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Women @ Energy: Sindhu Jagadamma

May 27, 2014 - 3:42pm

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Dr. Sindhu Jagadamma is a postdoctoral researcher within the Environmental Sciences Division and Climate Change Science Institute at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

Dr. Sindhu Jagadamma is a postdoctoral researcher within the Environmental Sciences Division and Climate Change Science Institute at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

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Dr. Sindhu Jagadamma is a postdoctoral researcher within the Environmental Sciences Division and Climate Change Science Institute at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). An expert in soil organic carbon (SOC) sequestration and soil biogeochemistry of terrestrial ecosystems, her research focuses on opening the SOC black box to understand its stability in soil and implications for climate change. Her passion is to pursue research related to understanding the fate of SOC in a rapidly changing climate and during extreme climate events. This research is so important because soil is the largest terrestrial reservoir of carbon and any subtle change in the soil carbon pool can cause a dramatic change in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.

Sindhu began her scientific career in India as an applied soil scientist to promote lab-to-land campaigns by educating farmers on new agricultural practices. Later, she traveled to the U.S. on a Ford Foundation International Fellowship to pursue graduate studies within the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at The Ohio State University (OSU), examining the effects of agricultural practices on SOC sequestration. Sindhu holds a B.S. degree in Agricultural Sciences from the Kerala Agricultural University in India and both M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Soil Science from OSU. She serves on the editorial board for the JSM Environmental Science and Ecology and African Journal of Agricultural Research journals. She is also the recipient of the 2013 ORNL Environmental Sciences Division’s Outstanding Postgraduate Researcher Award.

1) What inspired you to work in STEM?

Early in life, I was inspired to work in the agricultural sciences by my mother who maintained a garden in the backyard of our house and grew the yams and tapioca (cassava/yucca) that were a staple supply of food for our family. I was always amazed with my mother’s skills in maximizing yields from the small piece of land and maintaining the soil fertility by adding wood ashes and turning in some cover crops. Growing up, I was determined to go to college because no one else in my family had a degree at the time. When I was in high school, my chemistry teacher really motivated me to enter science because he made science fun by telling stories and made you remember the material without even realizing that you were learning at the same time!

2) What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?

I enjoy working with cross-disciplinary teams to investigate solutions for big science challenges that will help to inform important policymaking for environmental and climate change issues. At ORNL, I have the opportunity to work on challenging projects using state-of-the art instruments and facilities. ORNL allows easy access to world-renowned scientists who are willing to collaborate on projects and share knowledge.   

I also enjoy working at a national laboratory because it provides the opportunity for a 100% research focus. It is possible to get involved with teaching and mentoring if that is a choice. For example, I have mentored three undergraduate students through DOE’s Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship program. In addition, I have adjunct faculty appointments at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and have gained invaluable experience in mentoring a graduate student.

3) How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?

I personally think the situation is much better in the U.S. compared to many developing countries but there is still work to be done. Steps need to be taken to provide more empowerment for young girls to boost their confidence; for example, we can encourage girls to compete in STEM contests (e.g., Science Bowl) at a younger age, so they can see themselves on an equal stage with boys to help eliminate self-doubts.

Efforts are also needed to retain women in STEM careers. It is important that partners share family responsibilities to allow working mothers to flourish in their careers. Additionally, institutions could offer more consideration when dual career partners are trying to get settled in a new place (e.g., offer job search assistance), and this situation is even more difficult for foreign nationals who have visa issues to consider.

Women scientists can get involved by joining committees to actively work on these issues and propose policy changes. I was recently appointed as a representative from the American Society of Agronomy to the Women in Agronomy, Crops, Soils and Environmental Sciences Committee. I look forward to serving the professional interests of women in the soil science and related disciplines.

4) Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?

You have to have a real appreciation and passion for soil science because soil work can sometimes be a dirty job! For students, you must gain job-related training based on the career path that you would like to pursue (e.g., research, teaching, industry, consulting, or training farmers). You may want to approach your studies differently in order to reach each of these career destinations and design a tailored plan that includes exposure to the skills necessary to succeed in each environment. Also, I recently have learned the power of networking through my personal career coach. My advice is to make connections everywhere you go because you never know how a person might be able to help you or you can help them!  

5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?

Free time, what is that? Honestly, free time is seldom between the demands of a research profession and raising a family with a husband who is also a researcher and two very active sons. It is important to me to honor the traditional roles of being an involved mother in my sons’ lives. On the weekends, I enjoy visiting friends and cooking. As I value family time, we also take long vacations to visit extended family in India. 

For more information on Sindhu's research at ORNL:
“Q&A with Sindhu Jagadamma: ORNL researchers use neutron analysis to understand soil carbon cycling”. ORNL News. July 25, 2013. http://www.ornl.gov/ornl/news/features/2013/qa-with-sindhu-jagadamma

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