Aarya Joshi, Recent Graduate, BS-MS in Biology

Tell us a little bit about yourself.  Hello, this is Aarya, a recent BS-MS graduate from IISER Mohali, India. I am originally from Pune, a city in India. At the age of 8, like every other kid from my school, I was sent to attend Kathak classes (which is one of the Indian classical dance forms). My status as a student of this dance form continues to this day, albeit with some off periods. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when I say that I love to dance and watch other dance performances including various dance forms other than Kathak. Apart from that, I once was an avid reader of the genre fiction/ fantasy with a mandatory ‘Harry Potter’ phase. I have also read multiple historical novels as well as fiction and biographies in my mother tongue, Marathi. These days I am trying to get back into reading, which unfortunately hasn’t had a high success rate. Nowadays, you can often find me watching some TV show, the occasional K-Drama and reality TV, or watching many movie review videos/ movie commentaries in my spare time.

Background is rock bedrock. Foreground has a woman in field attire crouching near a layer that contains fossils material. Bones are on the ground next to her.
Fieldwork at Hathnora, Madhya Pradesh, India.

What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? And what is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? As mentioned above, I have recently graduated from IISER Mohali with a degree in Biology. My journey into the field of palaeontology is a little interesting. As an undergraduate in my college, I did not have a clue about which subject I wanted to pursue as a student of science. After stumbling through a small project in astrophysics and contemplating a career in developmental biology while simultaneously going through a pandemic without any lab exposure, I came across a few courses on archaeology. I had always held a fascination for this field ever since a field trip to an archaeological museum (Deccan College Post Graduate University, Pune) in sixth grade. After attending these courses, I initially decided to pursue a thesis project in archaeology. But given my background in biology, I was encouraged by my guide to give the field of Paleontology a try. Therefore, I first stumbled into this field as a final-year student at my university. 

My project was focused on a Proboscidean assemblage from the Narmada Valley in India. During this project, I learned how to extract fossils, how to prepare them, and how to document them. I also performed a taphonomic analysis on these fossils. This whole experience made me extremely intrigued about this field and the different questions that can be pursued through this. The sole fact that I was handling something that was present on this earth thousands of years ago and was being used to understand the past environments was fascinating enough for me to decide this field as my career. After my graduation, in an attempt to increase my exposure to palaeontology/ palaeobiology, I am doing an internship at the paleobiology lab at IISER Pune and working on molluscs and some marine mammal fossils. I eventually want to pursue a PhD in this field. I currently find myself interested in looking at the evolution of organisms through time and the different ecological drivers affecting this process but at the same time am looking forward to exploring many aspects of the field as I proceed further with my education.

Do you conduct outreach, and if so, who do you communicate science to? Outreach in this field is something that I would like to take a more active part in. As a university student, I was part of a student-initiated group which focused on some science outreach activities. As a part of these activities, we would go and teach Middle school students from surrounding migrant worker communities (this activity was in collaboration with another NGO called ‘Free Fragrance Tuitions’). We also held book donation drives for nearby government schools. I was also part of the display held by my lab (the Paleo-archeology lab at IISER Mohali) for the Foundation Day of our college. During this activity, we were able to display and give information about different vertebrate fossils to school kids belonging to different grades. I also worked as a junior editor for our college magazine, Manthan, I also wrote an article about a lake filled with human bones from Uttarakhand (Roopkund) in Marathi as part of the initiative to make the content of the magazine more accessible. Currently, I am trying to figure out any other possible avenues for outreach, specifically in this field. One day, I would really like to work on converting the content available about this field and various discoveries related to this field into different regional languages as this will make the field more approachable for many students from different regions.

Aarya and students sitting in a circle looking at books and seeming to have a discussion in the foreground. More students and instructors in the background.
During a teaching session for students at Free Fragrance Tuitions

What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? I don’t think I am in any position to be giving advice to anybody as I myself am an up-and-coming scientist. But I guess the one thing that I would like to say, at least based on my experience is that it is very rare that someone will know what they want to pursue as a scientist from the get-go. Most of the time, you will have to go through many trials and errors until something sticks. This period of discovery can often be challenging and a little depressing. Therefore, not getting discouraged is the biggest key to establishing yourself as someone who would like to pursue science for the rest of their lives. So let’s just work towards that together!