As a major in Biological Anthropology at Penn State University, Saikiran Bomma has made her college education all about the study of human evolution and the biology behind it. But in recent months, Saikiran has also made a study of herself and her goals for life after college.  

Like many students in her position during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kiran Bomma has been keeping her eyes on several opportunities once economies reopen, businesses begin hiring, and graduate-level classes once more seat students. Saikiran Bomma has a set of skills that are very transferable for whatever marketplace she winds up in, considering that much of her education was about understanding different cultures and practices, the intricacies of human evolution, and the development of the human being at the most primal levels.  

Perhaps the biggest lesson Kiran Bomma has learned in her academic studies is that her perspective isn’t the only perspective and that one must be open to hearing different opinions. It’s a piece of wisdom the India-born, but American-raised, Saikiran will always keep as her most important life lesson.

Saikiran Bomma currently resides in Fairfield County in Connecticut.

Why did you decide to study Anthropology?

I was born in India, but I came to the United States when I was very young. I’ve never felt like I quite belonged to either culture; sometimes I felt too Indian to be American, or too American to be Indian. I’ve long had this urge to find a foundation for my own identity. Maybe it sounds crazy, but the reason I chose to pursue my line of study was that my easiest subjects growing up were science and math. English wasn’t my first language, but I gravitated to science and math because they’re universal. Anyone, anywhere, can understand them, they are the same no matter where you go. That led me to biological anthropology, which was a great way to understand culture and humanity and the way people act and why. It combines the hard sciences with more humanistic approaches, such as learning about how different civilizations evolved and how they had the mindset they did.

One thing I’ve learned is how connected we are as a species, but yet we are more divided than ever. Oftentimes, we don’t stop and realize that though we’re not all the same, we’re all still human beings and we all came from the same place at one point in time. Instead of trying to use our differences to create a new culture together, we’re still trying to figure out which culture is more relevant or is more important or more ‘right.’ But I don’t think any single culture is ‘right.’ People create culture, not the other way around. My focus of education has really helped me understand the world and understand myself even better.

What keeps you motivated?

Meetings that set targets with deadlines keep me motivated and working. You need to have a process that gives visible results along the way. It gives me a sense of accomplishment when I can look back and say, ‘Hey, I achieved that.’ For instance, I wrote for a community newspaper back in college. Whenever I submitted an article for that newspaper, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I realized that a few thousand students were going to read the pieces that I wrote and I knew that my words would make an impact on the world around me, even if it was a small one.

Who has been a role model to you and why?

Someone who has been a big influence on me is Halima Aden. She’s a model who made history for wearing a hijab during a beauty pageant. She was the first woman to do so and she got a lot of pushback for it. But she taught young people that they could be themselves and not abandon their own heritage to fit in to a popularity contest. She also wore a swimsuit that broke the mold in terms of honoring her culture. You’re not supposed to show skin in her culture and that’s something similar to my own culture, where showing a lot of skin is considered inappropriate and dishonoring your family. Seeing someone go out there and not only honor her culture but her own femininity made me realize you can make peace with your identity and culture without sacrificing any part of yourself. You can be a whole person rather than being just different pieces of a person.

What traits do you possess that makes a successful leader?

I’m a very analytical person and I have an instinct to search for reasons and causes. I like to think I have the ability to think of all the factors that might affect a situation. I think I’m someone who is objective and will see things from multiple points of view and that is something people look for in a good leader.

Also, I believe I am a keen observer of a person’s strengths and know how to draw out the best in others. I remember working in the lab once and we had an assignment due that was very complex but with limited time to get it done. We had to go through a person’s remains and determine all kinds of facts about them, like whether they were male or female, their age when they died, what they did with their life, and many other details. We had only 30 minutes to deduce all this information and we had a five-person team. We couldn’t afford to waste any of our time. I knew we needed to have the best people to take on each task and I took a leadership position to organize things, giving each individual a role where I knew they could excel. We finished the assignment successfully and I felt very accomplished afterwards. Everyone respected my role in helping lead us to finishing the project and I owe it to my ability to assess the strengths of people and organize them to achieve a goal.

What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?

I got this piece of advice that said: If you measure the length of your ego, it will equal the distance between you and your freedom. It means that when someone tries to offend you, it’s best to switch off your ego. If you’re easily offended, you’re easily manipulated, and being manipulated means you’re not thinking with your own mind. You’re not free. Trying to set your ego aside is the best way to get to the heart of any solution. Because it’s really not ‘you versus the other person,’ it’s ‘you and the person versus the problem.’ A lot of the time, your ego can get in the way solving those problems.

How do you maintain an appropriate work-life balance?

A lot of people don’t think it’s important to try and find a good balance between work and life. This is especially true during the pandemic, when the lines between work and life are getting more and more blurred. I say just make sure you pick a time each night to turn off your email — maybe even your phone — and set aside some time just for you to do something you enjoy, whether it be watching a tv show, reading a book, or taking a bath.