Profile with Nikita Kaushal

Nikita Kaushal (India & Exeter 2012) is currently studying a PhD in Paleoclimate at the University at Oxford.  Her fascination with the beauty of nature, and consequent love of the Earth Sciences, led to her travelling across India as an instructor for a wildlife and trekking organisation, and working for ACWADAM - the Advanced Centre for Water Resources Development and Management - a not-for-profit organisation which develops solutions for groundwater problems. Nikita holds an MSc and a BSc from the University of Pune.

Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?

Nikita Kaushal: That would be Pune in India.  I’ve lived there all my life.

Rhodes Project: What piece of technology could you not live without?

Nikita Kaushal: That would be a really difficult tie between something to listen to music on, and something to ride (for example, a motorbike)!

Rhodes Project: What surprised you most about Oxford?

Nikita Kaushal: It’s been a lot better than I expected.  My department is like a candy shop – I can pick whatever I want to do, and all the instruments and expertise are available, and I don’t need to fill in a hundred forms to justify anything before I do it, I just get an idea and follow it through.  That has been the best surprise.

Rhodes Project: When did you first become passionate about climate change?

Nikita Kaushal: I’ve been camping since I was a kid so I was always sure I’d do something involving the environment, but regarding climate itself, I remember a lecture that a professor had given during my undergraduate degree.  He asked, ‘What could have happened, when it happened, to result in the world that we see today?’  It was a great question and really inspired me to think more about climate change, which is just one area that has created the world we live in today.

Rhodes Project: Can you tell me about a favourite past project?

Nikita Kaushal: I worked with an NGO during my undergrad and Masters degrees, looking at ground water.  In India ground water is important for agriculture, and the less dependable the monsoon is, the more people rely on ground water instead.  There is a lot of funding available to help farmers drill wells, and then electricity to draw out water, things like that.  However, there is no policy in place for questions such as where the funding should go, how much water should be drawn out for what kind of crop, and how your regulate the quantity and quality of water being drawn out.  That was a project I began during my undergrad, and it was difficult to leave it to switch to straight research.

Rhodes Project: Can you tell me a little bit about your research?

Nikita Kaushal: I work on stalagmites and stalactites from caves – these are calcium carbonate deposits, and the oxygen from them stores the information of the rainfall at the time when they were first created.  So, as long as I know how old my stalagmite is, I can tell something about the rainfall of that time.  It’s fascinating! 

Rhodes Project: What is the most challenging part of researching climate change?

Nikita Kaushal: I

I think the most challenging part is coming to terms with the sheer scope of it. I remember as a kid wondering how climate has affected the distribution of plants and animals, the rise and fall of civilizations, our eating habits even our religion. I never thought there would be a day when I would study the effect that we are having on climate.

Rhodes Project: What is the most rewarding part of researching climate change?

Nikita Kaushal:

It is being able to understand more about the subjects I raised above. The second part is that academically it is so vibrant! There are so many researchers from so many different fields trying to understand the same thing.

Rhodes Project: What do you plan to do in the next few years?

Nikita Kaushal: I’m going to return to India.  All my research is focused there, and I want to stay in academia, whether in research or teaching, but I’d also like to continue working with NGOs and perhaps policy someday.  I don’t want to see it as either/or, I want to continue in both worlds.

Rhodes Project: What brings you the most joy in life?

Nikita Kaushal: Everything!  I just have so much fun living and trying things, and meeting people, I can’t pick out one single thing!

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