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Can you tell us about your background and what you do?
State of the art research and resources abound in the United States and that motivated Aditi Misra to relocate to this country for her research.
Growing up in India in the 1990s, Misra witnessed a sudden boom of infrastructure, stirring-up excitement for engineering at a young age. After finishing her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at Jadavpur University, Misra worked with a consulting firm in India on geotechnical projects. She could see that all these projects used a lot of materials – cement, concrete, wood and steel and of course, water were being used for the projects, yet none were being replaced. Later, as a civil servant overseeing infrastructure projects also, she faced the same dilemma.
“I was much bummed on how to balance socio-economic development with long term environmental justice,” Misra said. “I knew the infrastructure projects were essential for development, but I also needed to know about sustainability aspects of these projects.”
How did you end up in an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career such as transportation research?
One of the project managers put Misra in touch with Dipanjan Basu, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut, who was expanding his research in India. He was looking for someone who would work on the sustainability portion of his geotechnical projects. Feeling this was the time to further her education in this area, Misra re-located to the United States to work on sustainability projects and completed a master’s degree from University of Connecticut in geotechnical engineering. While taking classes in sustainability and economics, Misra collaborated with students and faculty from environmental and transportation engineering and soon altered her education plans to fit a broader view. She credits Norman Garrick, Ph.D., an associate professor at University of Connecticut, to have largely influenced her work and views during this time.
“Geotechnical engineering only dealt with the foundation and was very project oriented,” Misra said. “I didn’t want to be restricted to that area and wanted to work where I can influence policy and planning. With transportation, the scale is much larger.”
What did you do next?
For her Ph.D. track, Garrick put Misra in touch with Kari Watkins, an assistant professor at Georgia Institute of Technology (GaTech), where Misra was impressed with the diverse research interests and groups within transportation. She was soon put to work on Watkins’ STRIDE project “Using Crowdsourcing to Prioritize Bicycle Route Network Improvements,” collecting and analyzing data to develop prediction models. Misra says that Watkins, regularly bikes to school, giving a real-life perspective to the project. Misra very much appreciates the practical aspect of this project, as well as being advised by Watkins.
“Dr. Watkins gives freedom to come up with my own questions and answers,” Misra said. “She motivates to push boundaries – gives room to choose but with guidance.”
What are your future goals?
Misra hopes to have a career in academia and research after graduation next spring in 2016. She is currently extending the STRIDE study and developing other models to find additional results and better route choice predictions. In January 2016, she will begin working on a Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) project developing crash modification factors for nonmotorized transportation. Along with research, she is very active in the Georgia Tech student chapter of the American Society of Engineering Education, which hosts monthly seminars on engineering education, STEM related research, K 12 and university teaching as well as on early career advice for future faculty.
Misra plans to return to India in the future, but for now wants to contribute as much as she can to the research on choice modeling and to advance nonmotorized transportation in her wonderful host country.
Your advice to students?
“Be enthusiastic and passionate about what you’re doing,” Misra advises to those entering engineering education. “There will be issues and challenges, and that is what is makes it more interesting. Always ask questions and never be afraid to find your own solutions.”