Life as a master's student and graduate assistant

Meet the 2023-2024 graduate assistants at the School of Professional Studies who seamlessly balance the roles of master’s students and leaders.

from left to right, Yihan Gao, Vanessa Booth, David Shafiei and Muskaan Patel

Extremely dedicated and longing to become leaders of the Brown community, four full-time master’s students are supplementing their time in the classroom with graduate assistantships at the School of Professional Studies (SPS). 

Over the course of the 2023-24 academic year, Yihan Gao, Vanessa Booth, David Shafiei and Muskaan Patel have committed themselves to bettering the master’s student experience. From training student leaders as outdoor adventure guides, to advising peers on resume and cover letter writing, they are helping to advance career services, streamline processes and build community.

Yihan Gao '24 Sc.M.

Program Coordinator for Master's Student Affairs

photo of Yihan GaoWhile applying a background in physics to her work in the Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering program, Yihan Gao has developed a passion for combining engineering with her own creativity to solve complex, real-world problems. During her time as a graduate assistant for student affairs at SPS, Gao has helped initiate the Graduate Outdoor Adventure Leader Training Program with the Brown Student Activities Office, SPS and the Graduate Student Engagement Initiative. The program, which launched in November of 2023, provides Brown students with wilderness and leadership training necessary to lead outdoor excursions that are designed to foster a sense of inclusion within the Brown community while promoting physical and mental well-being.

After graduating from Brown, Gao hopes to lean into her varying interests — such as music, digital art, ocean science and, of course, engineering — to positively impact social, environmental and policy-related issues. She encourages new and prospective master’s students to lean into networking and reach out to peers, faculty and staff for guidance. “Remember, you're not alone. You have a fantastic support system here at Brown. So, go ahead and make connections, build relationships, and thrive in this amazing community,” she says.


Vanessa Booth '24 MPA

Graduate Assistant for Master's Enrollment

photo of Vanessa BoothVanessa Booth is a current Master of Public Affairs (MPA) student specializing in Management and Leadership. Her passion for public policy and service ultimately led her to Brown, after first attending the Public Policy International Affairs Fellowship, a national program designed to lead undergraduate students interested in the field of public service to competitive graduate programs.

Outside of her coursework, Booth is heavily involved in a number of leadership positions on and off campus, acting as a representative on the Student Council, becoming a student ambassador for the MPA program and working for Google as a Policy Fellow. At SPS, she aids in organizing application and registration documents for prospective graduate students in the School’s database. When she isn’t studying in the John Hay Library or stepping into one of her leadership roles, Booth can be found relaxing on the Quiet Green, enjoying the Providence Athenaeum.

Booth encourages other master’s students to take advantage of all of the resources available at Brown, including the free New York Times subscription and emergency grant fund. “Since coming here, I've learned so much from academic lectures and special events that the university hosts. There are so many amazing people at Brown, too, who have made the experience so enriching,” she says.


David Shafiei '25 Sc.M.

Graduate Assistant for Master's Career Services

photo of David ShafieiNew Jersey native David Shafiei is a Master of Science in Biotechnology student with a long-term goal of working in the biotech industry as an attorney. Before making his way to Brown, Shafiei studied cell biology and neuroscience as an undergraduate student at Rutgers University and went on to attend Rutgers Law School shortly after. “​​I wanted to refine my people and explanatory skills. My time at Brown will give me the necessary tools and experiences required for success in this field.”

In his graduate assistant role with Career Services, Shafiei meets with fellow students to provide support with resume and cover letter writing. If there’s one piece of advice he would offer to prospective students, it’s to take a leap in the face of fear. “When faced with a crossroads, always choose the path that scares you the most. The only way we can grow socially and intellectually is if we leave our safe bubble and try new things. If that means taking a TA job, signing up for that pitch contest, or maybe even taking that class that seems out of your depth, then do it,” he says.


Muskaan Patel '24 Sc.M.

Graduate Assistant for Master's Career Services

photo of Muskaan PatelDuring her time as a master’s student in the Computer Science program, Muskaan Patel has plunged headfirst into the world of artificial intelligence. “My journey into this field traces back to a childhood fascination with technology, especially the thrill of experimenting with computers and coding labs,” she says. In her coursework, Patel and her peers have done everything from developing a smartphone-based system that tracks intoxication levels through the use of accelerometer signals to re-designing popular games like Flappy Bird and Subway Surfers. 

Outside of her program, Patel is involved in a number of leadership positions. Namely, while working at SPS as a program coordinator in Career Services, she dedicates her time to the monthly master’s student newsletter, managing the website and creating data-driven digital promotions. “This year has been a journey of growth and learning, both in the classroom and in my professional role. My role at SPS has been a pivotal part of my life, providing me with valuable opportunities both professionally and socially,” she says. Patel’s desire for leadership has also led her to become a Graduate Research Assistant at the Data Science Institute at Brown and a Chair of Technology at the Graduate Student Council. 

Patel advises other students to “embrace the journey” and remember that they are not alone in this life transition. “Make a conscious effort to forge new friendships, create lasting memories, and don't forget to explore the beauty Rhode Island has to offer. Enjoy the process, and you'll find that the transition becomes a rewarding adventure.”

“ This year has been a journey of growth and learning, both in the classroom and in my professional role. My role at SPS has been pivotal in my life and has opened doors to numerous professional and social opportunities. ”

Muskaan Patel '24 Sc.M.

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