Dr. Anindya Kundu: Sociologist, NYU

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Dr. Anindya Kundu is a Sociologist at New York University. He serves as a Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of Administration, Leadership, and Technology, studying workforce development in the South Bronx. Dr. Kundu's personal scholarship involves researching the concept of agency; he investigates how disadvantaged students navigate obstacles to beat the odds against them. His research makes interdisciplinary connections between sociology and psychology, and his work has appeared on NPR Education, MSNBC, and Huffington Post. At NYU, Dr. Kundu has taught the courses "American Dilemmas: Race, Inequality, and the Unfulfilled Promise of Public Education," "Research on Urban and Minority Education," and "Education as a Social Institution." He won the NYU Steinhardt Outstanding Doctoral Teaching Award for multiple years of excellent teaching. Dr. Kundu is the author of the forthcoming book, “Achieving Agency: Regaining Collective Responsibilities for All Students to Succeed,” (Rowman and Littlefield). Dr. Kundu was a 2017 TED Resident and his TED Talk has received over one million views.

What do I do best & What makes me the best version of myself?

I connect with all kinds of people and form and foster genuine relationships, even if quickly, through my genuine interest in people. This applies to personal and professional life – I seek to find the best in others. I am friendly and an encourager. My close friends like to joke that I’m always the guy that gets free drinks on airplanes. But at the same time I’m the guy who likes to help old ladies put their bags in the overhead compartment. I once had a waiter I met in Croatia message me that he saw a post I made on Reddit.

There is a priceless value to good conversation. Others do the same for me too –they can make me my best self. This is one of the reasons that I love to teach and learn. Those are social processes, perfected in good company.

What are my aspirations?

I aspire daily to be a good husband, son, brother, friend and maybe someday dad. I want to be a sociologist who does good work – connects theories to practice to others see things in new light to help promote justice and equity. I’m excited for my new job: A Postdoc Research Scientist/Associate at New York University, researching workforce development, and college and career pathways in the South Bronx. We’re hoping to be a part of a necessary change, helping communities to get stronger through cultivating the talent of their youth. In a couple years, I hope to be an Assistant Professor, to mentor students, while continuing to write and speak about issues related to inequality.

My Biggest Success?

It’s important to take some time to reflect and feel accomplished once in awhile. That’s what I tell audiences in my lectures and students who have overcome challenges: positive self-affirmation is important to growing your agency. That doesn’t mean to be prideful, because pride can create a lack of self-awareness and subsequent stagnation. But life is a journey, so take some pride in that process. Otherwise, what’s the point? I feel most accomplished in having figured out what I want to do for the rest of my life before turning 30. I have something to constantly strive to become better at.

As far as “milestones” go, I’m proud of marrying an incredible woman (Pamela Villa Kundu), who I continue to grow with, and for completing my doctorate degree this year – which has been difficult, but incredibly rewarding to be able pursue and promote knowledge.

My Most Challenging Moment?

Writing my dissertation. It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get all the research I had done, and all the sociology/education/science-y stuff I have picked up over the years, onto paper. Writer’s block is no joke. I am great with writing quick thought-pieces (sometimes to procrastinate on more important things), but a traditional dissertation is a true beast – a lot of people leave programs ABD (all but dissertation).

It’s especially hard when you want to be proud of the work you’re producing. During this time, I was also testing out the academic job market, which is incredibly humbling and competitive due to the scarce nature of jobs in this field. It tested my confidence. In the end, I got my thesis done, and found an incredible job. But that whole year tested my grit a lot.

My Motto?

Fake it til you make it! I say this all the time. Everyone can be in a constant state of evolution. We make mistakes, but we grow from them. That’s human agency. The “faking it” is a critical part on the road to developing real skills and expertise and I enjoy that a lot.

My Favorite People/Role Models?

My parents (Mita and Aniruddha Kundu) are my role models in life as together they provide me with a strong moral compass. My sister (Jayeeta Kundu, who is my other role model) and I owe everything to their sacrifices as immigrants who provided a better life for their children. They taught me to have a moral compass and find the hidden value in helping others. I remember when I had my first internship in high school, I worked in downtown Portland. I told my mom of the many different homeless men and women I started to encounter on my way into the office. She gave me a ziplock bag and would fill it with tons of coins every week for me so I could pass on the change to those asking for it. It may seem like a naive way to affect homelessness, but sometimes those people just want to be seen. My parents have taught me to see and recognize all people. They are always thinking about the less fortunate, and they started an organization to help young musicians with severe financial constraints to get music scholarships in India, called Sargam Foundation.

In academia, I admire my mentor Dr. Pedro Noguera for being a sociologist who people actually understand and because he tells it like it is. He’s a commanding force who uses his voice for good and I look up to that. I am also grateful for the mentorship of Dr. Angela Duckworth. (Originally Pedro and I were critical of her work on “grit,” but her intentions to help children are pure and worth supporting.) Angela is incredibly kind and has allowed me to converse with her work in a way that is rare (but shouldn’t be) in academia across disciplines. Together we’re figuring out what it takes for all students to achieve despite obstacles in their way.

My Favorite Places/Destinations?

Kolkata, India (The sights, smells, sounds of my Motherland may be sensory overload to some, but for me these are deep inexplicable roots that make me feel a type of peace there); Mexico City, Mexico (Where my wife grew up and a place that is starting to feel like a home. The food is hard to beat); Hvar, Croatia (The pure water and air are intoxicating); Rio de Janeiro (I went during Carnaval and was swept up by the people and music); Portland, OR (Repping the hometown); Miami, Fl, and most recently, Rome.

My Favorite Products/Objects?

I will make this about places. I must be near a movie theater, a gym, and somewhere nice to walk around.  Usually a relaxing bar and good restaurant too. I can’t stand to be inside for too long at a time. Ask my wife – even on relaxing supposed “stay-at-home” days, I have to get out and move around for a bit.

My Current Passions?

1. Storytelling and public speaking. I put the two together recently in a story I told at an event at The Moth recently, about why social justice is important to me. Again, I really enjoy connecting with people, and I think getting out, and putting yourself out there through performance, is a way to engage with people and celebrate both the commonalities and diversity of the human experience.

2. Standing up for the underdog. I always find myself rooting for the underdog team or individual in sports and life. Sometimes that ends up in heartbreak, but it’s worth it. People who root for frontrunners (unless they have some personal tie to one) might be covering up for something. I root for the underdog in my work too: I want to help people who have disadvantages become successful and lead fulfilled lives.