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An Interview On
Duke University

Background

Interview Date:July 2018

Gender Identity: Male
Race/Ethnicity: Indian
Graduation Year: 2020
Sexual Orientation: Straight
High School Experience: Freshman and sophomore year I went to school in Oman. Junior and senior year I went to an international school in Mumbai, India. In the international school, most students were not of Indian descent, therefore many went to a university in the US or the UK.
First Generation College Student: No
Majors: Double Major in Computer Science and Statistics
Minor: Finance
Extracurricular Activities: I’m in a Student Living Group (SLG). I am part of Last Day of Classes (LDOC) where we plan a large concert and activities for students to celebrate the culmination of the academic year. I’m a Financial Analyst for the Duke University Union. I’m part of the International Association, and I’m part of the Bassett Fund.

Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
Being a part of LDOC and the International Association has had the biggest impact. LDOC because it is the largest event that takes place at Duke. It’s a year’s worth of work and I get to be there for the end to watch it unfold and meet everyone. It’s just 15 people planning this massive event from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. It is one of my better experiences at Duke. The International Association has given me a great sense of community within Duke.

Academic Experience

Can you describe your weekly coursework for your majors?
Statistics relies heavily on problem sets. Computer Science is mostly weekly assignments along with large projects. It’s a heavy course load in terms of homework and studying for tests for both majors.

Is there anything that you feel either of your majors’ departments do especially well or especially poorly?
The math prerequisites for both departments are not the best because the lower-level classes are taught by graduate students and they tend to be more difficult. The grading system is mostly a black box, there’s no information on how the grading is done, you just receive a grade at the end of the class. However, I will say as you progress to the higher-level courses, the classes get better because Duke allows students to take graduate classes. Once you finish a prerequisite, the classes become more personalized and the teachers are more passionate about what they do.

How accessible have your professors been so far?
The professors at Duke are amazing [in Statistics and Computer Science]. They go out of their way to be accessible, professors make a point to make themselves accessible. I’ve never had a problem.

How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I’ve been lucky enough to have a good group of friends in each class. The learning environment is generally collaborative. Most majors are linear, so initially you make friends in the lower-level classes that you end up taking together. I can’t speak for high-level classes, but when they are much smaller in size and you may not take the class with many friends.

What has been your favorite class in your major or minor?
Statistics: Statistical Computing, the assignments were taught really interesting and there was group work. I learned how to work really well and it was one of my favorite classes at Duke.

Computer Science: I think all of the courses are interesting as long as you’re interested in the material itself. My favorite is Computer Architecture.

What has been your least favorite class in your major or minor?
Intermediate Statistics. Our teacher was a graduate student teaching and it was not a very well taught course and very dry. He was not particularly passionate about the subject.

What made you choose that combination of majors? And are you happy with your choice?
I was really interested in Data Science and Duke does not currently have a separate Data Science major. This combination of Statistics and Computer Science allows me to have quite a lot of options open as I go beyond my undergraduate degree. I am happy with it. The coursework is extremely heavy, but I’m getting a lot of benefits from it.

On and Around Campus

Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: I lived in Southgate in a single. All freshmen live together on East Campus, it’s a separate campus and most of the classes are not there. You have to travel to West Campus by bus.

Sophomore: I lived in Edens Quad, and the name of my building was Farquaad. I had one roommate.

Junior: I’m living in Keohane Quad in a single.

What has been your favorite living situation?
I personally did not enjoy living on East campus that much. I enjoyed living on West campus a lot more than living on East campus because I’m closer to everything and close to all of my friends. I think my favorite living situation will hopefully be next year because I’ll have a single on West Campus.

How was transitioning from Mumbai to Durham, NC?
In terms of how crowded Mumbai is, there is a huge difference between the two cities in terms of population, traffic, and getting places. In Durham, it is really hard not being able to get around without a car. You’re forced to rely on your friends or rely on Uber, which can be pretty annoying because Durham doesn’t really have any kind of public transportation. That’s my biggest grievance with the transition from Mumbai.

What is your favorite off-campus restaurant?
Little Dipper, which is a cheap fondue restaurant.

What is your favorite place to get away from campus?
Mad Hatter, it’s a little bakery that has the best hot chocolate and pancakes. I usually go there and sit with a hot chocolate and study or get some homework done.

Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
I have been very lucky to have not run into any incidents while at Duke. However, I do see a lot of Duke Alerts, which show when an incident has taken place around campus. So, it’s not completely safe, just nothing has happened to me.

Pros and cons of being located in Durham, North Carolina?
Pros:
1) If you’re not big into city life, there are beautiful gardens and forests and parks. It’s a pretty quiet, peaceful neighborhood.
2) Durham is a food town, so you can find so many restaurants.

Cons:
1) It lacks public transportation.
2) It is not a city. There’s not that much to do outside of Duke. A lot of my life revolves around Duke, which is great because I love Duke.

Social Opportunities

What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
I have many friends in Selective Living Groups (SLG) and I spend most of my time hanging out with them at their groups. We also like to go out and try new restaurants and going to the movies. We enjoy hanging out in their rooms and playing games.

What is the difference between an SLG and Greek life?
In Greek life there are national chapters, so there’s a lot more structure in how Greek life goes about things. SLG’s are unique to Duke. SLG’s have a rush process, but this rush process isn’t the same for every group. They all have their own rush process and their own determination method of how they select people to join the group. Every SLG has its own code, so there is an SLG that is very community service-oriented, while mine is very social.

How happy are you with the nightlife options at Duke? If you could change anything, what would you change?
I am personally very lucky to have found my group of friends very quickly, so I have always had something to do and had friends to hang out with. However, I know for a fact that if you are not part of an SLG or Greek life, it is very hard to have a social life and friends if you don’t know people coming into Duke already.

