Graduate Spotlight: Sampriti Sarkar

Sampriti Sarkar is a third year Ph.D. student in the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics (AFRE).

Sampriti Sarkar has been interested in water quality and scarcity since her childhood. Sampriti was born in India and, for as long as she can remember, has always wondered about the health implications from water in home country. From seeing people bathe in extremely polluted water bodies in her community to spending much of her graduate program reading about research, Sampriti is diving further into water-related issues to impact policy. As a third year Ph.D. student in the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics (AFRE), Sampriti has made a strong effort to build her research and take advantage of various opportunities available to graduate students at Michigan State University. Sampriti currently serves as the vice president of AFRE’s Graduate Student Organization. Sampriti received the Allan Schmid Fellowship this semester and has worked to develop a research agenda focusing on water-related issues within Michigan. In her time with AFRE, Sampriti attributes approachable faculty, positive graduate students, and a supportive departmental culture to her current successes.

Why did you decide to choose AFRE for your graduate studies?

In 2019, I came for a conference in Michigan. After the conference I came for a campus visit at Michigan State where I interacted with people from the department, and I felt really welcomed here. The people were really welcoming; they were supportive. They gave me time, talked to me. I also talked to the students, and I really felt like this is a place where I can see myself, where my parents would be okay with me going and living my life, and I really liked East Lansing too.

How have you grown over the last three years in the program?

I believe I've grown a lot. When I came in my first year, I was so naive. I didn't know about a lot of things or opportunities. I was also a bit nervous as it was my first time outside of my own country and meeting new people, but all of those changed in the last three years. Some of these people became my family. Academically speaking, I was made aware of so many opportunities and so many possible collaborations with other departments. I never imagined doing a dual major or interacting with a professor from a different discipline or just talking to professors about new research ideas. I think I've become much more comfortable in this discipline and my academic interests.

What does your research focus on?

My research interest broadly focuses on water-related issues. I'm focusing on nutrient pollution in Michigan water bodies, and water bills and water rates in Michigan. As of 2022, the water bills are increasing disproportionately in the Michigan area, and that is affecting a lot of vulnerable households. This is increasingly becoming a major issue where water utilities are often shutting off services in some of the cities like Detroit. So, I plan to use the Allan Schmid fellowship fund to do a survey in the summer of 2023 to understand consumer's perception of utility bills and their awareness.

What are your hopes for your graduate research work when it is completed?

I do feel it has potential for a broader impact across the country; it brings out a structural problem. The problem is the water utilities, and the wastewater treatment plants are providing services and they're increasingly regulated, but their infrastructure is not strong enough to upgrade to new technology, so they're severely underfunded. Sometimes, they often don't have any choice other than to increase the rates. At the same time, the public are suffering from these increased rates which they cannot afford.

My study aims to find a solution that benefits both the sides and try to suggest policies based on that; that's the broader aspect. To bring change, we need to bring more attention to it and make better policies that can address these challenges. With my research, I want to not only focus on the challenges, but also provide sustainable solutions that can improve the lives of the communities.

What advice would you offer to a prospective graduate student considering AFRE?

First, the kind of support that the professors offer is a strong point of the program. If you have any research topic or anything you want to discuss, you can always approach a professor and get some feedback on the kind of work that you're doing, which is not possible everywhere. That is the value of AFRE, and we are such a large department where you'll find someone who kind of works in your research domain.

Second, the graduate students here are very friendly and become like family. If you're in any kind of trouble, there always are people who would come to help you. That is the department culture; and the workplace atmosphere also drives your productivity. Everyone should consider these things before they choose their workplace for the next four or five years. AFRE has a very positive vibe, and it has a very positive workplace.

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