Dr. Madhur Anand is a Professor in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Guelph. She received her BSc and PhD from Western University and went on to conduct postdoctoral research at the University of Trieste, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Utrecht University, and the University of New Mexico. Madhur served on the faculty at Laurentian University before accepting a position at the University of Guelph where she is today. Madhur is the recipient of many awards and honors, including Premier’s Research Excellence Award, two Canada Research Chairs, Western University’s Young Alumni Award of Merit, the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce Female Professional of the Year Award, and she was named a Young Scientist of the World Economic Forum. In addition to the accolades she has received for her science, Madhur is also an accomplished poet. Her first book of poems A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes was published in 2015 by was published by McClelland and Stewart/Penguin Random House Canada and nominated for a Trillium Book award for poetry in 2016. In our interview, Madhur shares excellent stories from her life and science.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science (2:19)
When she’s not working on science, Madhur likes to read, cook, drink wine, spend time with her family, watch movies, and write poetry. In fact, her first book of poems was published recently, and this collection combines elements from both her life and science.
The Scientific Side (6:27)
Madhur is an ecologist and a professor. Her research examines the impacts of global ecological changes on ecosystems. This includes studying how things like climate change, pollution, invasive species, and land use changes affect biodiversity, ecosystem services, ecosystem functioning, and ecosystem stability. Madhur conducts research primarily in Canada in boreal, temperate, and mixed forests, but she also works with collaborators on projects in Brazil and India.
A Dose of Motivation (8:02)
“Chance favors the prepared mind.” – Louis Pasteur
What Got You Hooked on Science? (10:06)
Madhur always enjoyed scientific topics in school, even as early as grade school, but she wasn’t necessarily pursuing science at that point. Since she took a wide variety of courses in high school, she could have gone into any area in college, but her parents really encouraged her to go into science. At the end of each year, Madhur had to make decisions that led her to specialize further and further into her discipline of choice. At the end of her fourth year, Madhur accepted a fellowship in a lab. She loved this first research experience and decided to continue on to complete graduate school in the lab.
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges (17:27)
Rejection is one aspect of science that takes some getting used to, and learning to deal with rejection is important. Having her early papers rejected from scientific journals was disheartening because she felt like they were great, but the feedback from reviewers said otherwise. This kind of rejection is not unique to science though, as Madhur has also faced similar criticisms and rejection in writing poetry.
A Shining Success! (20:38)
Seeing her own students excel and achieve their potential is rewarding for Madhur. Specifically, one of the students she mentored was just recently awarded a tenure-track faculty position in the United States, and this was a really exciting victory since it is challenging to land these positions.
Book Recommendations (4:46)
View with a Grain of Sand by Wislawa Szymborska, How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method by G. Polya
Most Treasured Travel (23:28)
The most impactful travel Madhur experienced as a scientist was living and working in Israel during her postdoctoral fellowship. Madhur appreciated the cultural significance of this country, diversity in natural landscapes, the history, and all of the amazing sites she was able to see while she was there. It was also really interesting to do field work in a desert after spending most of her early career working in lush forests.
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories (26:08)
When Madhur first went to Brazil, she was surprised by their traditions surrounding drinking tea. Mate tea is popular, and the people she worked with would carry a thermos full of hot water to make it. The tea was made in a wooden vessel and sipped through a metal straw. Drinking tea was a social ritual, and once the tea was made, it would be passed around to everyone in the group and they would all drink from the same straw.
Advice For Us All (30:39)
Try to seek opportunities to travel internationally. In particular, it can be eye-opening to work in a lab in a different country to see how science is done and appreciate the different challenges scientists face in other places in the world. Also, science and art are not mutually exclusive. You can do both, so keep your options open.
Madhur Anand is an award-winning ecology professor and University Research Chair in Sustainability Science at the University of Guelph. The goal of Madhur’s research is to provide knowledge and tools to better understand natural and human-related impacts on ecosystems and to enhance long-term coupled human-environment sustainability. She studies ecological change from local to global scales and from decades to millennia. Her datasets primarily represent forest ecosystems from temperate to taiga in Ontario, Canada and sub-tropical and tropical forests in Brazil, but she collaborates with scientists in many other parts of Canada and the world including Brazil, China, India, USA, Argentina and France. Empirical work in the lab examines the effects of stress (e.g., pollution or climate change) and disturbance (e.g. windthrow, grazing, logging or fire), and their interactions, on ecosystems. Madhur and her colleagues also develop models and statistical tools to understand complex patterns and processes in natural and human-impacted ecosystems. She has co-authored over 80 peer-reviewed scientific articles and a textbook entitled Climate Change Biology (CABI, 2009). Her debut collection of poems is A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes (McClelland & Stewart, 2015) which was nominated for the 2016 Trillium Book Award for Poetry.
*This episode was originally published on July 25, 2016.