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Ruchi Joshi is a Master of Science (M.S.) student in Environmental and Conservation Sciences program at North Dakota State University (NDSU). She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Biotechnology with Minors in Microbiology and Chemistry from NDSU (2011). Her present research is on understanding the survival of Cryptosporidium oocysts in the winter season of North Dakota.

What sparked your interest in the offbeat and unconventional field of Environmental and Conservation Sciences?

Coming from India, where we have a gradient of economy, I grew up witnessing people without proper sanitation and basic necessities. This experience always stimulated me to contribute to the society especially the underprivileged ones. Thus, I always wanted to contribute to the lower section of our society. I plan to work towards providing potable water to every section of the society and have a better infrastructure in both developing and under-developed nations. Currently, I work in drinking and wastewater treatment sector which allows me to apply my knowledge and skills related to water issues in any part of the world.

Please tell us about your research?

Cryptosporidium is an infective protozoan which is one of the most important contaminants found in drinking water and is associated with high risk of waterborne illness. Cryptosporidium causes a parasitic gastrointestinal disease called cryptosporidiosis in mammals. Cryptosporidiosis is potentially lethal for mammals which have suppressed immune systems. An infected mammal can shed up to 107 oocysts per ml of its fecal matter which can contaminate soil and water. Severity of the public health concerns can be estimated by the fact that ingestion of contaminated water containing as few as 10 oocysts can lead to cryptosporidiosis. The mechanism of Cryptosporidium transport in the environment remains poorly understood. Cattle and other livestock are reservoirs of human pathogenic Cryptosporidium species. Application of liquid manure to the fields is a common practice in many North American farm operations. Fertilizing agricultural lands with manure contaminated with Cryptosporidium can result in cryptosporidiosis outbreaks.

Considering both, the climate conditions in North Dakota and survival conditions of Cryptosporidium, it is apparent that Cryptosporidium oocysts can survive in North Dakota. Besides these conditions, data has been provided by the Centre for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reflecting a gradual increment in the number of Cryptosporidiosis cases within North Dakota. Therefore, taking in account the capability of Cryptosporidium of causing a public health outbreak, it is very important to understand the effect of low temperature on Cryptosporidium.

How will your program benefit you in your career?

My program allows me to gain real time experience by working off campus in the water treatment industry besides my research work at campus. Also, I get the opportunity to be involved in several volunteering activities and present my research work at conferences all over the United States, which is great exposure for graduate students to network with people in our field (academia and industry). Through my internship experience, I believe I have a better chance to get a job after I graduate with my Ph.D. degree.

What is your biggest academic accomplishment so far?

Gaining practical experience working off campus (water treatment facility) while working on my Ph.D. full time.

What advice do you have for graduate school applicants?

·   Make sure you spend quality time preparing an SOP (Statement of Purpose) and getting good letters of recommendation.

·   If you have your advisor and funding decided, make sure you mention that in your SOP. It helps in processing your application faster.

·   Besides a good GPA, extra-curricular experience enhances your profile. So make sure you have a section of that in your resume.

·   Before applying, research about the specific department/professor you plan to work with. Don’t just jump to a decision, make sure if you are interested in the research area or not.

·   Stay in touch with the department of admission or the specific advisor in contact throughout the admission process.

·   Connect with graduate students in your department of interest and get different opinions. Analyze: the obtained opinions, self-research work, yourself and then make a decision.