This week we meet Arushi Borundia, who is currently undertaking her Master’s degree in Physics at UCL. Here, Arushi chats to us about launching a new society at UCL - the UCL Female Lead Society - and shares a great spot for bubble tea in Bloomsbury.
What are you studying, why are you interested in this subject and what do you plan to do in the future?
This academic year, I have been undertaking my Master’s degree in Physics at UCL. With the MSc programme running for a full calendar year, I am now on the final stretch comprising my research project and thesis, due at the end of the summer.
My love for science stems from my childhood curiosity, as I was eager to understand how the world worked, especially through mathematics. The first memories I hold of my passion for science began when I was about eleven years old, and my dad bought me a 700-page scientific encyclopaedia. I recall spending days reading it incessantly and it was where I learnt that physics could teach us how lightbulbs switch on and why light cannot escape from a black hole. Throughout my education, I appreciated the value of STEM from witnessing the technological advancement that has accelerated economies around the globe. I have always been interested in physics specifically because it is a true study of the Universe; matter, energy and their behaviours in space and time with scales ranging from subatomic to cosmological. Physics is a means for me to develop my critical thinking and problem-solving skills, to always learn and be challenged intellectually, and most importantly, to embrace and satisfy my inquisitive nature.
As for my future plans, I have learnt this past year that the unexpected is inevitable and so I choose to keep an open mind. However, I will say that the desire to create lasting change is ingrained within me. I have been granted PhD roles, but after much deliberation and focus on my true passions, I wish to embark upon a new path in which I can bring my insights to support a greater collective. An interesting idea is the exploration of the ways in which cooperation between the public-private sector - encompassing businesses, governments and societies - can help create an improved world that is both sustainable and equitable.
What is the most interesting thing you’ve done, seen or got involved with while at UCL?
My most memorable area of involvement at UCL are my roles as Head of Women in the Workplace and Events Coordinator of UCL Female Lead Society’s committee. As a group of six postgraduate students, we launched a new society at UCL in partnership with The Female Lead, an influential educational campaign. The Female Lead’s mission is to shine a spotlight on the women who shape our world to inspire and progress, advance gender equity and advocate fairness, inclusivity and internationality. Looking back, I am grateful that I was given the opportunity and platform at UCL to be involved in impactful change and speak on salient issues from first-hand experience.
Our vision for the UCL Female Lead Society was to create an inclusive view of feminism, by understanding the obstacles and stories of people around us. We wanted to not only be more supportive allies, but also to contribute to building a more understanding and inclusive society. We organised panel events with prominent guest speakers every week surrounding the themes of Women in the Workplace, Mental Health and Disability, Men in Feminism, LGBTQIA+, and Intersectional Feminism. I acted as a representative for career-oriented women, driving forward constructive dialogues such as equal pay and sexism in the workplace, social impact start-ups with female leaders and women in underrepresented fields.
It was a wonderful experience and I learnt so much through unpacking the most crucial and withstanding ideas in building a diverse model of modern feminism. I was truly fortunate to engage with such driven, passionate, accepting and kind individuals whom I will stay friends with for a long time to come.
Have you discovered any hidden gems during your time at UCL?
The number of hidden gems I have discovered at UCL would be approximately zero as I have only been on campus about five times due to the national lockdowns! However, some highlights from my visits include studying at Dillon’s Coffee in Waterstones, chatting with friends for hours on the lawns of Tavistock Square and grabbing a bubble tea at YiFang Fruit Tea Bloomsbury.
Give us your top three things to do/see/go to in London:
What’s one thing you’d like to see in a post-Covid world?
I believe the assessment method for physics and other such quantitative courses is flawed. It seems counterproductive to examine students on information recall when much of the emphasis on quantitative courses is on the use of mathematical practices to approach problems with critical thinking and problem-solving skills. I feel that the current examination format, so heavily reliant on memorisation, does not determine students’ abilities fairly; it emerges from a system that surrounds conveying knowledge rather than fostering inquiry. This standard style of examinations was something I often faced difficulty with as it required the memorisation of lengthy equations to solve problems, and I would be penalised for recalling equations incorrectly.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, my assessments have been open-book to accommodate the nature of working from home. An open-book exam gives students access to all their resources such as their written notes, textbooks and even the internet during examinations. Although the open-book format has its advantages, it does pose several disadvantages regarding lack of preparation and concerns on integrity. A hybrid, semi-open-book exam is something I wish to see in a post-COVID world, where students are permitted to bring into the examination, a single A4 page of formulae or any relevant information they require i.e., a cheat-sheet. Normalisation of cheat-sheet exams would encourage an enhanced focus on the application of concepts rather than the recollection of information.
Who inspires you and why?
My parents inspire me every day to become a better person, to work hard, to make a difference and ultimately, to be someone they are proud of. They have supported me through every choice I have made, have always allowed me to have the freedom to express myself and persevered in providing me with a good education which has changed the course of my life entirely.
In general, I am inspired by those who find the positives in unfortunate situations and emerge successfully from their difficult circumstances, barriers or setbacks. It reminds me that the choice to live a fulfilling life is a power that resides within oneself and should not be influenced by external factors.
What would it surprise people to know about you?
I struggle to choose one, so here are three things. I am bilingual; I learnt to speak Hindi (a language originating in Northern India) as a child, and I learnt English only after starting primary school. I have always portrayed myself as an extrovert but during the COVID-19 lockdowns, I discovered the introvert within me and would now label myself as an outgoing introvert. Finally, I am a huge early bird and I wake up at 6am most mornings!