PhD Student Earns Competitive National Science Foundation Grant

by Rashad Mulla

PhD Student Earns Competitive National Science Foundation Grant

Nayantara Sheoran, a cultural studies PhD student, recently won a highly competitive Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant from the National Science Foundation. The award will give her up to $15,000 for research in India. Sheoran, applying for a grant in the science, technology, and society category, proposed that she wanted to build bridges between cultural studies, science and technology. Being selected by this program indicates both Sheoran’s skill as a researcher and her ability to integrate science and technology into her studies, said Hugh Gusterson, professor of sociology and anthropology, Sheoran’s dissertation advisor and an affiliate of the cultural studies program.

Sheoran traveled to India earlier this month to begin her research. Her current focus is on Indian society and the “morning-after” pill, a readily available, over-the-counter emergency contraceptive designed as an immediate birth control method. She is interested in finding out why some Indian women purchase this instead of prescription medication stemming from consultation with their doctors. She plans to study the effects this pill has on Indian society by interviewing women who use this product, advertising executives who market it, as well as doctors and pharmacists.

Determined to begin her field research despite the grant outcome, Sheoran left for India not knowing whether she won the award. She has traveled to India several times to conduct preliminary research as a precursor to her dissertation.

“What really impresses me about her, besides her ability to develop a highly original research topic, is her incredible perseverance and self-discipline,” Gusterson said. “She has spent three years reading everything she can in this area, and then she spent several months writing and rewriting the grant proposal until it was just right.”

Sheoran is in her fourth year in the cultural studies PhD program and has advanced to candidacy. She earned a master’s degree in communication studies and a bachelor’s degree in communication and journalism from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. Her research interests include global consumer culture and advertising in general, and a fusion of the two as they relate to India.

“Her research exemplifies the sort of work that defines the cultural studies program,” said Roger Lancaster, director of Mason’s cultural studies PhD program. “It tries to understand how people make meanings and construct their lives in a changing political-economic context. Social movements, corporate power and media images are important parts of the picture, as is the global backdrop.”

Photo of Nayantara Sheoran provided by Department of Communication.