December 2021 grad: Anika Gupta found meaning in research, student government

Anika Gupta will be graduating with a degree in biochemistry. In this Q&A, she talks about her favorite experiences as a student, the advantages of the CALS QuickStart program, and her path to an early graduation.

Thinking back to when you chose QuickStart and UW–Madison, how were you feeling about the transition to college?
When I chose CALS QuickStart and UW–Madison, I was coming from a small town in Wisconsin after graduating from high school. I had not thought deeply about my transition to college but was initially nervous about being away from family and friends I had known for those four years of high school. Although I had moved many times throughout my childhood, advancing my education felt distinct in that I would be a more independent adult.

In what ways did QuickStart help prepare you for your undergraduate experience? How did it help initially—and along your academic path?
QuickStart not only helped me understand and embrace greater independence, but prepared me for my undergraduate experience by introducing me to the opportunities UW–Madison has to offer. I aspired to be involved in non-academic activities that would build a profound sense of community, where I could participate enthusiastically in noteworthy, resume-building experiences. This is exactly what QuickStart offered; I was able to further my career goals in academia and research as well as my active engagement in extracurriculars.

What were the most valuable/meaningful college experiences you had?
One of the most valuable college experiences I had was participating in the Associated Students of Madison (ASM) Student Council as a representative for the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. As an undergraduate, I was involved in numerous open committees within ASM, including those centered around racial justice, inclusion, and shared governance. Promoting community service, inclusion, and diversity was a type of movement that I strove to spread amongst all students, an agenda that I would be able to address within the Student Council. Once voted into office as the CALS representative, I learned the mechanics of participating in a large, institutionally-based community.

How did you decide on your major? Why did you choose it? What are your future—immediate and/or long-term—academic/career plans?
I came to UW–Madison intending to study biochemistry because I knew I was interested in an interdisciplinary science-related field. CALS QuickStart introduced me to the world of research, which, along with the course Biology 152, compelled me to begin an independent research project in the laboratory of Dr. Hiroshi Maeda using biochemistry to solve a long-standing puzzle in plant science. My project investigated the regulation of the shikimate pathway among evolutionarily-related plant species—specifically, if regulatory patterns were evolutionarily conserved. This a question that I felt driven to answer and one that guided me towards applying for Ph.D. programs post-graduation.

How did you manage to finish your degree in 3.5 years? How do you think this early graduation is going to help you?
I managed to complete my Bachelor’s of Science in Biochemistry in less than four years through taking courses in the Summer Term, acquiring retroactive credits for Spanish language, and via transfer credit from AP courses in high school. This early graduation will undoubtedly help me because I will be able to earn valuable experience in scientific industry fields prior to attending graduate school. Moving away from Wisconsin—to an entirely different location, likely across the country—is an enormous, overwhelming next step in my career that would be buffered by a semester of independent work.

Did you form any lasting or important relationships because of your QuickStart experience?
I did form lasting relationships because of my QuickStart experience. CALS QuickStart introduced me to other students at an important branching point between the final year of high school and the first year of independent life at UW–Madison. I plan to stay in touch with some of these individuals post-graduation—they have created a lasting impact on my time at the university and will remain lifelong friends.

When you think about your time here as an undergraduate, what are you proud of?
I am most proud of my involvement in community outreach, as it was an experience that showed me what it truly means to be a researcher. My internship at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) was the first role that introduced me to community engagement with science. In collaboration with WARF’s Discovery Connecting Science team, I designed creative presentations and activity materials for researchers to share with K-12 teachers and families. Working with scientists to create artistic representations of their research was incredibly rewarding—I witnessed the necessity of science for public improvement as well as how science requires collaboration with the community. I aimed to stimulate curiosity in asking science-based questions as well as overcome barriers to understanding science.

What advice do you have for students considering QuickStart?
I would recommend enrolling in CALS QuickStart. This program is an incredible opportunity to meet students just like yourself, who are transitioning into their first year of college in an agricultural or science-related field. There is no pressure to make lifelong friends, but QuickStart will expose you to wonderful, like-minded students and teach you everything there is to know about starting your academic career at UW–Madison. One important reminder is that you’ll receive as much from QuickStart as the effort you put into it—try your best and be open to countless new possibilities!

How, if at all, has the pandemic impacted your decisions regarding your academic load and path over the past 1.5+ years?
Surprisingly, the pandemic has not significantly impacted my decisions regarding my academic load and path. During the semesters online, when extracurricular activities and in-person wet lab work were limited, however, I did enroll in a greater number of credits in what would be considered more challenging subjects. Having an increased amount of free time, from my perspective, meant I was able to dedicate more effort to classwork as well as enroll in courses for the Summer Term. This helped me to graduate in less than four years.