As a member of the Accessibility, Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (AJEDI) subcommittee in AGU-H3S, I have had the privilege of assisting in deploying the WaterPOC database (see it here!). This database was created to promote, lift up, and celebrate Water Researchers of Color by increasing the visibility of these researchers. In this post, I will share a meaningful experience using the database to find a stellar scientist, Dr. Newsha Ajami. The consequent seminar and meeting with Dr. Ajami were informative about the state of water resources in California and inspirational as she discussed her career and work philosophy.
This experience occurred last summer, as I was helping plan my department’s Fall seminar series, a perfect opportunity to use the WaterPOC database. Knowing I wanted to invite a researcher working at the water resources-public policy nexus, I used the database’s search feature with the keyword “policy.” Next, I sorted the result list by institution to find researchers near my university, as I was hoping we may have returned to in-person seminars; alas, COVID-19 prevails. From there, I was able to select each researcher to learn more about their position, field, and research description.
When sorting through the results, I came across many well-known names but paused when I found Newsha Ajami, Ph.D., the director of Urban Water Policy with Stanford University’s Water in the West and NSF-ReNUWIt initiatives. I knew she was the researcher I wanted to invite. I had come across Dr. Ajami’s work in the past through her participation in panel discussions at conferences I had attended and her public service on the National Academies Board on Water Science and Technology, Bay Area Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and California State Senate’s Natural Resources and Water Committee. As a science policy nerd, I jumped on this opportunity to invite such a prominent figure in this realm, and despite her bustling schedule, Dr. Ajami graciously accepted.
Dr. Ajami gave the final talk of my department’s Fall seminar series, where she discussed Assessing water use dynamics under climatic stressors and policy regimes. She took the audience through the stressors most pressing to water security in California, uncovered the social behaviors and demographics linked to water usage, and presented the smart water trading platform she developed for water resource managers. This thorough talk emphasized that most sustained change comes from technological and structural changes and highlighted how scientists are vital to the process. Dr. Ajami was also enthusiastic about meeting with faculty and students – another opportunity I jumped on.
In my one-on-one meeting with Dr. Ajami, we discussed her career and the philosophies that drive her work. She told me about her career and how she became the prominent water policy person she is today. In addition to sharing the key experiences that shaped her career, Dr. Ajami emphasized that her career was driven by curiosity. Her early fascination with math and problem solving and the influence from her grandfather, a railroads engineer, led her to study engineering. Through her studies, she learned of and pursued an internship in dam operation and management in Iran, which sparked her interest in the social implications of water and water decisions. Her passions led her to study hydrological sciences in the US, which led to political opportunities related to environmental issues. If you want to learn more about Dr. Ajami, I encourage you to check out this piece from AGU’s The Bridge blog, but my point is that each step of her career was fueled by the desire to learn more about the things she was passionate about. This is inspirational to me as an early career researcher who often considers the “right” next step in my career and is willing to sacrifice my interests for another impressive-looking line on my CV.
I am thankful for the WaterPOC Database AGU-H3S has curated because it allowed me to find, meet with, and discuss the career of the prominent hydrologist Dr. Newsha Ajami while being inspired by her experiences to pursue things that I am passionate about. AGU-H3S actively maintains the WaterPOC database (see it here!). Help us make sure we hear diverse voices and broaden geographies in water studies by submitting a water researcher here, with their permission. Also, if you identify as part of a racialized group in the water research field, you can also submit your own information!