Please tell us about yourself

Dr. Charuta Kulkarni received her Ph.D. in Earth and Environmental Sciences (EES) from the CUNY Graduate Center in September 2016. Working with Professor Rebecca Boger, Charuta’s dissertation research focused on landscape change over the past millennium in the parts of Eastern Europe. Charuta received a European Union’s prestigious Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Individual Fellowship (2018-2020) to advance her interdisciplinary postdoctoral research in a European setting. Teaming up with paleoecologists, ecosystem modelers, and policy experts from The Open University and University of Oxford in the UK and The National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), France, she will investigate long-term transformations of the human-dominated forested landscapes of India, examining their resilience against climatic and social scenarios in the light of India’s new landscape management policy.

What did you study? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

Charuta is a broadly trained earth scientist whose academic training and research has spanned three continents. Charuta tells us that growing up in a geographically and culturally diverse land like India, her love for nature and cultures only grew with time, so much so that it led her to focus her education and scholarship on the exploration of their interactions and impacts on one another. She completed undergraduate and graduate degrees in Geology from University of Pune and subsequently obtained a Postgraduate Diploma in Archaeology from Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute, India.

Tell us about your work

In 2010, Charuta came to the United States to pursue doctoral research in a program where she could integrate knowledge and techniques from the natural and social sciences. At the CUNY Graduate Center in the City of New York, she found the diversity—in thought and community –, scholarship, and infrastructure she needed to conduct the sort of interdisciplinary research that compelled her work. The EES Program spans a broad array of subjects focusing on the physical and social aspects of the earth, nature, and space through the work of more than 100 faculty members collaborating across campuses and with other leading research institutes in the City and beyond. At CUNY, Charuta joined a group of paleoclimatologists, geologists, geospatial scientists, and archaeologists from EES, the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, and universities and archaeological institutes in Serbia to study the environmental history of the Balkan region. Using pollen and charcoal analyses, geochemistry, and AMS radiocarbon-based precise age models of Serbian lake sediments, she showed how the vegetation (forest, grasslands, and croplands) in the Central Balkans changed over the past millennium, and was able to assess the ways local and regional climatic and human influences that were responsible for these landscape changes.

Throughout her time at Graduate Center, Charuta Kulkarni was excited to communicate her work with the scientific community and the public alike through scientific publications, book chapters, website and magazine articles, conference presentations, and public events. A Quantitative Research Fellow, recipient of a Mina Rees Dissertation Fellowship in 2015-16, and a program representative of the Doctoral Students Council, among many other activities while in graduate school, Charuta knows that the technical, communication, and leadership skills that she developed at the Graduate Center are critically important to her career as a scientist, and will be immediately useful as she begins her MSCA research this Fall. Key to her doctoral education was getting to spend these formative years in New York City, where she feels a special relationship with the City, saying it’s “the most free-spirited space that hones the sense of multiplicity and urgency through its hustle bustle!”

How does your work benefit the community?

Elaborating on her MSCA research, Charuta explains that the effective management of human-dominated tropical forest landscapes is crucial in the wake of global environmental change affecting biodiversity, ecosystem functions, and the livelihoods of billions. To ensure success of such ecological management, it is essential that both planning as well as implementation is informed by long-term ecological knowledge rooted in robust scientific inquiries. Examples of science-based ecological management are rare largely due to the paucity of high-resolution past ecological modelling studies that can produce tangible analogues and policy-relevant information on a multi-decadal timescale. To bridge this gap in the light of India’s National Agroforestry Policy (NAP) and its wider relevance to other tropical countries, Charuta and her European research hosts will adopt and adapt innovative statistical approaches well-founded in palaeoecology and test the resilience of Indian agroforestry landscapes against monsoonal variations and human impacts, especially human-induced fires. With this project, Charuta and her future colleagues hope to highlight the efficacy of fires (e.g. prescribed burns) in forest management and its positive implications for the efficient implementation of NAP, thereby providing guidelines for current and future ecological management of human-dominated tropical landscapes in India and elsewhere.

What do you love about your job?

MSCA Individual Fellowships are among Europe’s most competitive and prestigious awards, aimed to support the best, most promising young scientists from the natural and social sciences. Charuta maintains that  her education in the interdisciplinary Earth and Environmental Sciences doctoral program prepared her well for the Fellowship’s challenges and opportunities. Under the MSCA flagship, Charuta has been offered substantial “bottom-up” research funding to develop policy-relevant scientific research. The Fellowship will also enable her to enjoy an extended stay in Europe, with placements at three different universities and opportunities for travel thanks to its exceptional personal living and mobility allowances. Charuta is confident that these resources will add to her competence in devising and leading action-oriented, high-impact interdisciplinary research, thereby increasing her employability in both academic and non-academic sectors. She encourages more CUNY doctoral candidates and graduates to apply for MSCA funding, and is happy to lend any help if anyone is interested in knowing more.