What have been some of your favorite times and Duke?
I think my favorite times are in regards to the classes I’m in. They are extremely collaborative and give me a sense of community and purpose if you really care about what you’re doing in the class. Another one of my favorite times is being in the LDOC committee, and being there at the event and seeing the whole school dance to the artist we selected.

Campus Culture

How did you meet your closest friends?
I met all my friends through the clubs I joined. I made a good decision in joining as many clubs as possible. I will note that getting into clubs at Duke is ridiculously hard. There is an application process that usually has a couple of rounds to get into most clubs, and most clubs are pretty selective. Once you get in, the club you get into becomes your family. Unless you’re in an SLG, Greek life, or an athlete, you do not meet many other people. Most of my friends come from my extracurriculars.

To what extent do international students mix with domestic students?
It depends on the country you’re from. If you come from a country where there are a lot of other students from that country as well, they will tend to stick to people from their country. If you come in and don’t have a lot of people from your country, you have no choice but to assimilate to the other domestic students. Because of that, some international students have many more domestic friends than international friends and vice versa.

How effective are the international student group that you’re a part of in making international students feel more at home at Duke?
The International Association is the only international group that I’m a part of. While the group is very close, it is very selective. We only take in about 3 students a year. One of the group’s primary purposes is to be a bridge between domestic and international students, so a lot of the work that we do is events to show students’ internationalism. The organization doesn’t do that much work to help the students assimilate into Duke and into Durham, however, we are trying to change that going forward.

How would you describe the overall social scene at Duke?
The social scene is dictated by Greek life and SLG’s. If you’re not a part of it then there’s not much of a social life, unless you have a small group of friends that do things by themselves. There are always acapella groups and shows that are performed by Duke groups, but those are not that frequent and that’s not social life per se.

Do you think people are happy with their choice of Duke by senior year?
I think so. I think one thing that people don’t realize about the school, or at least something I didn’t realize, is how important school spirit is in regards to basketball and other sports. I think as soon as you come in and throughout your experience, it’s a contributing factor to how much people love Duke. I think to a large extent people are happy at Duke, however, I know that some people who are not part of a larger organization tend to feel isolated.

Were there any parts of Duke or American University overall that surprised you?
Most international students are overwhelmed by culture shock. I’m lucky that a lot of my family lives in the States, so American culture was not that much of a shock to me. It did surprise me how much of Duke is dictated by Greek life and SLG’s. In terms of housing and assimilation, unless you’re in Greek life or an SLG it’s impossible to have a strong support group. I thought there would be more of a support system.

Careers

Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
I have not tapped into the alumni network. I worked with one of my professor’s companies as a data consultant last summer. I know the head of the career center personally and he has helped me get in touch with a lot of companies in the States.

What was your experience with some of the career-focused clubs you are a part of?
I think across the board it is difficult to get into most clubs at Duke, which is something that surprised me. I did not realize it was that hard to get in, I just assumed you join clubs that interest you. I’m a financial analyst for the Duke University Union. It was hard to get in because you have to show prior experience and that you know how to use Excel and how finances work. It’s hard to be a part of those clubs because they require prior experience, but they’re useful in building a lot of skills that I didn’t previously have, so, learning how to use Tableau, etc. I’m part of the Bassett Fund, which is a committee that hands out money to clubs and students on campus who want to showcase their arts at Duke. Similarly, it’s hard to get in because you need prior experience, but once you get in they teach you a lot.

Advice for Prospective Freshmen

What is something you wish you knew about Duke before entering as a freshman?
I wish I was able to talk to somebody about the social life at Duke. I’m lucky enough to have found my own space, but I know some people are extremely alone. I also wish I had spoken to someone about the classes at Duke and how to navigate selecting them for because that is something I picked up my second semester. Another thing would be figuring out what clubs were at Duke before I came in because at first you are inundated with clubs and you join a bunch and then you realize you have like 500 applications to do.

What is something that we haven’t touched on that a prospective international student should know?
I think to be a Duke student, you have to be a very specific kind of student. While Duke is collaborative, it’s also very competitive. Unless you find your community in social organizations, and social organizations are very much oriented around socializing and drinking, which may not be the case in a lot of different countries. That is a culture shock for a lot of students. If you are unfamiliar with how that works, I’d maybe look for a school where there is more of a sense of community. Duke has a great social scene, but it’s a very specific social scene.

What is there something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
They should go to the Duke Lemur Center or go to the Duke Gardens. Those are some of my favorite parts of being a Duke student. When you visit you don’t get to go to a basketball game, and that is one of the best experiences that you can have. There is also marine lab off campus, so if you’re interested in marine biology that is something that you should check out.

Reasons to attend Duke:
1) There are great professors. Most departments are strong, so if you want to switch majors it is easy to do so.
2) There are a ton of opportunities. It might be hard sometimes because other people are also competing for them. But, because there are so many opportunities it is easy to find something for you.
3) School spirit. It’s very important. It’s made a difference for me in seeing how much the students love the school.

Reasons to not attend Duke:
1) Unless you like drinking and partying and want to be part of Greek life or an SLG, the social scene can be a problem. You may find your own small group of friends or niche, but that can be an issue.
2) Duke is very career-focused. Of the people I know, most want to go straight to the workforce rather than get a Ph.D. or something. So, if that’s not right for you then maybe a different school may be better for you.

Notice: Duke University is a trademark. Induck uses it for descriptive purposes, not to imply affiliation with, endorsement from, or sponsorship by Duke University.

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