Meet Shorelight Alumni: After UIC, Arnav Pursues a PhD at Harvard University

University of Illinois at Chicago
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By Deshan Mendis
Published on November 7, 2023

Arnav from India headed to the University of Illinois Chicago and earned his bachelor’s in biomedical engineering, with a research internship at Johns Hopkins along the way. He’s now at Harvard earning his PhD in engineering sciences!

ArnavIndiaUniversity of Illinois at Chicago

Former UIC Global student Arnav from India sits against a brick wall wearing a hoodie and smiles after earning his biomedical engineering bachelor's degree.

Arnav from India started his higher education journey in the US as a biomedical engineering student at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC). After completing his undergraduate degree — where he had extensive research experience — he was accepted into Harvard University’s PhD program in engineering sciences, where he is currently pursuing his postgraduate studies in engineering technology.

Read on to discover Arnav’s journey from India to the US and how UIC prepared him for his PhD program at Harvard University.

Arnav’s Journey from India to the US

Back home in Ghaziabad, India, Arnav excelled in engineering and STEM courses, inspiring him to pursue opportunities at the best engineering programs abroad. He arrived at the University of Illinois Chicago in the summer of 2018 to earn a degree in biomedical engineering — and everything was new.

“I had never been to the US or to the West before that visit,” he said. “When homesickness hit me real bad, the UIC people were experts in tackling it. For the entire summer semester, it was a very ‘good vibes’ kind of environment, and very comforting.”

By taking part in UIC Global’s week-long orientation and frequently reaching out to the international student support desk, Arnav was able to learn about the university and ease into campus life. UIC’s staff also actively helps students like Arnav navigate the initial stages of culture shock by creating an open environment where students can feel comfortable expressing their feelings.

The UIC Global team also brought students together to create a welcoming community. Early on, Arnav had the chance to meet fellow international students, including several from India. Orientation icebreakers and student activities on campus made the connections possible — and gave him a sense of belonging.

Studying Engineering at the University of Illinois Chicago

Arnav’s goals included pursuing postgraduate studies, so he set up a strong foundation. His UIC courses focused on the engineering topics that interested him most, and also provided opportunities for research projects.  

“Initially I was a biological science major, and that was because I was afraid of math at the start,” Arnav said. “Then, I took a chance and registered for a math class in the summer, which changed the course of my career.” 

UIC’s math, calculus, general physics, bioengineering, and neural engineering courses offer a well-rounded foundation in the field of engineering, with curriculum designed to equip students with essential industry knowledge and key skills to pursue further education or job opportunities across a variety of engineering disciplines. UIC’s general education requirements give students the flexibility to tailor their courses to their personal interests or transition to a new field of study depending on their scores. 

Based on his calculus scores, Arnav was inspired to take on more math-based subjects and eventually make the switch to biomedical engineering. 

“I regained my confidence in math because it was so practical and the professor taught [it] practically, [so] I was able to get the concepts really well,” he said.

Taught by industry experts, the hands-on curriculum at UIC offers students a practical approach to learning advanced engineering and mathematical subjects. UIC’s supportive teaching staff offers one-on-one mentorship, guiding students toward understanding their academic strengths and making important academic decisions such as switching majors.

His courses went so well that Arnav started dreaming bigger: applying to a PhD program in engineering at Harvard University.

Applying to a PhD Program

Arnav first considered the possibility of attending an Ivy League school, like Harvard and MIT, in his junior year as a biomedical engineering student. Attending industry events and seminars gave him a better sense of the benefits of studying for a doctorate degree. The UIC Global team encouraged him to go for it.

I want to thank the team at UIC Global that helped me with many things. I am very excited to share that I will be attending Harvard University for my PhD this fall.” — Arnav from India, PhD student at Harvard, UIC alum

At UIC, Arnav had the unique opportunity to work one-on-one with senior lecturers in the classroom, and also interned at Johns Hopkins University. From his connections at both UIC and Johns Hopkins, he had built strong professional relationships and received positive references by the time he graduated. 

For the Harvard PhD application, “you are only allowed three reference letters, so I think you should be really careful in choosing your mentors,” Arnav said. “I was very confident in the professors [who] taught me and the mentors I did research with.” 

Having successfully completed his application requirements and entrance examination, and with glowing recommendations, Arnav is now enrolled in a PhD in engineering sciences at Harvard University. He currently conducts in-depth research in engineering and applied science and has taken advanced courses in subjects including applied mechanics, biomaterials, data processing, and robotics.

Arnav’s Advice for International Students

As an international student with a strong academic track record and more than four years’ experience living and working in the US, Arnav finds the most value in building relationships and staying focused on one’s goals. 

“I think it’s very important to find a community you like and spend time with your friends,” he said. “At the same time, it’s important to balance your academics and research goals if you’re going for a PhD.”

Arnav highlighted how important it is for students to keep exploring during their time studying abroad. “It’s a wonderful opportunity, and once you are here, you are exposed to a lot of things you can do and it’s up to you [to decide] what are the things you spend your time on,” he said. “I would recommend [students] to just make a plan of where [they] want to be after graduation or post-graduation and then work for that.” 

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