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This Apeejay alumna and researcher is investigating the health effects of particulate matter 2.5

Meet Apeejay Panchsheel Park alumna Pallavi Joshi Lahari who is now working on a World-Bank funded project

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Motherhood and the academic journey have been going simultaneously for Dr Pallavi Joshi Lahari, Principal Project Scientist, IIT Delhi–she is now juggling her duty towards her newborn child and her postdoctoral research. An alumna of Apeejay Panchsheel Park, Pallavi’s area of research is public health. A student of Geography, Dr Lahari talks in detail about her research in an interview. Edited excerpts:

What memories do you have of your school days?

I completed schooling in 2007. I joined Apeejay Panchsheel Park in class 11. The teachers were very supportive and encouraging. They were very good at identifying the right talent in each student and motivated them to pursue it. Immediately after joining school, I was given the opportunity to represent the school team in an inter-school quiz contest. I took the team to the national-level semi-finals. As a humanities student, I was particularly interested in Geography. All the teachers motivated me and told me about the possible options for higher studies. Thanks to them, I had a clear idea about the prospects of taking up Geography.

The general atmosphere at school was very progressive. The teachers talked to us openly about issues teenagers usually grapple with. They guided us well.

Since you joined the school quite late, was it difficult to adjust or make friends?

Not at all. In fact, it was a very friendly environment. The teachers and classmates accepted me very quickly. It was a very smooth journey for me.

What did you pursue after school?

I completed my bachelor’s degree in Geography Honours from the University of Delhi. Then I moved to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to pursue a master’s degree in Regional Development. I completed my MPhil followed by PhD at the institute. Now, I am a postdoctoral researcher.

People usually aim for certain specific subjects in the hope of having a good career. Geography, perhaps, is not a common preference. What is your take on this?

Although I began with a basic Geography Honours, what I am currently doing now is interdisciplinary and policy-relevant. I would say Geography gives you a good perspective on things like climate change, and air pollution, which are very important issues today. The two broad streams of Geography—physical and human—have intersections with climate studies, demography, environment science, and sociology. Currently, my research is based on public health but the foundation for this was laid in my previous courses where I learned about gender and development, social well-being, social determinants of health, etc, all of which are based somewhere in Geography.

Were you always interested in research?

It was actually my plan B. Although I had a knack for research and academia, I tried to crack the Civil Service examination and reached the interview level in 2014. However, I could not make it to the final list. But there was never a break in my academic journey.

Tell us in detail about your research.

My primary research area is occupational and environmental health. My focus for the past two years has been Air Pollution Epidemiology. We are looking at the health effects of particulate matter (PM) 2.5, considered the most harmful, and how it impacts mortality in Delhi, which is one of the most polluted cities worldwide. Two of my papers on the same issue were recently published in high-impact journals. In both of these studies, we have come out with findings that can help mitigate health effects of air pollution.

I am involved in a World Bank-funded project based on the Indo-Gangetic plain (IGP), which is one of the most polluted regions in the world. The project is aimed at helping out IGP state governments and pollution control boards in managing PM 2.5 levels. I have also been involved in training the concerned officials.

Can you tell us about any of your findings?

In our latest study, we have tried to investigate the health effects of the chemical species that make up PM 2.5. We tried to find which species are the most hazardous and what their sources are. By doing this research, we identified particular sectors that are the most hazardous to the health of Delhiites like biomass burning and fossil fuel burning, vehicular and industrial emissions. This was a novel finding because such a study had not been done before.

Is it difficult to balance motherhood with your profession?

My newborn is my second child. My motherhood and academic journey have been going parallelly. I completed my PhD after my first child was born, who is now also studying in Apeejay Panchsheel Park, in the primary wing. I also travelled and did surveys for my work during my pregnancy. I have a very supportive family—my parents have been the biggest pillar of support. 

Disha Roy Choudhury is a Senior Correspondent at Apeejay Newsroom. She has worked as a journalist at different media organisations. She is also passionate about music and has participated in reality shows.

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