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CMU Portugal Inside Story: Neeta Khanuja

Neeta Khanuja is a second-year CMU Portugal Dual Degree Ph.D. student in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) at Instituto Superior Técnico (Técnico) and at the Human-Computer Interaction institute from Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science.  Currently in Pittsburgh, Neeta shared her experience at CMU thus far including the most significant differences between Portugal and Pittsburgh and what she is looking forward to the most while at CMU.

What drew you to the CMU Portugal Dual Degree Ph.D. Program?

To begin with, I learned about the Program because I was already working for almost a year with Valentina Nisi on the MEMEX project, which was an EU project. When this opportunity came up and the applications opened, Valentina suggested I apply. After looking into it, I saw an opportunity to get exposure and have my research network in both places. The whole idea of being able to take advantage of two universities was something that was interesting to me. Also, in my case, I had done a Dual Degree Masters before between Germany and New York, so I knew how the dynamics would be, and I thought I would be comfortable with it. 

What is the most significant difference between studying and researching in Pittsburgh versus Portugal so far?

One of the differences for me was the language barrier. If I had to conduct qualitative research in Portugal, I would have a significant language barrier. When I was in Lisbon, it was my first year, so I think it’s more about finding a research direction and trying to understand what interests you and a lot of literature study. I think that would have been common in both places, the kind of process that you go through. 

It is also very interesting to work in Portugal because there is a very different approach to research in the way that there is a lot of philosophical inclination in HCI, so I think that is a very fresh approach. Versus, I find that it is a very applied approach here at CMU. So, I think it is also very interesting to see how these different places kind of have different perspectives. 

What has helped you adjust from living in Portugal to Pittsburgh the most?

When I came to Pittsburgh before the registration, everything was almost done. I think the Orientation week was helpful to understand a lot of things about a Ph. D. in general. Queenie Kravitz and Megan Berty provided a good support system at CMU because I had many questions about how to plan my program. We have two years at CMU, and three years in Portugal, so I was also concerned about my OPT, but I think everyone is super friendly and super open to brainstorming different ways of how things can be done. In terms of my academic experience, it was comforting to know that there will be people who will figure out a way of doing it. Personally, I find people in Pittsburgh were amicable, so it was not that difficult for me to settle in.

What are you looking forward to experiencing while at CMU?

I am really interested in contemporary dance. There is a drama and dance school here, so I’m actually looking forward to watching some of the students’ work. And the museums such as contemporary art museums. It is something I like, and I’m waiting to get some free time to explore it a bit more. 

Do you have a go-to spot to study on campus?

The Rohr Cafe in Gates Hillman Center. I have my office on the second floor. When I want to work in a café space, I think the Rohr Café is the one I prefer just to get a coffee and work.