Arthi Ramachandran’s passion for marine biology started in grade 10 when she took a school trip to the Huntsman Marine Institute in St-Andrews, New Brunswick. Arthi completed her BSc in Biology at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada and started her Master’s at Concordia in a microbial ecology lab with Dr. David Walsh.
Arthi got to opportunity to fast-track to the PhD program which she accepted after making sure it was the right decision for her. Along with studying bacteria in the Arctic Ocean, Arthi is a volunteer for a Montreal-based non-profit run by students and postdocs, Science and Policy Exchange, which engages and informs students and the public on issues at the interface of science and policy. She is also a co-organizer of the Montreal Micro Meeting, which brings together microbial ecologists in Montreal for monthly meeting to discuss new research in the field.
Additionally, Arthi is also a part of the organizing committee of the Microbial Ecology Seminar series, which is a student-led initiative to bring international and local speakers to create a hub for microbial ecology in Montreal and promote diverse and
inclusive scientific discussions. Arthi believes that it is just as important to be involved outside of academia in order to gain other critical skills.
Briefly describe your current work and your research.
I am a PhD student at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. I classify myself as a mix of a microbial ecologist and an environmental microbiologist. This is because I study the community composition and metabolic diversity of bacteria in the Arctic Ocean as well as isolate and culture environmental bacteria from the Arctic Ocean. My research focuses on trying to relate shifts occurring in the environment (changes in temperature, salinity, primary production, nutrient concentrations) linked to climate change are affecting the bacterial community. More specifically, I’m interested in how bacteria are adapting to increased freshwater input (due to increased sea ice melt) and increased amounts of terrestrially derived dissolved organic matter (due to increased permafrost melt and river runoff). I am using cultivation-dependent and –independent approaches (such as genomics and meta-omics analyses) to determine the effect of climate change on microbial communities.
What do you love the most about your job?
I love that I have a mix of fieldwork, lab-work, and bioinformatics/computer-based work. I think that this gives me great training in all the components of research. Although, to be honest, my favourite part is being able to go to the Arctic. I’ve been to the Beaufort Sea twice on an icebreaker as a part of the Joint Ocean Ice Study mission run by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. I will be heading to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut in August and Disko Island, Greenland next year as part of the grant I was
awarded by Polar Knowledge Canada. It’s unbelievable and it gives me so much more perspective on the importance of the Arctic ecosystems and the people living in northern communities.
How difficult was it to get where you are today?
It, thankfully, wasn’t too difficult to get to this point of my career. I had very supportive family and friends as well as an encouraging supervisor.
What was the biggest obstacle in your way before your career reached where it is today? How did you overcome it?
I think my biggest obstacle was my own self-doubt and mental health. When I fast-tracked from the Master’s program to the PhD program, I was on top of the moon but with it came a lot of self-made pressure. I started doubting myself and losing confidence in myself as a researcher. It was very hard to motivate myself when I didn’t believe in myself. Imposter syndrome also played a big role in my mental health. I overcame this by first realizing that I needed help and second by seeking out that help. I went to a therapist and while that didn’t help me too much, it gave me the confidence to speak to my peers about my problems. I found that talking to others also facing these same mental blocks during their PhD was really helpful. Together, we were all able to be there for each other and regain our confidence. My fiancé is also doing his PhD so having a very understanding partner really helped me overcome my fears and self-doubt.
What are you looking forward to the most in the future of marine science?
I’m looking forward to using my research and knowledge to shift environmental policies in a more environmentally-friendly and sustainable manner. I am very interested in science diplomacy and policy and hope to go into a career where I can help in the development of policies that preserve the Arctic ecosystems with a focus on food security and conserving biodiversity. We need to show women that marine science is an exciting field with many opportunities in and outside of academia!
How do you think we can get more women involved within marine science?
I think one way of getting more women involved is by increasing the visibility of women already in the marine sciences through increased public outreach. Another way is by
community outreach to youth through science camps, field trips, school visits, and science festivals.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring female marine scientists?
Believe in yourself and don’t sell yourself short. You’re just as accomplished as others around you. It’s easy to let fear and imposter syndrome get to you but you need to remind yourself that you worked hard to get here and you are smart and capable. Sometimes you will see gender and/or race biases occur during your career and it’s not ok that it’s happening to you (or anyone else). Speak up and confront these issues because you (or they) are worth it.
In one sentence, why do you think a career within marine science is a great career option?
Our relationship with the oceans has to be give and take, and we have taken so much from them so now it’s our turn to give, and give big.
Social Media Links
Twitter handle: @arthi_ramac
I would like to give a massive thank you to Arthi Ramachandran for participating in this interview. I cannot wait to share more of your stories and I hope that you find inspiration in learning of other journeys within marine science.
Are you a woman working within marine science? Would you like to share your story and inspire the next generation? Please get in contact with me at email@example.com if you would like to be involved with the Leading Women in Marine Science Interview Series.
Disclaimer: All responses to the interview questions and the biography belong to Arthi Ramachandran. All photographs have been used with the permission of Arthi Ramachandran.