Different Strokes: The sustainability journey of an academician

In this next piece in our series “Different Strokes”, we are presenting a snapshot of the career journey of a sustainability academician Dr. Nandini Kumar working as an Associate Professor at the Department of Natural Resources, TERI University.

Sustainability Academician
Dr. Nandini Kumar
Associate Professor, Department of Natural Resources, TERI University

What motivates me: I was always interested in environmental issues and so decided to pursue a  Masters in environmental chemistry back in the 80s when this subject was fairly obscure in India and not really fashionable either. A Ph.D in atmospheric chemistry followed and so came about the perfect convergence of interest and education. I had a passion for research and a tendency to delve into the nitty-gritty of everything, but soon realized that so much of the depressing environmental situation we found ourselves in had its roots in the fact that many people were not aware of the effects of their habits, lifestyle and….well, their very presence on Earth!

Journey so far: I thought it would be a good idea to become part of those who spread the word, and began teaching at Masters level. This seemed to me a good way to combine teaching with research – I have had a splendid opportunity to expose young minds to different ways of thinking and have the satisfaction of guiding several bright minds through their Ph.Ds in the environmental arena.

Is sustainability a viable career in India? Sustainability is inextricably linked to our use of earth’s natural resources, and so it is crystal clear to me that no matter what broad area you may be working or studying in, you will, sooner or later, reach a point when you’re up against issues related to the use of resources. I think it would be safe to say that careers in sustainability have more than just a bright future….in any sane world, they are the future!

Personal Experience: What is really unique about a career in sustainability is the fact that you can slip into it with virtually any academic background - you will be able to find a place to apply your knowledge and, of course, evolve. You will see intricate links with every course you can see in a university’s catalogue – law, medicine, architecture, history, ecology, science, economics, policy, mathematics, philosophy, psychology, sociology, engineering – it presents the perfect canvas for interdisciplinary studies.

Advice for sustainability professionals: If you’re troubled by the sight of a beautiful lake defiled by plastic waste; ugly, black smoke from chimney stacks or trucks and cars; if you hate the noise in a city; if you lament the loss of yet another green area to concrete construction; if you love seeing animals in the wild, natural beauty, then you have what it needs to pursue a future in this arena. Of course, you don’t always need to get a Ph.D degree, but you would do well to arm yourself with a Masters so as to orient yourself appropriately. Several universities such as the one I’m currently at, offer this qualification. By the second year of your programme – and this could happen even earlier – you will find yourself developing a definite taste for some specific topic and can then choose to specialize in it. I don’t think jobs are hard to come by; needless to say, a sound academic performance and the ability to articulate your passion will get you doing something you will be proud of.

Image(s) Courtesy:
Jim Linwood