Dr Siddhi Joshi: ‘The world needs a good lawyer to look after the planet’

12 Aug 2020

Image: Dr Siddhi Joshi

Dr Siddhi Joshi is a marine biogeoscientist and human rights law researcher based in Galway. Here, she talks about her career journey and the importance of gender diversity in STEM.

When we think of scientists, engineers, software developers or researchers, it can be easy to focus on one main strand of their career. But many STEM professionals have several strings to their bow and each element can complement the other.

Dr Siddhi Joshi is a marine biogeoscientist based in Galway, having studied oceanography at University of Southampton, followed by a master’s in hydrographic surveying and a PhD in earth and ocean science at NUI Galway.

But Joshi is also an international human rights law researcher, having completed her Master of Laws at the Irish Centre for Human Rights. “Science needs the law and the world needs a good lawyer to look after the planet for future generations,” she said.

‘I really enjoy getting a holistic understanding of the natural systems’

From her experience in marine biogeoscience, Joshi said the natural world is intrinsically affected by human activity. As a volunteer for Amnesty International in Galway and student of the Irish Centre for Human Rights, she found that it’s possible to prevent or reduce destructive environmental practices using the instruments of international human rights law and environmental law.

“Climate change litigation is one of the key areas of my research, resulting in better regulation of the activities of large multinational corporations. If we don’t look after our planet now, what kind of world are we leaving for future generations?”

‘A holistic understanding of natural systems’

Aside from her law research, Joshi’s current marine science work involves the study of maerl or rhodolith coralline algae habitats and their sediment dynamics. “Maerl beds are free-living coralline red algae, which form biogenic gravel beaches of maerl debris, often known as coral beaches.”

Along with her study of maerl habitats, Joshi is passionate about marine conservation. During a summer placement in Canada, she became interested in marine habitat mapping as a non-invasive method of studying the seafloor.

“Our PhD supervisor was a well-established leader in marine conservation and, after being influenced by a range of professors, I decided to make an hour-long documentary called ‘Maerl: A Rare Seabed Habitat’ to help explain this science to the next generation of scientists as well as key stakeholders in marine conservation.”

Joshi said one of the most interesting parts of her work is observing natural phenomena for the first time in the field, “be it observing the living cold water corals in the [remotely operated underwater vehicle] camera for the first time, or understanding how the ocean waves, tides and currents are driven on the Irish continental shelf”.

She added that reproducing these natural oceanographic phenomena in lab experiments, applying mathematical models to explain them and applying these models to other areas, is another interesting part of the job. “I really enjoy getting a holistic understanding of the natural systems to better understand and explain even a small part of this natural phenomenon.”

Women in ocean and earth sciences

Joshi is also part of the Women in Coastal Geoscience and Engineering (WICGE) network, an international group of women geoscientists in academia and industry. “We recognise the challenges faced by women in ocean and earth sciences and coastal dynamics in particular,” she said.

In 2018, a study from the WICGE group found that although women make up almost a third of the coastal geoscience and engineering community, they represent only about one in five of its prestige roles. “This is due to the male-dominated nature of the science historically,” said Joshi.

The study highlighted gender inequality and experiences of gender bias in coastal geoscience and engineering but also proposed practical steps to address it, such as advocating for women in top roles and encouraging younger women to enter the discipline.  Among its findings, 81pc of those surveyed perceived the lack of female role models as a key hurdle for gender equity, and 47pc of women felt held back in their career due to gender, in comparison to 9pc of men.

Joshi also spoke about being “a minority within a minority within a minority”, as a British-Indian woman and a member of the LGBTQ community. “I have found a lot of perseverance is required when, for example, applying for a job or getting paid equally. It is difficult to talk about these things unless there is a support network out there to help us through these difficulties.”

However, when I asked Joshi if there was anything she wished she knew at the start of her career, she said: “Stay positive and don’t be afraid to be yourself.

It’s a wonderful world out there just waiting to be explored, so go out there and do what you need to do and let the science happen!”

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Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic