Grad student credits UC with supporting Ivy League journey

Master’s study leads to next stop: Princeton’s doctorate program

In 2022, Disha Ray completed a bachelor's degree in honors history at St. Stephen's College at the University of Delhi in India. With her sights set on a master's degree, Ray looked at options overseas to find a fit for her next stage of education.  

Graduating from one of the top schools in India, Ray wanted to continue her education at a high-level institute. After some research, Ray set her standards and set out to find the best university for her.

That search led her to University of Cincinnati, where she found what she was looking for. Despite the challenges of moving from India to the United States, Ray thrived in the master’s in history program in the College of Arts and Sciences.

During her studies, she authored several peer-reviewed publications and worked as a graduate assistant, experience that set her up for her acceptance to Princeton University’s doctorate program.

Prospective mentors, support

“I had a list of places where I would have a great fit with a person in the history department, as I was also looking for places that would provide full funding packages and a master's degree that will prepare me for a doctorate program because I knew that would be my end goal,” she said.

Cincinnati checked those boxes, and she made influential connections during her application process.

“Among the places I applied to, UC was my top choice, given that it had funding for a master’s. There were potential mentors for me, and I had spoken to the grad director at the time, Willard Sunderland,” she said. “He was the nicest person that I had talked to in the whole process of my graduate applications, and he was really instrumental in that.”

Moving from India to the United States can be daunting. Many factors can make the transition difficult, from social and cultural differences to academic challenges. Ray credits her department and its people with making the move as smooth as possible.

“I felt like the transition was quite smooth because I had people who were ready to help me, especially the professors in my department,” she said. “They understood that I was coming from a very different setup and needed a different kind of support, especially moving into a new place.”

One of those professors, Department Head Maura O’Connor, proved to play a large part in Ray’s success. 

She's someone whose door I could knock on any time of day, and she would leave whatever she was doing and talk to you..

Disha Ray, UC history alumnus

“She was the head of the department, but she's also someone whose door I could knock on any time of the day, and she would leave whatever she was doing and talk to you. She and I had a lot of conversations when I hit some sort of confusion or obstacle in my research. And as a research student, I think that is very fundamental.”

The feelings were mutual. O’Connor praised Ray for her professionalism, ambition and drive and credited these with helping her set herself up for success.

“She is very talented, smart, and she’s really curious. When you do your bachelor’s outside of the States, it’s a deep dive in your area; it’s not so spread out, so she is very well trained. She loves what she did and is incredibly self-motivated, self-directed, and ambitious,” O’Connor said.

As a student, she worked on many large projects, including appearing on the panel at the annual meeting of South Asian studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This panel is one of the biggest in Ray’s field, and she was the youngest person on the panel. Being such a rare case gave her the exposure she needed to take her next steps.

Path to the future

The past two years at Cincinnati helped put Ray into a strong spot going into the doctorate application process. In such a competitive field, every little thing helps build your case for why a university should consider you. In Ray’s case, however, O’Connor saw something special.

“When you start, you write letters, and students get into different programs, so you have students to compare other students to. In her case, however, she was the first and only student I’ve ever compared to professionals already in my field. She reminded me of them at their age, and I have never said that. She’s really rare, and I compare her to some of the most original, creative historians in my field and her field,” O’Connor added. 

Ray will start at Princeton this fall in pursuit of her doctorate in South Asian history.

Featured image at top: UC master's graduate Disha Ray. Photo/Beth Vleaminck

Headshot of By Tyler Chow

By Tyler Chow

Student Journalist, A&S Department of Marketing and Communication

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