“Life took me where I was supposed to go.” That’s how Nikita Krishnan ’19, PhD, Mental Health Counseling, describes each step in her journey from being an engineer in India, to becoming a grief counselor in the United States, to now teaching psychology at Pace University and Long Island University (LIU).
“Things just kind of happened,” she said. “There was an organic flow to it.”
Krishnan describes herself as a very spiritual person, and it’s her spirituality that has helped guide her through the twists and turns of her journey. She studied biomedical instrumentation engineering in India and spent several years as an engineer in her home country before moving to the United States, where she realized engineering wasn’t her calling.
“It was more about making a difference, doing something, helping people, and psychology had always interested me,” she said.
At the time, however, she had been accepted into an MBA program. In spite of this, and out of curiosity, she attended an open house for LIU’s master’s in mental health counseling, where the program’s director encouraged her to apply. Upon receiving her degree, she spent several years as a grief counselor, working with those who had lost a loved one through traumatic circumstances.
I feel like you can share your knowledge best when you’ve gone through something and there’s a personal connection.
Then, one of Krishnan’s supervisors in hospice asked if she had ever considered going for her PhD. Worried about the language barrier, Krishnan was hesitant. “My supervisor said, ‘There’s some college in Westchester called Pace. Maybe you just want to inquire,’” said Krishnan.
After a conversation with Pace Associate Professor of Psychology Paul Griffin, PhD, she applied and enrolled in only the second cohort of Pace’s PhD in Mental Health Counseling program on the Westchester campus. “Our cohort was seven women, and we are still close today,” said Krishnan. “We bonded beautifully. A PhD program puts a lot of pressure on you, and we helped each other through.”
This time, it was Psychology Professor Joseph Franco, PhD, who encouraged Krishnan to try something new. In her last semester of the PhD program, he asked Krishnan if she would consider teaching at Pace. Now, seven years later, she continues to bring her experience and expertise to undergraduate and graduate psychology students.
“I’ve been in this profession as a counselor, so I’ve been able to bring that experience into the classroom,” said Krishnan. “I feel like you can share your knowledge best when you’ve gone through something and there’s a personal connection.”
Outside of teaching, Krishnan keeps very busy.
A mother of two teenagers, she’s also involved with a number of nonprofit organizations. Recently, she has been working to raise mental health awareness among people of color and underserved populations. Though language is often a challenge – many of the families she works with speak only Spanish – Krishnan’s goal is to impart a basic understanding of mental health concepts and to provide parents a toolkit for spotting mental health concerns in their children.
“Doing my PhD at Pace has given me a platform to start advocating for this mental health piece,” she said. “My passion for the field of trauma, my push for knowledge, my inquisitiveness, was all given to me through my PhD program and being a professor. The PhD started that path for me, but I see myself challenging myself more now, and I want to create things. I want to create programs – however I can give back to the community, whatever I can do.”
My passion for the field of trauma, my push for knowledge, my inquisitiveness, was all given to me through my PhD program and being a professor.
Joining the Dyson Advisory Board is another way Krishnan is giving back.
“It’s a lot to do with the gratitude,” she said of joining the board. “My PhD department, the Psychology Department, I have a beautiful bond with them. They’ve taught me so much, so I feel like it’s a way of giving back and hopefully staying connected to them.”
Krishnan also mentions her desire to be an advocate for current Dyson students’ needs, given her unique perspective as both an alumna and a professor.
And just like in so many areas of her own life, Krishnan hopes her students focus more on the journey and their own growth than on the pressure to succeed.
“If you’ve learned a concept, it’s amazing when you can actually integrate it with what you’re doing,” she said. “That’s like an ‘a-ha’ moment, and the high that you achieve at that time, I don’t think even an A grade can provide you.”
Learning something new? I’ve always been a singer, but now I’ve started doing karaoke. I used to not like karaoke, but now I’m doing it more.
Go-to karaoke song? It’s all Indian songs, I have a lot of them, a lot of Bollywood music. And Bryan Adams, “Please Forgive Me.”
Dream travel destination? Bali and Egypt. There’s something very mesmerizing about Egypt.
Favorite way to spend your free time? I am so involved with my community. I also love hosting. Every weekend, you’ll see me hosting, having a lot of people at my house. Other than that, spending time with my kids. And shopping! And I love dancing. I love losing myself to music. It doesn’t matter how old I’m getting. I have teenage kids who will be like, “Mom, can you stop dancing?” I can dance any time.
Any book recommendations? I love Harry Potter still. That’s my go-to when I’m tired. I’m finishing reading for the semester so that I can read Harry Potter. On a serious note, one of my favorite authors is Dan Brown, so I’ve read all his books. And Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead is one of my go-to books when I want to read something I enjoy. I also love Atlas Shrugged.