There is always a defining moment in our lives when we no longer want to be just passive observers to problems, but rather strive to be a part of solutions to bigger challenges in our society !
Anandi M, our next pathbreaker, Science and Research Communicator at WRI India, works on the editorial and media outreach aspects of the organisation, to better communicate their research through blogs, editorials and other communication channels.
Anandi talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about how her initial training as a lawyer and “on-the-ground” experiences as a journalist influenced her to take up a career in the policy space to drive change.
For students, Keep your eyes and ears open to what’s happening around you; because those experiences could pave the way for your future aspirations !
Anandi, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in the erstwhile industrial town in north India called Kanpur. While growing up, the city was devoid of basic infrastructure. There were hardly any roads, no electricity, erratic water supply and absolute mayhem where there should’ve been law and order. Thanks to my parents’ awareness, I studied at one of the best ICSE stream schools in the city and was good academically. Though much of life was boring to me, I would spend copious amounts of time reading and writing alone. Our school library was not sufficient for my interests, so I read what I found there, and then back at home, I read tabloids, business newspapers, magazines, religious books, basically anything that had print on it. My parents were both working in the insurance sector, so they were never able to give us time. I was and still am an avid reader, and I think that has shaped my career in more ways than one. Existing in that city was exhausting, and there was a constant sense of striving for every aspect of our lives there. To grow out of that, I knew right from a young age that I’ll have to do something drastic on the professional front.
What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?
After completing a degree in law from Amity University, I practiced at the Delhi High Court for about a year. It was a gruelling 11 months. I couldn’t stand to see how shambolic the Indian judiciary was and is. My timing was bad (or maybe good), as I was in the court when the December 12, Nirbhaya hearings were being held. During live in-court sessions I saw the opposition lawyer defend the convicts on various grounds, and it felt deeply personal and inhuman. The legal life didn’t suit my sensitive self and I moved on to pursue a PG Diploma in journalism from the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai. I loved the college though the curriculum and faculty didn’t really guide us on how to survive in the cut-throat journalism industry. After that I thought I’d go for a film writing course at FTII, but life had other plans. I was selected as one of the three scholars who got to spend a semester abroad at Cardiff University and upgrade the diploma to a master’s in journalism. I wrote my thesis on the “State of the Welsh Language Film Industry”.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?
I moved to science communication in 2019 as I had spent 2.5 years in the capital and had lived through some of the worst air pollution days. The constantly nagging summers when new records were being set every year led me to scratch at the surface. In my time as a science and health reporter for Times of India in Pune, I worked closely in rural areas and learnt how the weather conditions affect people especially in rural and tribal areas. So, when the opportunity at WRI (World Resources Institute) showed up, I didn’t want to let it go.
I’ve always had good friends who’ve been mentors. And as a last resort, I rely heavily on my own gut.
Several events influenced my career choices. The incidence of my birth in the neglected and forlorn city Kanpur, and then having to live through the radioactive air pollution months in Delhi exacerbated my entry into the world of science and research communication.
Finally, the opportunity at WRI India (my current job) was certainly the turning point.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path
In 2015-16, at my first job with the Times of India in Pune, I reported on science and health. I had my eyes and ears close to the ground and would observe the massive migrant population in Maharashtra. In October 2016, close on the heels of demonetisation, when I moved to Coimbatore as a reporter with The Hindu, I saw up close how demonetisation hit the massive migrant labour force there. While working with Mint in Delhi for almost three years till January 2020, I took it very personally each time the air quality dipped. It came to a point where I couldn’t just let it be. I knew I had to know more to go deeper into understanding these massive problems around me that were going largely unaddressed by the government. This made me look for a job in the policy space in India, and that’s how I landed the WRI India assignment.
How did you get your first break?
After completing my diploma in Print Journalism from the Asian College of Journalism, in April 2015, even though I was leaving for Cardiff University for my master’s, the Times group offered me to join their Pune bureau as a reporter. I have always wanted to break out of my comfort zone and live in new places. So, even though they offered me positions in Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai, I was bent on negotiating for a newer city that I could explore from a fresh pair of eyes as a true outsider. I think this zeal has helped me aplenty by making my world view multi-cultural and open.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
Learning the local language of the place where you live always helps. Assimilating into the culture of a place by way of its food, people and local traditions helped me understand the city of Pune better. I walked there more than I’ve walked anywhere else. I’ve never had a personal vehicle, as I loathe the idea of owning one, and due to Pune’s incompetent public transport I suffered. I made up for it by walking to most places I could and by turning in more stories than were required of me. The city’s weather is conducive to walking. And I used walking as a way to explore the city and also find stories to write about.
Where do you work now? Tell us about your role
I work as a science and research communicator at WRI India. WRI’s programs focus on solving seven major challenges at the intersection of environment and human development: Cities, Climate, Energy, Food, Forests, the Ocean and Water. We see these issues as areas where change is both urgent and achievable. WRI develops practical solutions that improve people’s lives and protect nature.
I work on the editorial and media needs of the organisation. I bring to this place, my years of writing and editing. I use language as a tool to better communicate our research, not just to a broader set of audiences, but also help sharpen our focus among the existing ones. My aim is to make WRI India’s work more immersive and accessible through our communication. I write and edit blogs, editorials and other communication derivatives for the organisation, which is what I like a lot about it. With my experience as a journalist, I also help in outreach, among a host of a lot of other responsibilities. The work that WRI India produces has a direct impact on the people. This directness is an incentive to invest myself in the work and work towards bigger, better living conditions for all. The immediate outcome and impact are far more satisfying than both the jobs I held before and is a big motivating factor in my professional life.
How does your work benefit society?
At WRI India, we help ideate policies that are implemented by governments, which have a direct impact on people. For instance, at the Lalbaug Junction in Mumbai, the Cities team at WRI India used a participatory, community-minded approach to implement pedestrian-oriented design interventions that in turn helped increase safety for all users.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Keep your eyes and ears open to what’s happening around you and strive to be a lifelong reader and learner. Always have a life outside of work. And last, never mistake passion for profession.
Sharpen my focus in the field of science communication