Dr Pallavi Anand is a Lecturer in Oceanography at the Open University, Milton Keynes. She is an ocean geochemist, who enjoys looking at plankton shells and thinking about new ways to use locked chemicals in shells and sediments to unravel past climate. She is also interested in investigating the impact of increase ocean acidity on plankton’s ability to make shells in the present environment. Here she talks about her inspiration and passion for science. She is taking part in Soapbox Science Milton Keynes on Saturday 29th July 2017.
SS: Pallavi, how did you get to your current position?
PA: I finished my university education and was lucky to get a PhD fellowship in Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, India. There, I was fortunate to receive a Nehru Fellowship for doing a PhD at Cambridge. Following on from my PhD, I did my first postdoctoral research at Free University, Amsterdam and had my first child. I took a short break and then was successful in getting a part-time research position at the Open University. My advisor moved to another institute, which meant that there was a vacancy at the OU and I got the job.
SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?
PA: If I think about it then first point of inspiration came from my surrounding environment and friends in India. As a little kid I was wowed by functioning world around me. I asked a lot of questions (my mum says). What is going on inside living creatures including plants? What makes them grow and how? When and how did it all start? As a result: more I thought, more I asked and more I heard, more I was amazed!
Other than my own curiosity, I was lucky that my parents gave me the freedom to choose where and what to study – this may sound alien in the western world but there are many, especially girls, in this world who do not have choices. I will give you one example that springs to my mind. I took an exam to get a University place in India and my score gave me two choices: I could study botany, zoology and chemistry at the Women’s College or at the Faculty of Science I could study geology, geography and chemistry, with was considered a less prestigious combination of subjects but at a co-educational institutional (both men and women). My dad strongly encouraged me to go to the Faculty of Science and I chose that path. Though my favourite subject was originally chemistry, I fell in love with geology in my first two years and decided to pursue it for my final year. My decision was enthusiastically supported by my close friends and some professors, which gave me much needed encouragement as I was going to be the only girl in the year group studying geology. My parents were surprised but happy with my decision to pursue geology. My dad’s initial encouragement meant that I tried a new subject and made a career in it.
SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?
PA: It is amazing that how much variety we have in everyday life at work. No two days or even two half’s of the day are same – thanks to emails. Every piece of research that we do throws so many unknowns and surprises – it is fascinating! I get to meet people and learn every day, opportunity to inspire and mentor next generation of scientists and pass on the knowledge I have through my experience or gather every day.
I was thrilled to find out last year that I will be working as part of the OU team of academic advisors with the BBC in the making of the “Blue Plant II”. This gave me the opportunity to share my research and knowledge about Oceans to wider public through this programme. Keep an eye for the amazing series of the “Blue Plant II” to be aired in autumn.
SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?
PA: Soapbox Science offers the opportunity to connect to the public to share our enthusiasm of science and hopefully inspire someone. We all are naturally a scientist but we do not realise it. Soapbox Science allows us to talk to people and make everyone realise their hidden interest in science. I want everyone to know how fascinating oceans are in that they are not only responsible for regulating our planet’s natural system but also responsible for every second breath we take. Isn’t this mind-blowing?
We scientists, have to remember to reach out to people and it reminds me of the quote from Winnie-the-Pooh (A.A. Milne): “You cannot stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” I suppose, through Soapbox science I will come out of my corner of the forest
SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? Fear? Thrill? Anticipation?
SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?
PA: Freedom to innovate and discover rather than demand for publication numbers.
SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?
PA: Be passionate, work hard and persevere.