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About the Health of our Ecosystem

Getting candid with Dr. Nibedita Mukherjee

in Biodiversity and Environment/Face à Face by

Editor’s note: Nibedita Mukherjee has certainly left us all a striking take-home message. Human decision-making governs everything, be it science policies, economics, and businesses or mere participation in ecological conservation on humanitarian grounds. These are in need of urgent attention. Only when they go hand-in-hand, knitted together, do we see the progression towards resilience. – Deepthi Mahishi


As the mighty oceans rise and the scorching sun gets hotter, as we surpass days counting dead sharks on seashores and visually comprehend the tips of icebergs dislodged from their molten bodies. The scientific community is struggling to gets its voice heard by the powers that be. As the situation gets increasingly onerous, I had a promising conversation with Dr. Nibedita Mukherjee.

Nibedita is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Exeter, UK. She is actively working on the project “Ecosystem services and businesses” as a NERC postdoctoral fellow. We would be taking a peek into her journey, which began at the roots of mangroves and has now progressed to decision-making and policy effectiveness in biological conservation.




(illustrator: Geetha Ramaswami)

It was during my field trip to the Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary in Karnataka, India that I had the first glimpse of nature in a protected area in India. It was a very humbling experience and subsequently, I was fortunate to have been selected for the Masters in Wildlife Biology and Conservation course run by Wildlife Conservation Society and National Centre for Biological Sciences, India.

As part of the course, we had the rare fortune of traveling from Binsar in the Himalayas (Uttarakhand) to Munnar in the south (Kerala). Everything textual learned till then about nature and culture (and all things in between) seemed tiny in comparison to the wealth of knowledge gained on the road. I was 21, naïve and very impressionable. Nature filled my heart with all its beauty, and for the last decade or so, I have been smitten.



(inset image source: Pixabay)

While large charismatic creatures are easy to fall in love with (and get funding for!). I felt it would be more rational to focus on ecosystems which are highly threatened yet often ignored. “Underdogs” as one of the class-mates (Chaitanya Krishna) used to call them. One of these ecosystems that drew my attention was mangroves.

In fact, a decade ago a paper in the journal Science mentioned that mangroves were disappearing faster than rainforests and could be gone by the end of the century. I had thereby decided to work on mangroves for my Ph.D. at the Université Libré de Bruxelles and Vrijé Universiteit Brussel, Belgium and was lucky to get the Inlaks scholarship for the same.

The Indian Ocean tsunami and a series of natural disasters thereafter have brought public attention and gradually turned the tide in favor of mangrove conservation globally.



(inset image source: Pixabay)


During my Ph.D. I realized that conservation problems are multi-faceted and the fate of a species is largely dependent on human decisions. Therefore, it became quite imperative to understand the social and psychological process underpinning human decision-making. For examples are groups better at making decisions than individuals? Soon I realized that decision making had been investigated in several other disciplines.

I looked into literature, across all disciplines in the last 20 years, that have compared human decision making as groups or as individuals. This led me to my first postdoctoral project funded by the Foundation Wiener Anspach fellowship at the University of Cambridge. It helped me think through some of the biases that affect everyday decision making.



I was unaware of the short forms of British names for a very long time (Ted for Edward, Dick for Richard, William being called as Bill etc.). Once during a conference in  London in 2013, I happened to meet a rather nice gentleman whom everyone was calling Bill. Unlike his peer group of senior male academics, who tended to stick to each other, he seemed very friendly to all early career researchers.

We talked a lot during the three days of the conference and he was very kind to give me some comments on a draft of the Delphi technique. It was a jaw-dropping moment for me when I realized that Bill was, in fact, Prof. William Sutherland when he got up to give the plenary lecture as the President of the British Ecological Society that year. Surprisingly enough, he even mentioned the Delphi technique in his plenary talk! His humble and down-to-earth nature, despite all the popularity, was a big learning experience for me.



In an arena dominated mainly by alpha white males and females, it is often a challenge being an academic as a South Asian woman. It is easy to be considered as an intern or a Masters student. In such a scenario, I think it is quite challenging to establish fruitful academic relationships and to gain the confidence of peers. There is a constant need to prove yourself, be it in Brussels, UK or in any global academic setup.



(inset image: Pixabay)

Beware of the box! People are very eager to put you quickly into a box. This makes it a challenge to reinvent yourself. For instance, if you perform well in say, Task A, there is seldom a chance to try your hand at Task B. Crossing disciplinary silos thereby becomes hard. There seems to be a lack of healthy criticism and humility when it comes to sharing ideas in science in some spheres. However, I have been fortunate to have excellent supervisors both in India and elsewhere, minimizing my exposure to such issues.


I draw my inspiration from the mangroves themselves – may it be a storm surge, a rise in sea level or high salinity, they stand rooted and take in whatever comes their way. When it comes to juggling family and academia, my partner has been very supportive. His infective optimism and encouragement has helped me greatly in sailing through all the moments of insecurity and nervousness in life.

About the author


Abhisheka Krishna Gopal is a multi-talented ecologist, artist, educator, co-founder of Artecology Initiative. She wants to spread consciousness and sensitivity towards the environment. She was earlier featured herself in Sciwri here.



