Thasneem Banu Frousnoon found her way to her Ph.D. program through her love of teaching.
“English is not my first language,” she said, “but my undergraduate institution required education in English. I thought it was a way to learn new things - a new culture and a new language.
Very quickly, she excelled and began teaching her fellow students.
“I loved it,” she said. “I found a passion for teaching and learning, and I felt the natural next step would be to get a Ph.D.”
After speaking to her now adviser, Dr. Seiichi Matsuda, and seeing the beautiful Rice campus, she decided to head to Houston.
She continues her love of teaching and mentorship at Rice, where she is now a fifth-year student in Chemistry. In 2018 and 2019, Frousnoon organized a Professional Development Fair, designed to increase graduate student engagement with the resources Rice offers for personal and career development.
Frousnoon said her drive to help students led to the development of the event.
“I would meet master’s and Ph.D. students who were struggling to get things done, and I had first-hand information on why this was the case because I asked them how things were going, asked why they were stressed,” she said. “I found that some of this stress was related to professional development. One of the most stressful grad school experiences is when you start asking, what’s next for me?”
She found that many career and professional development resources were available to students, but there was a lack of awareness about them.
“It’s not that Rice is not offering these resources,” she explained, “and utilizing them can really change your grad school experience. I thought, I can be the person that can bridge these things.”
Over the past two years, Frousnoon worked diligently with offices across the Rice campus to bring people, ideas and opportunities together.
“I’ve seen in the past two years how things have changed, and that makes me happy,” she said. “I have met with so many offices on campus and know how much effort they put in and how hard they work and how much they want to help students. I think when students leave Rice, they feel good about their experience.”
It’s no surprise that Frousnoon is such a great facilitator - she is an expert at bringing the right ingredients together to create something magical and said she spends a lot of time experimenting with cooking.
“I do chemistry in my kitchen. It’s a lot of human research without IRB [Internal Review Board] approval,” she joked. “The dish I am expecting is not the dish that comes out. I mix and pour the way I want, and I get something different every night. It’s an exciting life to lead - but there is some difficulty in replicating dishes.”
Frousnoon currently serves on the Graduate Student Association (GSA) executive board and continues to raise awareness about the resources offered to students, and works to bring new opportunities into existence, such as the development of additional teaching opportunities for grad students.
“Helping others is one of the most satisfying feelings you can have,” she said. “When I came to Rice from Sri Lanka, it was a culture shock, but there were so many people here to help, and I found a lot of warmth in offices like OISS. Across campus, there were people who helped me, asked how things were going, and it’s only fair that I be that person to someone else.”
She encourages students to get involved early and join - or build - communities on campus.
“Living at Rice Village Apartments (RVA), we would have small study breaks, and that really built a sense of community in me, and that’s when I knew I could help people. I became someone people could talk to if they had an issue.”
Frousnoon said mentorship is vital to the graduate student experience, and all students should find someone who can talk through experiences before small issues become large ones – and she said it’s especially important for international students to get out of the lab, talk to people, and get involved on campus.
“Many international students have the goal of coming to school and getting things done, but you don’t have to do grad school that way,” she said. “We have so much richness and culture at Rice, and international students bring so much to our community.”
Frousnoon noted that students have an opportunity to become advocates for themselves and each other by getting involved on campus. She cites Rice’s 300 clubs and organizations as a resource, as well as the various Graduate Student Associations on campus.
“It could be anything - book club or tennis club, to something as simple as going to picnics,” she said. “Take a break from research and start some sort of hobby. Find something you love that speaks to your heart or passion. I really recommend that.”