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TMSAtalks Session: Chasing Curiosity: The Academic Life

By Rahul Bhatia

On Wednesday, April 5, 2017, TMSAtalks invited Kyla Walters, a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Massachusetts to describe the path to graduate education, as well as share her high school, undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate course experiences with TMSA students.

Kyla Walters is currently a Ph.D. Candidate, in the Department of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is currently working on her Dissertation so that she can get her Ph.D. from Graduate School. She graduated from NC State with a Bachelor’s of Arts Sociology with an honors thesis.

During her presentation, Kyla talked about her high school and college experiences, how to get to Graduate School and what Graduate Schools look for in an application.

Here are some key points from her presentation:

In Graduate School, your goal is to earn a Ph.D. or the title of Doctor of Philosophy:

  • You can get your Master’s Degree along the way
  • Many Ph.D. programs offer tuition waivers with teaching or research assistantships.

Strong Applications to Graduate School include:

  • A clear sense of research focus
  • Prior research experience, such as an unpaid assistantship for a faculty member
  • A strong undergraduate G.P.A.
  • Evidence of good writing
  • G.R.E. (Graduate Record Examination) Score.
  • Several Letters of Recommendation

There are two types of Research Models:

  • Apprenticeship:
    • You collaborate with a faculty member
    • It can be paid or unpaid
    • You need a multi-year commitment
  • Independent:
    • Much more self-determined
    • All writing is done by you and you alone
    • It is well suited for certain methods

A dissertation is an extended written treatment of a subject; specifically, one that is submitted for a doctorate. A dissertation should have:

  • Scope:
    • Depth over breadth
    • A study of just the right size
  • Relevance:
    • Your topic matters!
    • Theoretical contribution
  • Feasibility:
    • Financial cost
    • Location
    • Time
    • Ability

To find out more about TMSAtalks, visit:

TMSAtalks Session: “Quitting: Not on the Menu”

By Rahul Bhatia

On Friday May 5, 2017, TMSAtalks invited Dr. Sumitha Ahmed, a Dental Hygienist and Professor at UNC, to TMSA to share her life and professional experiences with the High School students. Dr. Ahmed talked to the students on how against all odds, she never gave up and successfully pursued her ambition of becoming a professional doctor as well as academician. She also provided an overview for students interested in pursuing dentistry as a career option.

Dr. Ahmed earned her Bachelor’s in Dental Surgery from Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences in India. She moved to the U.S.A. in 2004 and worked part time in support roles in private practice settings.

To pursue her career goals, she returned to school in 2007 to earn a certificate in Dental Hygiene from UNC School of Dentistry at Chapel Hill. She also earned her Master of Science Degree and a Certificate in Clinical Operative Dentistry in 2014 from the Department of Operative Dentistry at UNC.

She shared the tough times she faced in her life during this pursuit. Besides the rigors of medical school due to unexpected complications she went through emergency spine surgery, lost sensation in her legs, had a family with 2 young boys at home to take care and went through rehab/post-operative healing while pursuing her goal. Throughout her treatments, she was constantly in touch with the Dean expressing her interest in continuing with the program and as soon as she could move, she was in the classroom working on getting her degree completed. Besides the encouragement and support she got from her family, friends and teachers, her determination to succeed and ‘Never Say Die’ was the key in achieving her goals.

Dr. Ahmed now works as a Clinical Assistant Professor, and Director of Pre-Clinical Operative Dentistry Course at UNC Chapel Hill. In addition, she serves as the Co-Director of Educational Research Group within the Department of Operative Dentistry. 

Dr. Ahmed explained aspects (as listed below) that students would need to focus on when considering dentistry as a career option:

  • She spoke about the various avenues students can pursue in Dentistry. Students that like working with their hands and want to go into medicine should consider Dentistry as a career path.
  • Dental Hygienist certification require 2 years. At the end of two years you get a Certificate in dental hygiene.
  • The other option is to take two years of undergrad with courses that will be considered as prerequisites for Dental Hygienist Certification and study two more years to get a Bachelors in Dental Hygiene. You may then apply to dental school after taking the qualifying exam – Dental Admissions Test (DAT)
  • If you do not wish to go the dental hygiene route, you can complete a 4-year undergraduate degree and then take the DAT to apply to dental school for a Graduate degree.
  • Private practice dentists typically work 4 days a week. Alternatively, you may choose to become a teacher/professor like Dr. Ahmed.
  • The other career options are to work as a consulting dentist with various hospitals and private practices, or as a researcher for companies that produce dental products or a consulting dentist at a dental laboratory.
  • To graduate and become a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS), students must complete 4 years of dental school (Undergraduate Degree + 4 years). You can go into private practice after these 4 years, as opposed to 8-year minimum required for most other medical fields.
  • Some folks choose to do a 3-year specialty residency or a 1-year advanced education in general dentistry before going into private practice. However, this extra degree is not mandatory for private practice. 
  • If you wish to pursue dentistry, contact your local dentist’s office and ask to volunteer/ shadow or secure an internship there. Most clinics will gladly accept help with sterilization or shadowing.
  • For a fresh graduate after 4 years of dental school, the pay will be about $100-120K annually. If you are a specialist and work as an associate in a practice then it can be $150-220K annually. If you have your own private practice, you can expect to earn close to $500K annually with an established practice.

TMSAtalks session: Innovation and Entrepreneurship

By Rahul Bhatia

On Monday, February 6, 2017 TMSAtalks invited senior student Ibanca Anand from Duke University to speak to our high schoolers about Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Ibanca Anand is a senior at Duke University double-majoring in Economics and Literature with a Certificate in Innovation & Entrepreneurship. While a sophomore in high school, Ibanca began a nonprofit organization, Suhanee Foundation, which aspires to provide quality education for the millions of girls across the world who are prevented from learning because of their gender. Over the years, the organization has raised tens of thousands of dollars for schools in rural villages in India. At Duke, Ibanca is involved in various innovation programs, like Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs and The Cube living community.

Key points from the presentation:

Ibanca spoke on her journey with Suhanee Foundation, the college admission process, and the entrepreneurial experience in college:


  • Innovation does not begin with an idea or a passion. Innovation begins with a problem.
  • Researching your problem and discussing it with as many people you can gives you a better chance of making a meaningful impact.
  • Get connected to people in your community that care about your cause.
  • Find mentors that are willing to support you and lend you free advice.
  • Be confident! You may not have all the answers, but as long as you’ve got the grit, people will listen.
  • The idea you start with will never be the idea you end with. Be adaptable and accepting of new opportunities.
  • Be willing to compromise, but never compromise on your key values and goals.
  • You never know what opportunities you may get connected with. Reach out to as many people as you can BEFORE you need them.
  • Keep in contact with your contacts! Send holiday greetings, birthday wishes, whatever so they know what you are up to!
  • Surround yourself with friends that are also go-getters and are supportive of your ambitions. Best friends make the best volunteers and cheerleaders
  • Build your team selectively. Find people that have different skills from you, but care equally about the mission

Feel free to contact Ibanca Anand at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Visit Suhanee Foundation’s Website

To find out more about TMSAtalks, visit:

TMSAtalks Session: Declassifying High School and The Art of Winning

By Rahul Bhatia

On Friday, March 24, TMSAtalks invited Ashwin Punj, a senior at Enloe Magnet High School, and is also an accepted applicant to UNC Chapel Hill and NC State University to share his high school experiences with TMSA students and what they should do to prepare and to stand out to colleges.

Ashwin Punj is seventeen years old and is currently a senior at Enloe Magnet High School. He plays several sports and competes in dance competitions. In sixth grade, he founded a volunteering group focused on helping those in need, and every year the group raises more money, and grows in strength and reach. Over the past 6 years, the group’s total has exceeded $50,000. He plans to join the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill later this year and pursue a career in biomedical engineering.

During his presentation, Ashwin talked about his high school experience and what you should do to stand out to colleges.

Here are some key points from the presentation:

How can you stand out to colleges?

  • When it comes down to it, grades are extremely important for college applications
  • Extracurricular Activities are essential. It’s best to have one or two activities that are important to you and to stick to them

What can you do to make applications easier?

  • Use the CommonApp Portal. This is a college admission application that you can use to apply to 500+ universities.

10 Things that Ashwin would tell incoming freshmen:

  • Never procrastinate
  • Use class time wisely; Instead of spending free time during class talking, dedicate that time toward working on assignments from another class.
  • Keep focus on the big picture by setting small personal goals; Having small goals will help you get to where you want to be.
  • Get as much sleep when you can; high school keeps you on your toes, and more importantly, it keeps your eyes open
  • Get involved; find something in this school that you want to do, that interests you, and stick with it for as long as you can. It’s great personally and on your application, if you can stick with a club or sport and eventually gain a leadership position.
  • Slow down and take a deep breath; sometimes things can get overwhelming but if you can slow everything down and tackle one problem at a time, everything works out.
  • Keep good relationships with your teachers; if you have their back, they’ll have yours.
  • You will not pass every test; high school is hard, and it’s meant to push you to your limit.  You won’t get amazing grades all the time but it isn’t the end of the world.  Just keep pushing!
  • Don’t indulge in illegal activities, even if your peers are participating in them
  • Distractions are okay, but be prepared to block them out when necessary

You can visit the TMSAtalks homepage at this link:

TMSAtalks session: NC State Engineering Careers and Summer Camps

By Rahul Bhatia

On January 23, 2017, TMSAtalks invited North Carolina State University’s Program Associate at The Engineering Place, Mrs. Renèe Croteau, to talk to our high schoolers about the Engineering Program and Summer Camps at NC State University (NCSU).

Mrs. Croteau is a member of the STEM Outreach group at the College of Engineering, NCSU.  She spent 10 years as a Research and Development Engineer in several fields including medical devices, aerospace, automotive and transportation. Mrs. Croteau has an Aerospace Engineering degree with a minor in math from Syracuse University and a Master’s Degree in Plastics Engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell and holds a patent to her name.

During her presentation at TMSA, Mrs. Croteau provided information on the Engineering Program and Summer Camps at NC State University

Here are some of the key points from the information session:

NC State Engineering Program:

  • With more than 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students, the College is the largest of any college at NC State, and among one of the top ranked programs nationally.
  • Offerings include 18 bachelors’, 21 master’s and 13 doctoral degree programs including co-op and international programs.
  • Freshman Profile:
    • New first year students: 1350 (8,550 applicants)
    • SAT average: 1349; ACT average: 31
    • HS GPA: 4.65 (weighted); 3.86 (unweighted)
    • HS Rank: 79% in top 10% of class
  • Annual job fair rated 2nd largest in the US has many different companies come to NC State in search for employees, and can land you a well-paying job right out of college!

To find out more about NC State University and its programs, you can attend its open house on Saturday, March 18, 2017. No registration for this session is required.

More information on Engineering Program is available at

NC State Engineering Summer Camps:

There are 2 types of Summer Camps at NC State, Day Camps and Residential Camps.

  • Day Camps: For rising 9th -10th Grades
    • 5-6 graduate student mentors share information about their respective fields.
    • Students can participate in group projects and activities in each mentor’s field.
    • Break out into small groups and work on in-depth challenge in specific disciplines.
  • Residential Camps: For rising 11-12th Grades
    • Students get an in-depth look at specific engineering disciplines in workshops on topics led by professors, post docs and graduate students
    • Students can also experience the residence and dining halls besides recreational opportunities held in the evenings
    • The residential camps include international participants and gives students a chance to interact and learn more about other’s lifestyles, cultures, etc.
    • Many of the activities are held in real college labs, allowing students to get a first-hand look at research projects complemented by field trips

Application period for both Residential and Day Camps is open now till March 24th and acceptances start April 17th. The weekly programs are conducted during the month of June.

The Application process includes, two short essays (200 words). Requirements for Residential Camps includes the need to rank your workshop preferences, grades, test scores, classes, etc.

More information on Engineering Summer Camps is available at

For more information on TMSAtalks and other sessions please visit

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