|Earth and Atmospheric
Dec 22, 2022|4 minutes
Climate research is a domain that demands a lot more effort and importance in the present world scenario. The Fulbright-Kalam Climate Fellowship Programme strives to build long-term capacity to address climate change-related issues by engaging scientific and technical research scholars from India and the United States. United States-India Educational Foundation (USIEF) administers the Fulbright-Kalam Climate Fellowships to address climate change-related issues and promote further mutual understanding between the two through a more comprehensive exchange of knowledge and professional talents.
Manoj Hariharan, a PhD scholar from the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, NIT Rourkela, was recently selected for the Fulbright-Kalam Fellowship by the USIEF (United States India Educational Foundation) for his meticulous research.
Team Monday Morning got in touch with him to know more about the Fulbright- Kalam Climate Fellowship and his achievements and journey.
Born and brought up in Tamil Nadu, he did his bachelor's in Geography from Bharathiar University. He then moved to Madras to pursue a Master's in Geography from the University of Madras. After his exciting time at the Indian Institute of Remote Sensing, he joined NIT Rourkela in 2019, and since then, he has been doing his research at NITR. After discarding the thought of pursuing engineering, he wanted to make a career in Geography, which he thought was diverse and, ironically, was the subject he failed in school.
MM: Research in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences is the absolute need of the hour to take proactive steps in environment conservation. What made you pursue PhD in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences?
MH: I chose Geography, which eventually drew me to Earth and Atmospheric sciences. For my master's, I had to choose between earth science and atmospheric science, and because of the interest created by my professors, I decided on the latter. Due to the project, I got an internship at IRS (Indian Remote Sensing Programme) and pursued a PhD at NIT Rourkela.
MM: You bagged Fulbright-Kalam Climate Fellowships for Doctoral Research. So, what is the selection process, and how did you apply for it?
MH: Fulbright Kalam Climate Fellowship isn't just any scholarship program; it also includes a cultural exchange program. The deadline for the program is mid-September for this fellowship. It is open for doctoral,pre-doctoral, and master's candidates who are academically sound. I had a strong inspiration from one of my lab mates, and I wanted to be a visiting scholar. He was awarded another scholarship and advised me to apply for the same. I was convinced, and I put some more thought into it. My faculties, professors, and visiting professors came of great help during this time. They also asked if the institute could support me in this regard. They gave me many ideas regarding this.
The process is pretty lengthy and challenging compared to other fellowships. Initially, we needed to write four essays; one is about personal experience and relating to research, and the other is about our cultural background and cultural perspective of ourselves. They will scrutinize us on this basis and call us for an interview. The interview had a panel of nine to twelve members. They also asked us to enroll in the TOEFL (a complete form of TOEFL: Test of English as a Foreign Language) program. After giving our test, we sent our TOEFL scores and the US Educational Programme evaluated them along with some other parameters_._ After a thorough evaluation, they sent the final list to their Indian counterparts.
MM: Was there any extra preparation needed apart from research work?
MH: Yes, apart from the research, they are looking for one’s strengths and weaknesses. They precisely assess how well we can assimilate culturally. Typically when you are a visiting researcher, people get alienated by seeing the vast spectrum of people. They ask us to present a write-up about how we will individually prepare to bag this fellowship. Other than that, there was an interview for around twenty minutes. A significant chunk of the discussion was about our cultural standpoint and how our outlook should be.
MM: What was your reaction when you learned that you had been accepted for the Fellowship?
MH: Initially, I was shocked to see my name on the list. To be honest, this was not the scholarship I was expecting. I had also applied for a Visiting Doctor Fellowship, which the Indian Government awards. But unfortunately, they did not open the application portal for some reason. But I am fortunate and feel very blessed to be selected as one of the fellowship awardees, and I thank my faculty, classmates, and professors for the constant support.
MM: What are your expectations from the fellowship, and how do you think it will help shape your career?
MH: I have heard many people say that one fellowship leads to another. This fellowship will surely help me advance in the research domain. With this research fellowship, I am sure I will be working with incredible talents and things I have never expected or thought of before.
MM: You have published research articles in reputed journals before. Please tell us briefly about these successful research papers' stories behind the scenes.
MH: My research focuses entirely on biosphere-atmosphere interaction, particularly the terrestrial carbon cycle. People believe carbon is responsible for climatic changes and other factors. My perspective is very different; I closely study how carbon gets into the atmosphere and how it’s again drawn back into the biosphere. I am primarily working on the photosynthesis extension that we learned in school.
MM: From an outsider's perspective, a researcher's day looks hectic and draining. So how do you find peace with yourself in this exhausting field which needs so much patience?
