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PhD Profile: Dina Mistry

Dina Mistry, Physics PhD candidate, sits down with the College of Science Graduate Program staff to talk about what it’s like to work and study at Northeastern University.

Please describe your research.

In today’s highly interconnected world, the threat of infectious diseases is ever present. With the spreading dynamics of diseases like the recent 2009 H1N1, Ebola, and Zika virus highly
dependent on human interaction and mobility patterns, it becomes important and necessary to have data describing the structure of social contacts and human movement around the globe.

My research then lies at the crossroads between mathematical modeling, epidemiology and network science. More specifically, my research as a part of the MOBS lab focuses on characterizing and inferring the social contact and mobility networks which underlie the spreading of infectious diseases worldwide and bringing these details into our modeling of infectious disease spreading. This means that some days I work with highly detailed census and survey data to infer how people spend their time and who they interact with during the day – measures we can use to generate synthetic social contact networks for different populations worldwide. Other days, my research entails working with data on human mobility patterns. The end goal however is same: to characterize how people interact in their daily lives to improve our understanding of how diseases might go from being relatively unheard of to becoming global emergencies.

What is your favorite part about Northeastern?

By and far my favourite part about Northeastern University is the Network Science Institute, where I currently work in the MOBS Lab. It’s fairly new, however Northeastern and especially the faculty have put a lot of thought and effort into making the Institute a great place to conduct research and learn in an interdisciplinary setting. One of the greatest benefits of working at the Institute is the opportunity to meet and discuss my work with many leaders in my field. Also, quick shout out to the best part of the Institute: my labmates in the MOBS Lab who are not only to great work with and learn from, but make a full day of research all the more enjoyable.

What is your favorite part of Boston?

My favourite part of Boston is not an actual area, but rather all of the concert venues the city boasts. I’m quite the music junkie and I love that (when I have the time) I can always find an interesting band or artist to see live in concert and that there are many places across the city for this. Quite often I end up seeing a random, relatively unknown band at a small venue in the city before they make it big which is great perk to living in Boston. With all the universities and colleges in the area, it’s almost guaranteed that all sorts of musicians will come through the city.

What are the perks of being a Northeastern graduate student?

One of the perks of being a Northeastern graduate student is definitely the free admission to the Museum of Fine Arts and the Institute of Contemporary Art. With the MFA so close to campus, going there in the afternoon is a great way to take a break from doing research work all day.

What advice would you give to an incoming graduate student?

If I were to give any advice to incoming graduate students, it would be this: take charge of your education. One of the biggest differences between undergraduate and graduate studies comes from being far more responsible for what you learn and your relationship with your advisor. Your professors and advisor will guide you but you have to help them with this by letting them know what you need from them. Some of the most successful students I have known work hard to consistently get feedback from their advisors, and are constantly learning new things on their own. One last thing: it’s likely been said before, but if there’s something you want to study to help with your research chances are there are others in the same boat so form a journal club or workshop and learn together.

What are your plans after degree completion?

Lately I’ve come to realize that I’ve really been bit by the research bug while at Northeastern so I will be looking to continue in my field and pursue postdoctoral research afterwards. No idea where yet, but it’s an adventure I’m excited to start soon.

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