10 Questions with Assistant Professor Meha Jain

Originally published: 
March, 2017

Assistant Professor Jain's research examines the impacts of environmental change on agricultural production and strategies that farmers may adopt to reduce negative impacts. She does this by combining remote sensing and geospatial analyses with household-level and census datasets to examine farmer decision-making and behavior across large spatial and temporal scales. To date her work has focused on the impacts of weather variability and groundwater depletion on agricultural production in India, and whether farmers are able to adapt their cropping practices to mitigate these impacts.

To learn more about Meha's lab research, listen to her Fast Food for Thought lecture here.

1. What is the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?
After my junior year of college, I spent a summer in Kenya doing research on how livestock grazing was affecting wildlife in the region. It was really exciting because I basically got to drive a Jeep around and it felt like a personal Safari every day. So I would drive between the field station that I was staying at and my field site. Every morning I would see giraffes, elephants, and other wildlife walking by.

One time, it was a bit scary--we were driving back to the field station when somehow, we got between a mother elephant and her baby and the mother just started trumpeting her horn. We weren't really sure what to do because she was blocking the road so my assistants who lived in the area said that the best thing to do was to just sit there and avoid agitating her. Otherwise, she could have just crushed our Jeep! We sat there for maybe an hour and finally she ended up walking off the road. 

2. What is your guilty pleasure?
I love watching crime TV shows, like Law and Order SVU or Criminal Minds.

3. What is your favorite SNRE moment? 
It is hard to pick one moment, but the thing that I really appreciate about SNRE is the  interdisciplinary and diverse research everyone is doing here. For example, my research examines food security issues and I often try to take a problem-based approach that’s less focused on a given discipline or tool but instead more on the problem at hand. Sometimes, I need to think about theories or questions from another discipline, like economics or soil ecology, so if I have these sorts of questions there’s always someone within the building that can help. I think that’s what is so great and unique about SNRE.

4. What is the greatest piece of advice you have ever received?
The greatest advice I have ever received is that everything you experience is something that you can learn from, even if you feel like it's a negative experience. Any kind of failure or setback, I try to view it as a positive situation that I can learn from. This is something my dad would always say when I was growing up and I always tried to look at any potential setback in this way.

5. What did you want to be when you were a kid?
I wanted to be a marine biologist. I’ve always been really interested in nature and wildlife and I always thought it would be really exciting to go deep into the ocean and see all these creatures in their natural habitat that you wouldn’t normally see. Over time, though, I realized I was much more interested in understanding people’s relationships with the environment and decision-making around natural resource use.

6. Favorite OR most desired vacation destination?
I would love to travel to the Amazon, particularly Brazil - I have friends who are working in the area and the rainforest sounds incredible.

7. Describe your first job.
My first job was in high school, working with a chemistry professor in his lab at the University of Notre Dame. At the time, I didn’t really have the skills to do research so I basically just washed all the dishes used in the lab. It was fairly boring but it was nice because I got some experience interacting with a lab and seeing what research is like.

8. What is your biggest fear or phobia?
My most irrational fear is driving. I’m a terrible driver and it seems like every time I get behind the wheel (well, every few months), I get in some sort of accident. So I try to avoid driving as much as possible.

9. Who is your biggest hero/inspiration?
The person who has had the most influence on me in terms of being a role model would have to be my dad. He grew up in a village in India with almost nothing. Through hard work and determination, he was able to get a job in Canada and then the U.S. and created a better life for us. He always said, “If you work very hard, things will work out,” and that’s something that has always stuck with me.

10. What’s your favorite hobby?
I love running as a way to unwind and clear my mind. I recently started knitting again and I find that is another way to relax. I haven’t really progressed from making anything besides rectangles, so I’ve been mostly making scarves and baby blankets for friends.