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New Ph.D.s urged to stay connected to Cornell

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Joe Schwartz

As she celebrated earning her Ph.D. in the field of economics after five years at Cornell, Ankita Patnaik had praise for her “exemplary” adviser and for the university’s interdisciplinary opportunities.

“It’s been amazing,” she said. “I think I have had the best adviser experience of any of my friends going to grad school anywhere in the world – seriously.”

Her adviser and dissertation committee chair, Francine Blau ’66, has teaching appointments in economics and industrial and labor relations. Patnaik said the ILR School was a useful resource for her research on paternity leave policies, including “how to design them effectively, what are their household impacts on the long-term division of labor, [and] do they help them manage work-life issues.”

“And I personally lucked out big time, because my research is at the intersection of economics, sociology and policy analysis,” she said. “And where better to have access to all those departments than Cornell? I feel like I fit right in.”

Patnaik, who has joined Mathematica Policy Research in Washington, D.C., was one of more than 300 new Cornell Ph.D.s recognized for completing their doctoral studies at a ceremony May 23 in Barton Hall.

In a speech to the graduates, President David Skorton, marking his last Cornell commencement as president this weekend, said, “earning a Ph.D. is a significant and uncommon achievement.”

“You are now true experts in your chosen field of study, and with faculty’s permission, I would say you quite probably know more about your specific topic than anyone who served on your committee,” he said.

Cornell’s cross-disciplinary model for graduate education, he said, has given students “the enviable ability to draw together more than one discipline, integrating ideas and strands, and making unexpected connections to create a fresh and new fabric.”

“I predict that many of you will not only change jobs many times … but change careers over the course of a professional life,” Skorton said. “No matter what those next steps will be, I hope you will use your hard-won skills to … also tackle societal problems – local, national and international – they sorely need solving. And you’re uniquely qualified to contribute to those solutions.”

Skorton also called on the graduates to “stay connected to Cornell” and to its faculty, “and as you gain experience and accomplishments in your far-flung and diverse careers, we all hope that you will help mentor and guide future generations of Cornell students.”

Following the speech, the doctoral candidates individually received hoods from Interim Provost Harry Katz and Senior Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School Barbara Knuth. The ceremony also featured performances of the alma mater and professor Roberto Sierra’s “Montuno” by the Cornell University Wind Ensemble, conducted by James Spinazzola.

At a reception for graduates, friends and family following the ceremony, Anne Rocheleau described research for her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering. She studied the fluid mechanics of the circulatory system and did simulations of the adhesion particles that line blood vessels for a process that can separate tumor cells from the blood.

Rocheleau earned her master’s in chemical engineering from Cornell in 2011, received a Cook Award in February recognizing her commitment to women’s issues and improving the climate for women at Cornell, and served on the Cornell Engineering Diversity Advisory Council.

“My undergrad school was smaller – there were a lot more resources here, and a lot more programs to support students,” she said. “Everyone I worked with, everyone here, was super inspiring, motivating and interesting. The people are the thing I’m going to miss here.” 

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