernist poets and their work, that I can offer. In a time when science was just beginning to say, we can see how our literary artists responded—and gently deflate the ballooning specter of the disasters, demotions, and degrading solutions science was then just starting to say.
2. How will this experience develop you as a person to become a leader for Loyola and society?
In my time at Loyola, I have already pursued leadership positions on and off campus, and the Schmitt fellowship, in addition to allowing my to complete research that I feel is beneficial to society and that I believe develops me into a competent professional scholar, would allow me to continue serving the community in service and leadership. Although for personal reasons I have had to vacate positions of leadership this past semester, for two years I served as co-manager of the Loyola Community Literacy Center, and for two summers I taught high school students in composition classes in Loyola’s Summer Scholars program. For four years, including presently, I have mentored fellow women in the English graduate studies program. Serving others in this capacity has changed my worldview, my priorities, and even my sense of how to grade English language-learners in the college classroom. Leading others in these opportunities—carefully giving feedback, making staffing decisions, balancing personalities and cultures—has undoubtedly prepared me for future leadership and service in various organizations, but particularly in those focused on literacy in a multicultural community. Given the time and flexibility of the Schmitt, I would return to these organizations at Loyola to continue working to empower the disadvantaged in society through outlets Loyola offers.
As a person of faith, I expect to use any available time this opportunity would create to continue leading through service, in the humble way Jesus did washing his disciples’ feet, at my church as its webmaster, English curriculum consultant, and reluctant accompanist. It is in this capacity, using the skills I’ve honed at Loyola, that I developed a poetry unit for grades 3-8 at the request of the staff at the school attached to the church.
Finally, although changing diapers, singing lullabies, and otherwise caring for my infant son would seem also to be more service than leadership, I believe creating a strong and warm family home is indeed a service to him, and to our society. This role has taught me expert time and stress management and also shown me depths of love and patience I didn’t know I had—qualities, each, our society could use more of at present. Motherhood is at times denigrated if not outright deprecated in academia, and though I retain my academic and professional aspirations, this fellowship would allow me to give due time to this additional, most vital leadership function that I am now also called to fulfill.
I have trained in a thoroughly translational environment. The Loyola Urinary Research and Education Collaborative (LUEREC) is an established, mature collaboration of basic scientists with broad expertise in cellular and molecular biology, immunology, microbiology, physiology, genetics, genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics and surgeon scientists from urology and urogynecology with substantial expertise in patient-oriented clinical and translational research in urinary incontinence and other lower urinary tract disorders. In this translational environment, I have had the opportunity to see my daily activities impact patient care and practice in the Loyola University Health System and elsewhere.
LUEREC has changed clinical microbiology practice. For my master’s thesis, I helped dispel the entrenched dogma that urine is sterile. I established a novel enhanced quantitative urine culture (EQUC) protocol that provided compelling evidence that the female urinary bladder contains a resident bacterial community (the Female Urinary Microbiota) (Hilt et al. 2014). Incredibly, EQUC showed that most (~90%) urines declared ‘no growth’ by the standard clinical microbiology urine culture procedure actually contain live bacteria. In response, Loyola’s clinical microbiology lab adopted the EQUC protocol to use in cases where the standard urine culture protocol is inconclusive, leading to improved diagnosis and patient care. Other clinical microbiology laboratories around the world have begun to use EQUC under similar circumstances.
The nature of my Master’s Thesis work led me to present my work to diverse audiences at regional and national conferences. I have spoken and presented posters at clinical microbiology, basic science microbiology and clinical meetings. Attendance at these conferences has given me the chance to network, meeting individuals who could help me in my desired future career as the director of a clinical microbiology laboratory. The work that went into my Master’s Thesis showed me how rigorous research can change clinical practice. With the proper training, I could continue to effect change.
My Master’s Thesis was heavily clinically based and changed clinical microbiology and urogynecology. The work was challenging and exciting, but it did not sufficiently hone by critical reasoning skills or help me understand mechanism. Thus, for my PhD dissertation, I have decided to develop my basic science research skills. I am focusing on another area of great need in clinical microbiology, which is beginning to understand the pathogenic lifestyle of the bacterium, Aerococcus urinae, which is a current problem in the clinic. There is a large gap of knowledge in the field of understudied uropathogens. My dissertation work with A. urinae will help begin to fill this gap and build a foundation for studying other understudied uropathogens. My dissertation work specifically explores the interaction between A. urinae and the epithelial layer of the bladder known as the urothelium. By understanding this interaction, we can start to think of therapies to disrupt this interaction. Subsequent effective therapies can then be utilized in the clinic to treat A. urinae infections. Although these therapies will take some time to develop, we need to start at the beginning and that is the aim of my dissertation work.
