Please tell us about yourself

I did my Bachelor of Technology (B. Tech.) in Environmental Engineering from the Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad (now known as the Indian Institute of Technology (Indian School of Mines), Dhanbad), Master’s of Science in Agricultural and Resource Economics from the University of Arizona and PhD in Economics from Iowa State University.

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When did you realize what you were interested in studying for your PhD? Were there any events in your life that made you realize this, or how did you settle on the such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?

For most part as an undergrad student, I never envisioned pursuing a higher degree, not even a master’s. I was more into student politics, organizing college fests and raising sponsorship for several events. Through these ventures, I only wanted to work on my communication skills that would land me a well-paying job.

However, I was fortunate to have opportunities as intern, field researcher, and for field excursions in various parts of India to attended public meetings towards obtaining environmental clearances for new industrial projects. Public meetings involved various stakeholders– government representatives, industry representatives, and the local population– who discussed the merits and demerits of these projects in enhancing overall welfare of the region (employment, incomes, pollution, etc.). Having been exposed to the social side of environmental issues, I felt that the engineering tools were incomplete at solving problems that people faced.

These experiences, along with a course in environmental policy and legislation, pushed me to pursue a master’s in social sciences with a vision to combine engineering and social science to come up with more innovative solutions. I chose to study economics because it was the only subject among the social sciences where I found some math applications, which were necessary at the master’s level.

For the most part as an M.S. student I never envisioned pursuing a Ph.D. I can say that I was really attracted to the strength of econometrics as an applied tool, and pursuing a Ph.D. was mostly a gut-level decision and not very well thought out, though I was surely encouraged by my professors and peers.

Overall, I think settling on economics as a profession has a lot to do with the liberty of thought and practice that I could afford during my undergrad days, along with a positive atmosphere where one is encouraged to pursue new things (this holds true for almost all of India’s good engineering schools).  I also owe my successful career transition to the flexibility and acceptance of the higher education system in the U.S.

What is the title of your research? Can you describe it in general terms?

The title of my dissertation is “Studies on the factors of affecting the evolution of Agroecosystems in the Dakotas.” My dissertation concerns the rapid loss of grasslands to corn and soybean cultivation in the Prairie Pothole Region of North and South Dakota during the past two decades. The basic query is to formally identify factors that drive cropping in this region, given the climatic and ecological constraints like frequent incidence of droughts and limited soil quality. In the process, I have combined applied economics models with remote sensing tools to study the impacts of local infrastructure, climate change and conservation policy (grassland easements) on regional land use changes in the Dakotas. I have also designed and implemented a satellite image-processing algorithm to characterize historical land use change using satellite sensor data.

What are your plans after graduating?

I have joined Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Delhi (IIIT-D) in New Delhi, India, as Assistant Professors of Economics at the institute’s multi-disciplinary research group called: Center for IT and Society.