Mahalakshmi “Maha” Subramanian earned a master’s degree from George Mason University in 2019. She volunteered at a cancer research center after graduation and finished the Koch Internship Program in Spring 2021. During KIP, Maha interned with the Cato Institute and honed her interest in health care and technology. She is certified by USA Mental Health First Aid, a national program that teaches the skills to respond to the signs of mental illness and substance use.
We spoke with Subramanian to learn more about her KIP experience, health care, and how she discovered her passion.
CKI: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Subramanian: I was born and raised in India. Neither of my parents went to college. My undergraduate degree is in electronics and communications engineering, which is the path most students with high marks are encouraged to take. No one really asked me what I wanted to study, what interested me, or what my strengths were. That’s just how things work.
I lost my dad to a preventable and manageable disease, which sparked my interest in health care research. So I came to the United States to pursue my master’s degree at George Mason University in Virginia.
CKI: What drew you to KIP?
Subramanian: I’m interested in the intersection of health care and emerging technology, especially how we can use data and account for privacy. I applied to KIP to explore how to achieve social good through technology while preserving individual liberties. I knew the program would give me the chance to consider the questions that interest me.
CKI: During week one of KIP, participants consider the question, “Why am I here and what do I care about?” What did you learn about yourself during KIP?
Subramanian: I think KIP gave me the language to talk about what I want to do and what interests me. Before, when people asked me what I wanted to do, I didn’t have a single position in mind. A lot of things interest me. I didn’t have a language for explaining what I want.
I discovered that I want to bring empathy to my workplace. To feel fulfilled at the end of each work week, I need to empathize. Before KIP, I didn’t know that. I thought empathy was separate from the hard skills I’m developing.
CKI: What was surprising about KIP?
Subramanian: The speakers were so interesting. Their paths were not fixed, and I could relate to that. They all talked about how they found their passion.
My adviser really helped me. I struggle having conversations with people I disagree with, and my adviser helped me practice this skill. We’d pick a difficult topic, and then would just talk. He helped me discover how to ask questions and keep a conversation going.
CKI: What was your KIP project?
Subramanian: From my own experience with my dad, I know that if you don’t have good health care, the rest of your life is impacted, even your professional life.
I came to the United States as an international student, so I had group health insurance through the university. When I graduated, I no longer had that care, and I didn’t know how to get insurance on my own. So I created a resource document for international students to use to navigate the health care system in America after they graduate. I’m still working to finish it.
CKI: What’s next for you?
Subramanian: In the short term, I’m a finalist for the 2021 Koch Associate Program health care concentration and am awaiting placement with a partner organization. In broad terms, I want to use my research and analytical skills to work on the quantitative side of public policy.
My father died because his diabetes treatment was not managed well. His doctors didn’t talk, and he had to travel far to get treatment. If things had been different, I think he would have lived. I think a lot of people in India have similar stories.
I envision a world where we transition from sick care to health care. What I mean by that is we have a system that empowers people to make healthy choices and prevents diseases in the first place. My hope is that if countries like the United States and Canada pursue ideas and technologies that help people be healthier, developing nations will adopt them.