1. How will your research benefit the general public?
This project has the potential to increase our humanistic knowledge of foreign fighting, radicalization, and extreme behavior by introducing a theoretical framework that is valid across time and cultural context and that helps us understand the motivational underpinnings that drive this behavior. The findings can be generalized and tested in other conflict contexts and in communities across the world, which can provide insights into concrete practices that can be designed to counter violence and conflict. This research benefits the general public in two ways.
First, this dissertation project will introduce a new theoretical framework for explaining why human beings participate in foreign fighting by looking at the willingness of seemingly ordinary individuals to take the extraordinary risk of leaving their homes to fight in a foreign conflict. The theory proposed is based on a value-driven explanation that emphasizes both an individual’s commitment to sacred values as well as their commitment to friends, family, and those they share an ideological commitment to. The project has implications for understanding why human beings behave in ways that often defy rational calculation and explains how humans find meaning in both culture and in their relations to others that motivate their behavior.
While sacred values act as moral imperatives that drive human action, they alone are often not enough to convince an individual to make a costly sacrifice. Many individuals can hold identical values as sacred and yet only a subset of those individuals might mobilize out of an obligation to, or in defense of, those values. Therefore, my project seeks to show how a community or group justifies collective activity is crucial to understanding why participation by individuals becomes morally acceptable. Understanding how sacred values manifest themselves in communities thus requires employing theories of collective identity and social networks,
which assume that the structures and interconnectedness of a public determines the rate and extent to which values and beliefs inspire action.
Finally, the project has numerous implications for U.S. foreign policy, conflict management, and peacebuilding that will benefit citizens across the globe. First, this dissertation will be of great interest to U.S. publics as it offers the first in-depth, individual-level analysis of the foreign fighter phenomenon which the U.S. continues to confront in a variety of conflicts throughout the globe, including: Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria and Iraq. Second, the approach of this dissertation is to explore the competing factors that motivate foreign fighters that are generalizable to other cultures and contexts which will, if past is prologue, help scholars and policymakers confront the foreign fighter challenges of tomorrow including developing methods for confronting radicalization. The project is timely, in that thousands of foreign fighter "returnees" from Syria and Iraq are threatening the peace and security of countries across the globe, and has global ramifications. Understanding these fighter’s motivations for leaving will also help provide avenues for future reintegration policies.
2. How will this experience develop you as a person to become a leader for Loyola and society?
Being a leader or displaying leadership qualities, regardless of the setting (at Loyola or in society), requires an understanding of the needs and goals of the group you lead. It requires you to see the big picture, set direction for your group, and execute an agenda to make real change. This experience will allow me to grow into a future leader by giving me the chance to research and understand one of most salient political developments of the 21st century; the “foreign fighter phenomenon.” The dissertation allows me to learn and borrow from theories of collective action and individual behavior from diverse fields such as economics, sociology, psychology, and anthropology to develop a new theoretical framework for understanding individual participation in foreign conflicts that is based on the concept of “sacred values,” or moral imperatives that drive action beyond any material calculation. Beyond just understanding how sacred values motivate foreign fighters, understanding how values drive individual behavior, in general, will make me a better and more attuned decision-maker and leader.
Addressing the issue of foreign fighters also forces me to confront different cultural contexts and societal norms. Empathy and the understanding of different backgrounds is an integral part of being a leader and are qualities I hope to develop through my experience as a Schmitt Dissertation Fellow. Beyond just my own field research, where I will have to work with and talk to individuals from different countries and backgrounds, the opportunity to work closely with other Schmitt Fellows from different academic disciplines, who have different backgrounds and training, and who have likely done research in different cultural contexts, can provide insights that will inform my research and vice-versa. The experience will thus provide me with new insight on how to work with different groups and personalities and become a leader in not just my field but in the service of humanity.
This research is highly original in that it has both local and global implications. At the local-level, my research can help inform community development to help serve those who are unrepresented to prevent them from searching for alternative paths that could lead them to radicalization and foreign fighting. On the global-level, my research can help inform conflict management and peacebuilding initiatives. It is the argument of this research project that any attempt at stemming the flow of foreign fighters to any conflict must first understand the motivations behind why these citizens decided in the first place to leave their country to fight abroad. The research will also inform new methods to effectively (i.e., peacefully) reintegrate those that have returned as productive members of society which will require knowledge and training of which I could provide as a global leader in my field.