GradFUTURES Social Impact Fellowship Spotlight: Pallavi Podapati (GS, History of Science)

Written by
Pallavi Podapati
Feb. 22, 2021

In the GradFUTURES Spotlight series, Princeton graduate students share in their own words about their experiences in one of the GradFUTURES Fellowship programs: the Community College Teaching Fellowship Program, the University Administrative Fellowship Program, or the GradFUTURES Social Impact Fellowship Program. 

Learn more about Pallavi’s experience in our featured story.

Where and when did your Fellowship take place?

I was a GradFUTURES Social Impact Fellow at the American Society on Aging (ASA) in the Summer and Fall of 2020, and the Spring of 2021.


My interests in social advocacy and public policy are longstanding. Prior to graduate school, I served as an organizer in the Appalachian coalfields. In fact, my professional experiences informed my decision to apply to graduate programs. My personal motivation to pursue a PhD in History was to acquire the tools, time, and space to consider the issues important to me more deeply. 

During my first two-years in coursework, my interest in disability--especially how particular historical contexts have shaped our understandings of disability--continued to grow. The dissertation project I am working on examines the Paralympics, and traces how disabled athletes articulated, through adaptive technologies and sporting practices, their own meanings of disability. 

What drew you to the GradFUTURES Fellowship and this particular Fellowship?

When I saw the posting for the Program Development Internship position at the American Society on Aging, I was really excited. Graduate study is a time when we are exposed to and acquire so much information. At some point, we do become singularly focused on writing a dissertation. However, with my prior professional experiences, the intellectual questions underpinning my dissertation research, and living during the (ongoing) COVID-19 pandemic, I recognized the synergies between my research and ASA’s projects and saw an opportunity to meaningfully apply myself. 

Can you share a bit about the Organization and the projects to which you contributed?

In the fall, I began my internship alongside an incredible mentor, Leanne Clark-Shirley, and focused on issues affecting older Americans during the pandemic. One of the first projects I contributed to was coming up with recommendations for how to reshape congregate meals during the pandemic. The pandemic made coming together in large groups unsafe, but ASA and partner organizations came together to find ways to ensure older adults continued to receive nutritious meals and remain socially connected to their communities. Following a series of roundtable discussions, smaller meetings with partner organizations, and additional research, ASA and its partners published a report with our findings and recommendations for congregate meal services.

Other projects included developing a media ‘toolkit’ that provided best practices for writing about aging without perpetuating entrenched and harmful caricatures. Older Americans are not a homogenous group and how we age is profoundly shaped by our accumulative experiences; how we understand aging demands complexity. We need nuanced representations of aging in American society that grapple with the complex entanglements of privilege, inequality, race, gender, class, and geography. This undergirds ASA’s ongoing work on media representations of aging. I also supported ASA’s coalition work on technology as the pandemic made the following questions especially urgent: in what ways can technology be made more accessible for older adults?  And, are the needs and preferences of older adults adequately considered?

During the spring, ASA geared up to host its (virtual) annual conference and I assisted as a panel moderator. I also studied the state of American medical school education and developed curriculum recommendations to ensure future physicians’ training included core competencies in gerontological care. Throughout the summer, my focus shifted to tracking the infrastructure bill and political conversations on long-term care reform and building a care work infrastructure. This research will form the basis for a policy issue brief on needed improvements to long-term care in America.

How did these experiences help you?

While learning about the work of ASA and its partner organizations, I was able to extend my knowledge not only in gerontology and public policy but also in my own academic work. I’ve found that by experiencing a new terrain, we enrich our own perspectives with overwhelmingly positive impacts for writing and thinking. 

Can you share some reflections on the mentorship component of the Fellowship?

One of the greatest rewards from participating in the fellowship program was gaining a mentor. Leanne has provided unwavering support, positively shaped my professional development, and created projects that aligned with ASA’s work and complimented my professional and academic goals. Furthermore, her own prior experience as a doctoral student offered an additional point of connection and understanding. Her perspective, support, and guidance have been invaluable to me. 

Best advice for Graduate Students considering a Fellowship through GradFUTURES?

Graduate students should not hesitate to seek out opportunities that push their own expertise. Finding opportunities to apply and develop your skills in a wider range of spaces is uniquely beneficial to your intellectual development. The GradFUTURES Social Impact Fellowship program is an incredible opportunity. Graduate students gain a broader perspective, mentorship, and opportunities to apply their skills as researchers all while taking part in a collaborative professional environment.


Apply for a GradFUTURES Social Impact Fellowship Here!


Read more GradFUTURES Fellowship Spotlights here!