Mastering the art of Cybersecurity

Meet Kartik Khurana, a master’s student studying Cybersecurity at Pennsylvania State University (PSU). Originally from India, Kartik completed his undergraduate studies in computer science and became increasingly interested in cybersecurity. We at Cybernews Academy spoke to Kartik about his exceptional academic journey, how he navigated his new life in the U.S., and his experience studying at Penn State University.

Honing his craft

While studying for his undergraduate degree in computer science, Kartik completed multiple internships, which were all related to cybersecurity. Toward the end of his bachelor’s studies, Kartik started interning at Health Catalyst, where he was an information security analyst. “This position meant I had to change my domain as I was initially working as an offensive security teamer, but after that, as per the requirements, I had to shift to GRC (Governance, Risk and Compliance).” Through this internship, Kartik secured a full-time position at a U.S.-based company doing what he was training to do at university. Once he had transitioned into this full-time role, Kartik wanted to learn more about his craft. So, he decided to pursue a master’s degree in cybersecurity at Pennsylvania State University.

Pursuing Penn State

Originally, Kartik had a lot of offers from various top universities across the country. "I got offers from Purdue, University of Maryland, Duke University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and many other great institutions." Kartik was accepted to 12 universities across North America but chose Pennsylvania State University for three essential reasons. "My first reason for choosing Penn State is that it's a public university. This means the chances of getting a grant or scholarship are higher than at any private university." In addition, expenses are usually lower at public universities, meaning Kartik could focus on his academic journey. "Expenses are pretty low or maybe even half the price of a private university." The second reason for choosing Penn State University was the institution's legacy. "The university is a prestigious institution with a vast network of alumni and students working in every domain, company, and every university." In all universities across the U.S., you may find a professor who is a PSU graduate, and in all the major tech companies, you may find someone who has studied at Penn State University, Kartik explained. Thirdly, "Pennsylvania State University is one of the top institutions for research and receives the most grants each year. It is very much a research-oriented university."

Master’s motivation

Kartik expressed his motivation for undertaking this master’s degree. “I have worked in full-time employment. However, I wanted to pursue a research-based course to explore my options and see if pursuing research was a good fit. I just wanted to experience what’s out there in the realm of research.” He also explained why he specifically wanted to undertake a degree in cybersecurity. “Initially, in high school, I was very interested in breaking into things without knowing the cause or reason behind it. Moving forward, I was curious about how the systems work. As I explored, I became interested in blue teaming, red teaming, and other cybersecurity-related aspects. I completed certifications and some courses to gain the required knowledge and skillset.” This helped Kartik contextualize his passion for cybersecurity and help him understand how to use his exceptional skills safely and positively.

The perfect program

When asked how he would describe his course to a prospective student, Kartik painted a glorious picture of the perfect program at Pennsylvania State University. "You can pursue any side of cyber security, and the best part is that you don't just have to pursue cyber security. In the same building, there are computer science professors, informatics professors, and HCI professors in different domains. At Penn State, you can talk to anyone and gain new insights and perspectives on your research project." The computing programs at Penn State University are highly flexible and allow you to collaborate across departments with other members of the computing community. His program's flexibility allows him to take advantage of different aspects of cybersecurity and computer science. "You can choose what you want to learn instead of having a definite curriculum that you have to follow. At Penn State, you can choose a computer science course like human-computer interaction or any related topic." Not only does Penn State offer opportunities for cross-collaboration internally, but many opportunities are open to its students externally. "Due to PSU's close relationship with the industry and its broad alumni network, you can land a great job or contact someone regarding your research."

Soft and technical skills

Pennsylvania State University allowed Kartik to cultivate many skills needed to develop in the industry. Kartik told Cybernews Academy that he wasn’t very good at writing papers or reports, but he improved once he attended PSU. “My degree, in particular, helped me to cultivate and develop this skill due to the way the program is structured.” He explained that there is incremental progress throughout the year as students submit assignments and reports each week, which helped Kartik stay on track with creating reports. This structure helped this student improve his skills every week while allowing him to track his progress and review these papers. Alongside honing his report writing skills, Kartik learned soft skills like time management, which, in his words, “has improved exponentially from his first day at PSU.” Alongside those necessary soft skills, Kartik learned some interesting technical skills: “I learned a lot about AI in cybersecurity, and I have been researching this for a while now, so I’m looking forward to exploring this further.”

In the future, Kartik wants to remain in cybersecurity. He explained that he would like to explore AI in conjunction with cybersecurity as a way of securing critical information. Kartik’s main goal post-graduation is to secure a job in the industry. However, he is considering taking on another master’s in a different area of cybersecurity. We ended the interview with some words of encouragement for future students. “If you are working hard and put the effort in, then the rewards will pay off with time.” Another sentiment that Kartik expressed is that students shouldn’t be put off by rejection and focus on the positives. “If you apply for 50 internships and get rejected by 48, don’t focus on the 48. Instead, look at the internships you were considered for.” Kartik’s message is simple: instead of looking on the negative side, look to the positives, as these will help you develop as an individual.