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Smita Misra is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Communication. Born in India, she grew up as a child in Bahrain and a teenager in Toronto. She has been studying trauma since 2012 with experience spanning Canadian, British, and American contexts.

Smita Misra, a representative of Diversity and Student Success's Global Grads, poses near the FedEd Global Center.
Smita Misra

What made you choose UNC-Chapel Hill when deciding on a program/place to study? 

I had applied to the Department of Communication because of their illustrious faculty and high-ranking graduate program. But as a self-professed homebody, I had every intention of staying in Toronto after completing a master’s in England. When I asked a Canadian professor for advice on how to choose between the University of Toronto and UNC, I was told that, as strange as it may seem, a reason for doing graduate work in the U.S. is that it opens up more doors – including the ones back home. I came to study in Chapel Hill so that I could go back and work in Toronto. But the Ph.D. is a long journey. And as anyone who decides to continue on the journey will tell you, your reasons for staying in the program are often very different from your reasons for coming. When I visited UNC during Welcome Weekend, I was floored by the hospitality and care that the graduate community provided. I’ve stayed because my friends and colleagues inspire me and provide extraordinary care and support. I’ve stayed because I have an advisor who renews my passion for research regularly, encouraging me to “find the fire in your belly.” I’ve stayed because the researchers I’ve met at UNC aren’t interested in easy solutions to difficult questions. They put in the time to do thorough, thoughtful research, and challenge me to do the same.

Tell us about your research.

My research aims to build bridges between the clinical and cultural models of trauma. Broadly, I’m interested in medicolegal practices, medical organizations and discourses of trauma and resilience in migration. With a longstanding interest in Refugee Status Determination, I’m currently investigating the increasing demand to involve medical expert witnesses in the asylum-seeking process.

What are some of your favorite places and things to do in your home country?

Ward’s Island is an overlooked area of the Toronto Islands. Filled with quirky cottages, a boardwalk and a spectacular view of the city, it’s a lovely spot to catch the sunset during the summer. Toronto’s food scene is superb. I grew up in Scarborough, the eastern district of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Known for the parks around the Scarborough Bluffs and its multiple immigrant communities, Scarborough is the place to go for Sri Lankan street food like Kottu Roti, Hakka Chinese specialties like Chilli Chicken, and Bengali sweets like Shondesh.

What are you hoping to accomplish with your Carolina degree?

I hope to understand how to engage in and foster interdisciplinary dialogue. There are numerous complex problems confronting us. All of them have social, cultural, economic, scientific, legal and political facets. We can’t address these issues from academic silos.

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