MH: I am pretty strict with my schedule. Every day I used to come to the lab by 8:30 am, and I would leave the lab precisely by 7 pm. After 7 pm, I would relax, watch videos, read books, and look at the stars at night. During weekends I take a break, wake up at 12, and spend time with myself. On work days, I would wake up by 6 am, and I firmly believe doctorate people also own a life,
MM: What was the role of faculty and professor in the research paper, and how did they help you or contribute to the same?
MH: The field I work in is entirely new to the department. The faculty was supportive, and they helped us in getting more collaboration with the foreign institute. They have been open to new suggestions, and we're also encouraging and supportive. If any of them had denied me support, then I would not have been here giving an interview to you. That’s how important they have a role in my research work.
MM: You have made this paper with a lot of keen effort and analysis. How do you think it will impact our planet, and what is the future of this research timeline?
MH: People are always opinionated about carbon, thinking carbon to be the devil of the environment and climate change. Still, as per my understanding, we should never look at just the outline of the picture. The pollution we see is just the outline of the photograph; in my research, I am taking everyone to the “genesis of this point”. No study is perfect, but I am trying to understand the carbon-biosphere interaction and model platforms through my research. Future research and development will make us realize carbon better as a compound than our present understanding. In that case, we may try a better approach to reduce global warming and have a sustainable life for everyone.
MM: What other programmes have you been a part of?
MH: Apart from this USIEF project, I had an opportunity in my MTech to work for six months at the Indian Institute of Remote sensing, a branch of ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation), in Dehradun, researching fog. I think this was my starting point—many more projects to come.
MM: So far, how has been your experience in NIT Rourkela?
MH: Every Indian Student has a dream to study at NITs and IITs. But during my schooling days, I did not have proper guidance to get through NITs. I feel blessed that with the help of my parents and professors, I got into NIT, and the department I have been placed in is very supportive and encouraging. The lab I have been placed in is like a dream come true for every researcher, and the journey’s been great till now.
MM: While there were a lot of corporate jobs paying well for a 9 to 5 job, what kept you motivated for the research work?
MH: Since I started thinking differently in high school, it has guided me toward research. Even if I had taken some different path, I would have always come back to this. Though the corporate jobs provide a good salary, I don’t like the pressure they put on a person, and that was the one thing that prevented me from taking engineering during my schooling. Once I started my bachelor's, I knew I wanted a doctorate to do something good for society. Since childhood, I have always wanted to be different.
MM: Having pursued higher studies in the same field, what do you have to say about your journey, and what do you think is the future of people seeking Earth and Atmospheric Sciences in India?
MH: I encourage everyone to pursue what their interest lies in, and Earth and Atmospheric Science is one such branch that has a lot to dig upon. Nowadays, money alone does not matter when your life hangs on a thread; we need to work towards the environment and the planet. When it comes to Atmospheric Science, people mainly deal with computerized models that require a diverse perception to understand different models. We also need young, enthusiastic minds to understand the background behind Science and Atmosphere. Concerning other countries, I would say people in India move towards a more settled life in a shorter duration, thus rushing towards corporate jobs. I accept that engineers need jobs, but the earth needs to be sustained, and we must take care of our homes.
MM: Your final advice for budding research aspirants who wish to publish papers but are confused regarding the pre-requisites.
MH: Just go with the flow. Sometimes you will get stuck at a point, don’t lose hope. Given the potential and talent, even if your research doesn't have clarity, eventually, it will do. Regarding papers, we are just young research fellows who will get many rejections. Sometimes it will be devastating, and sometimes it's hard to face rejections. But as a researcher, we must prepare for everything because research is not always positive. You must constantly continue and not slack off at a particular point. Even if it doesn’t come to you and you keep researching at a continuous pace, it will surely come back to you, and you will, one day, reach your destination.
“ In India, there is not much grounding data in my field, and as for my part, I will always try to improve and grow my research in that field and give my best so that people will understand carbon with a better perspective with minimal uncertainty.”
Congratulating Hariharan, Prof. Bhishma Tyagi (Assistant Professor, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, NIT Rourkela) said:
I am pleased about the achievement of Manoj Hariharan. His constant efforts to learn things and keep perfection in the smallest of his works make him an ideal researcher. His planned objective at NCAR involves working on atmosphere-biosphere interactions over the Indian region. The collaboration of NIT Rourkela with NCAR through Manoj’s Fulbright visit will undoubtedly bring more recognition and opportunities for our department’s ongoing researche.
The Head of the Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Department, Prof. Jagabandhu Panda, congratulated all four scholars. Further, briefing on the department, he said:
The Department is set up to provide state-of-the-art education and research in Earth, ocean, climate, and planetary sciences. The department will continue providing the best education in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences with an eye on strong fundamentals, research aptitude, devotion to the profession, and high ethical standards so that more of our students get this kind of opportunity and global recognition.
Team Monday Morning Congratulates Manoj Hariharan for the stupendous achievement. We wish his research journey to embark on the unstoppable pathway and wish them the best in his future endeavours.
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