Navigating grief, COVID-19 anxiety, and finding peace in saying ‘no,’ with Morehead-Cain Mentor Lakshmi Murty Goudar ’99

About five months into quarantine in August 2020, I received an email from Megan Mazzocchi (the Foundation’s associate director and director of alumni engagement) asking if I wanted to participate in the Morehead-Cain Mentoring Program. As if she knew I suffered from “analysis paralysis,” the email indicated that the Foundation’s alumni engagement team had hand-picked as my mentee a bright young scholar named Jaya Mishra and gave me little reason to even conceive of declining.

I technically checked all the boxes Jaya was looking for but, honestly, I wasn’t sure what I would have to offer to such an accomplished young woman (Impostor Syndrome, anyone?). However, from the first Zoom call to the most recent, I find our interactions and meetings to be refreshing, helpful, and incredibly impactful. And I think Jaya gets something out of it, too!

At our very first encounter, Jaya shared with me her struggles over the previous year as they related to the death of a good friend and fellow Morehead-Cain Scholar (Wynn Burrus ’20). Having just gone through something similar (losing one of my best friends from UNC–Chapel Hill to colon cancer), it was difficult to listen to her pain without mine resurfacing. 

Initially, it felt inappropriate to become emotional with a mentee, especially on Day 1. But I realized that death is emotional. Bearing witness and being vulnerable is something everyone needs help getting used to. 

I believe that initial interaction set the foundation for what has become a very open and honest relationship. Throughout the last year, I’ve watched as Jaya has navigated school virtually, reacted to the collective anxiety COVID-19 has caused, and become elected president of her sorority—which subsequently prompted questions regarding her impact as a woman of color. 

We have also discussed her other activities, including her Summer Enrichment Program experience working on Merck’s global vaccine policy team in Washington, D.C., research projects, and leadership positions within Sangam, a South Asian student organization. While she undoubtedly juggles it all seamlessly, we most recently talked about the importance of not doing it all and being OK with that. 

It’s something I continue to struggle with today: prioritizing, delegating, and saying “no.” I suspect it will be years before any of our overachieving graduating scholars will truly feel comfortable prioritizing where they spend their most precious commodity—time. But, I am hopeful that starting the conversation with Jaya now will keep this in the back of her mind. 

I look forward to continuing my relationship with Jaya through her senior year and hopefully beyond. Listening to her talk about wanting to make the world a better place for women gives me hope for my son and for future generations. The opportunity to be a part of the Morehead-Cain Mentoring program has been an honor.

More about Lakshmi 

Lakshmi is an adult endocrinologist in Norfolk, Virginia. After receiving her bachelor’s degrees from Carolina in psychology and chemistry, she worked in the private consulting sector for a few years before pursuing medical school back at the University. The double alumna received her MD in 2007, followed by an internal medicine residency at Duke University Medical Center (2007–2010) and an endocrinology fellowship at Eastern Virginia Medical School (2010–2012). 

Lakshmi resides in Virginia Beach with her husband, Ranjit, an adult oncologist (who graduated from the University of Virginia as a Jefferson Scholar in 2000), and their son, Vikram, a tween extraordinaire. 

The alumna and Janora McDuffie-Ryan ’99 are the co-founders of Clip-In Cousins, a group that connects Morehead-Cain Scholars and Alumni through “physical vigor” via the Peloton workout platform. You can connect with the group on Facebook and Instagram

More about Jaya 

Jaya is a senior from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, pursuing majors in global health, neuroscience, and Hindi. On campus, she serves as president of the Kappa Delta sorority and co-chair of the Mahatma Gandhi Fellowship through the Carolina Asia Center. The scholar is also involved in education advocacy work on behalf of the Malala Fund and the Indian NGO, Educate Girls. After graduating from Carolina, Jaya plans to use her experience in women’s health research to pursue an MPH and an MD. 

Connect with a mentor

The Morehead-Cain Mentoring Program is designed to leverage the power of the Morehead-Cain network by cultivating connections between scholars and alumni, and providing structure and support to these relationships so they can develop based on shared values and interests. All rising juniors and seniors are eligible to participate.

“I'm extremely thankful for my relationship with Lakshmi, who has helped me navigate this past year and a half. This mentorship has been such a highlight for me throughout the pandemic, as both she and I have had to work through grief, tragedy, and spreading ourselves too thin.” — Jaya Mishra ’22

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