K. Supriya

PhD Student in Evolutionary Biology and Recipient of Schlumberger Faculty for the Future Award

What drew you to the Schlumberger Foundation? What about it seemed like a good fit for you and your work at the time that you were applying?
Schlumberger Faculty for the future fellowship is specifically targeted towards women from developing countries who would like to join academia in their home country. This fits perfectly well with my background and aspirations because I want to go back to India after completing my academic training. I grew up reading about a lot of Indian-origin scientists doing excellent research abroad, and always thought that we need more of such scientists to contribute to academia in India. So, it made sense to apply for this fellowship which supports the education of scientists from developing countries and encourages them to go back to their home country. 

Is there a particular experience so far that the fellowship has enabled, which stands out to you or has proven important for you or your work?

There is an active forum of fellowship recipients to discuss various career options, form collaborations and provide support to each other. So far, I haven’t been much involved with it but it is a useful resource that I can take advantage of. I also have $3000 towards conference and travel expenses from the fellowship that I can now use to participate in a conference in India, which otherwise gets very expensive because of flight costs. 

The application process for the Faculty for the Future program involves not just a research proposal but also a personal essay. Can you say a little about how you approached writing the personal essay, in particular how you went about demonstrating your commitment to teaching and inspiring young women in STEM?

It was actually a lot of fun to write the personal essay, because we don’t get to do that very often. I explained how growing up in India, a country with high biodiversity and a large population prompted my interest in ecology & evolution. I have also been passionate about the status of higher education in India and the representation of women in STEM professions, so the essay was relatively easy to write. To demonstrate my commitment to teaching and inspiring young women in STEM, I drew on my experience with outreach and mentorship. I have been involved with several outreach initiatives in Chicago, most notably EYH Chicago, and also conduct some outreach activities at my field site in India. I have also had volunteers and field assistants from various Indian universities join me in the field every year and several of them have been women.

More about K. Supriya’s research: In eastern Himalayas, songbird diversity peaks at mid-elevations but ants are essentially absent at these elevations despite being abundant at low elevations. I study if competition between ants and songbirds for insects and nesting cavities could be responsible for this observed pattern of diversity.