Profiles / Rising S.T.E.M. Stars

Sandya Lakkur

My name is Sandya Lakkur, and I am a rising junior at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. I am currently a statistics major with the intention of getting a Ph.D. in biostatistics. In my spare time, I train for charity races and I like to tutor students in any areas of math or statistics.
From the very beginning, my parents always encouraged me to do well in school. They always emphasized hard work and patience, and that the marriage of both would help achieve big goals in life. They encouraged me to work farther than just receiving a Bachelor’s Degree. However, it was really my sister who planted the idea of getting a Ph.D. She got accepted to the Meyerhoff Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and started talking about the benefits of getting a Ph.D. Upon her decision, I saw that she became much more focused in school, and much more aware of the opportunities available to her. With her encouragement and through the changes I was seeing in her, I also became interested in pursuing a Ph.D. Now my goal is to obtain a Ph.D. in biostatistics.

My parents are always very supportive of my successes and failures. They are always ready to applaud me when I do well academically, or otherwise. And they are always willing to help me pick myself back up when I do not meet my expectations. My parents are very big supporters of hard work. They grew up in an environment where nothing was readily given to them; they had to work for everything they had. I have understood their message, and have adopted their value. Another value that I have adopted is dreaming big. I have always been taught that there is always something that can be improved upon, and that there is room to build upon a previous dream. This is also why I was so open to the idea of working towards a Ph.D.

When I was younger science was always considered my “easy” subject. I was always one of the first to understand the concepts, and I would be known for asking a lot of questions in class. For the longest time, I was always interested in how science related to anatomy and animals. And initially, my goal was to become a veterinarian. Thus, I did not always know what I wanted to do for a living. Now, I have changed direction completely, and my interests lie in applied mathematics. And now I strive to get a Ph.D. in biostatistics.

One of the ideas that I had to work towards understanding was that I had to learn not to be “the” best, but to be “my” best. In high school, I was so accustomed to being “the” best in the class, and I became complacent with that status. When I got to college, I realized that I was in an environment where everyone was the best in their high school. In my first years of college, I would always try to compete with others and compare myself to others’ achievements. However, I learned that this was a very damaging lifestyle. It took me a long time to understand the difference between “the best” and “my best.” But once I did, it changed how I worked in classes, and how I was going to approach my goals. I needed to keep track of my improvements and weaknesses, and not others.

Initially, your classes will be diverse in gender and race. This is when you will be taking most of your core classes, so everyone will be taking them with you. However, when you reach the end of your second year in college, you will find that not as many females are in your classes, nor much diversity. Just remember why you are here, and what your goals are. You should not let other people define or limit your ambitions. And you should not take any negative advice to heart.

Once I learned that I needed to work for me and not compare myself to others, I started working differently. My first priority is no longer getting 100% on the test, but it is now being able to understand all of the material covered in class. Especially now that I am taking classes that expect you to think more abstractly, it is necessary to learn how to think rather than what to memorize. There is always going to be a time, where I will not get 100% on a test. However, it is important to understand the mistakes, and learn from them. My goal now in the classroom is to learn and understand rather than be the best. Outside of the classroom, my goal is to learn to love the subject. I find that if I actually enjoy what I am studying, the understanding becomes much easier.

Last summer I participated in the Summer Institute of Training in Biostatistics (SIBS) at North Carolina State University. I learned how statisticians are an integral part in any STEM field, and particularly in the life sciences. I also learned to appreciate the diversity of majors in this internship. Statisticians need to work with a variety of disciplines, thus we were grouped with people of other majors to present a project. I worked with a biology major, and a math major. I enjoyed this diversity because it gave the group different perspectives on how to approach a problem. Essentially, I was always learning. I particularly enjoyed being presented with a problem, and working together to determine how to solve it.

Statistics is applicable in all fields of research. Any time an experiment is being created or is running, there is a measurement of error that needs to be controlled for. Many people do not realize this, and it can cause the results of some experiments to be invalid. Thus I feel that statistics can be beneficial for society because it will allow more certainty in the effectiveness of products in the market.

I feel that a lot of our youth is losing patience in working towards a goal in the STEM field. STEM classes are extremely hard and require much dedication. It is very easy to give up, and change your goal to something easier however, by doing this the youth is neglecting a potential opportunity in their future. I also feel that the youth is not being challenged to think as critically in the classroom. This is very important in the STEM fields, because that is really the root of research.
I heard about the Meyerhoff Program from my sister and learned about its support system and goals. I was immediately interested in enrolling for the program. I also heard how UMBC really pushes their students in the STEM classes, and that their small class sizes are beneficial for having a good relationship with professor. Due to all of these benefits, UMBC was the most appealing choice for college.

Best Advice

Learn to think through someone else’s perspective, do not judge them for their thoughts or values until you have understood them.

My Mentors and Why

Currently my mentors are the Meyerhoff Staff and older Meyerhoff Scholars. They all have experience in reaching the goals that I want to reach. And they have means to overcome obstacles that I have, and will face in order to get there.

Quotes I Live By

“It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop." - Confucius

Invent One Thing

I would like to invent a tracking device to find my car in a large parking lot, because I always forget where I park.