When she tells her own story, she often puts it into a framework that focuses on her personal history. “I think of my life as being influenced by my family and generations that came before,” she explained. “I like to look to my past for influences that help me with problems.”
In her four years at Georgia State, Balaji has explored a wide range of interests that helped her refine her goals for the future. “In my career and in life, I’ve always wanted to help people, and I’ve always wanted to work with people. You can approach that kind of thing through many fields,” she said.
As a result, she explored many different avenues to find the things that best suited her.
In May 2021, she interned with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation as she contemplated a career in criminal justice. Through that experience, she realized that she was more interested in understanding the neurological and psychological factors that impact people’s decision-making in relation to crime than in working in law enforcement.
That realization led her to join Dr. Erin Tone’s lab where Balaji investigated ways that social anxiety impacts decision-making. She conducted this research as part of GSU’s first cohort of Beckman Scholars. The Beckman Scholars Program allowed her to conduct in-depth research over 18 months and provided funding to travel and present her findings at conferences.
“Learning how to present and learning how to communicate with researchers across the country was a new experience for me,” she said. “Being able to have the opportunity to practice that skill through Beckman was really meaningful.”
Balaji presented her research last year at the Georgia State Undergraduate Research Conference, where she received a diversity, equity and inclusion award, and she participated in the Honors College’s annual Thesis Pitch competition, where she was awarded second place overall for her presentation titled “The Ins and Outs of Diverse Group Interaction.”
Eventually, Balaji plans to attend law school and work in criminal law, but first she will spend some time abroad. She has been selected to participate in the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program and will spend a year teaching English to secondary school students in Bulgaria.
“It’s not anything I thought I’d end up doing, but I like the idea of working with people who are at a stage in their life where they want more and are eager to learn more,” Balaji said. “I mean, I’m still kind of like that, so having an opportunity to work with students who are at that level definitely drew me in.”
Story by Ashley McKelvy
Photo by Carolyn Richardson