Artist behind the scene


Geetha Ramaswami is an ecologist by training. She is most interested in how plants lead their fascinating and devious lives, how they interact with each other and with other creatures. She is the one behind the cover image of this article.  Follow her work and learn more about her work on ”Invasive species and dispersal networks


Editorial team

1st Editor: Deepthi Mahishi is a budding researcher, with a masters’ degree in Biochemistry, currently working in the field of immunology and inflammation. Also, worked as a Research assistant at IISc. Her love for scientific writing and editing has branched from reading habits, glazed with a rational and skeptical mindset. Being an audacious and thoughtful person, she works towards promoting evidence-based understanding and a science-friendly atmosphere in general. Outside her science bubble, she is a trained classical musician, a culinary chemist, craves adventure travel, hikes and cuddles her puppy.


2nd Editor: Rituparna Chakrabarti is the editor in chief of Club SciWri. She pursued her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Georg-August University (Göttingen, Germany) and is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Biostructural Imaging of Neurodegeneration (BIN), Göttingen. For her, the interface of Science and art is THE PLACE to be! To unwind herself she plays mandolin and eagerly looks for a corner at a coffee house to slide herself in with a good read or company.


Blog design: Rituparna Chakrabarti

The contents of Club SciWri are the copyright of PhD Career Support Group for STEM PhDs (A US Non-Profit 501(c)3, PhDCSG is an initiative of the alumni of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The primary aim of this group is to build a NETWORK among scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs).

This work by Club SciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License




Identifying the lemurs

in Biodiversity and Environment/Reporting from the Lab by

In the last century, we lost many of our magnificent animal species including the Honshu wolf, California grizzly bear, Tasmanian tiger, Barbary lion, Caribbean monk seal, Arabian ostrich, and Japanese sea lion. Additionally, many other species are facing the risk of extinction. Among them are the lemurs – you might remember them as the cute fuzzy creatures from the movie Madagascar. Lemurs are a unique group of primate endemic to Madagascar Island in Africa and are considered to be the most threatened mammalian species on Earth. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of threatened species, out of the 111 lemur species, 24 are critically endangered, 49 are endangered and 20 are vulnerable. This highlights the urgent need to develop conservation strategies for these animals.

In order to do so, it is important to acquire knowledge of behavior, ecology, and evolution of various lemur species, including data on life history, fitness, longevity, and reproductive patterns. Such data can be acquired through long-term studies of known sets of lemurs. However, long-term studies are limited by the difficulties in tracking the known individuals over extended periods of time. The most commonly used method of lemur identification is by capturing and tagging them with unique identifiers. However, this method is expensive, can cause harm to the animals and is not suitable for large scale studies. Alternatively, the researchers rely on the variations in the appearances of lemurs, such as the differences in body size and shape, to identify them. But this is highly subjective and prone to errors and also requires substantial training of the researchers. Addressing these problems, scientists (Crouse et al.) recently published a study in BMC Zoology, where they modified the human facial recognition technology to develop a highly accurate computer-assisted lemur facial recognition system termed as LemurFaceID. This system uses the variations in the facial patterns of the lemurs for their identification based on the photographs.

For the prototype development, the researchers generated a dataset of 462 photographs of 80 red-bellied lemurs (Eulemur rubriventer) mostly from the individuals in Madagascar. Additionally, to increase the size of the lemur photo gallery, another database was generated that contained the images of lemurs belonging to other species. Each image in the database was subjected to multiple pre-processing steps and further normalizations were performed to reduce the effects of the ambient illumination and lemur’s facial hair on the accuracy of LemurFaceID. The corrected image was subjected to feature extraction using multi-scale local binary pattern (MLBP) method. The final feature vector was constructed based on the linear discriminant analysis (LDA), which helped to minimize the variations between the photographs of the same individual. To perform the face matching, the lemur dataset was divided into (i) a training set which was used to train the LemurFaceID system and (ii) a testing set which was used to test the accuracy of this system. Further, in the test set, two-thirds of the images of each individual were used as a gallery in the system database, while the remaining one-third of the images were used as queries. Each query consisted of one or more images which were identified against the gallery database.

The researchers conducted the face recognition experiments in two different modes. The open-set mode was based on the assumption that during the experiments, queries might be encountered that may not match with any of the images in the gallery. This corresponds to the conditions in the wild, where one might encounter novel lemur individuals which were not spotted before and are consequently absent from the dataset. On the other hand, experiments in the closed-set mode were performed with the assumption that all the query lemurs were present in the gallery. This simulates the condition in the captive lemur colonies where all the individuals are already identified. Across a 100 trials performed in the closed-set mode, LemurFaceID identified lemurs with an accuracy of about 93.3% for a 1-image query and 98.7% for a 2-image query. However, the results with the open-set mode were less accurate suggesting a need to further improve the technique perhaps by increasing the size of the lemur database. In the future, the researchers plan to test the system in the field to compare its accuracy with that of the trained and untrained field observers.

The LemurFaceID provides a novel tool that will greatly facilitate the long-term research of known lemur populations and will help to develop informed strategies for lemur conservation. As lemurs also face the threat of being live-captured to be kept as pets, this technique can be developed into a tool to identify the captive lemurs and report their sightings. IUCN has started the lemur conservation program under the auspices of Save Our Species (SOS) initiative and has been trying to tackle various threats faced by lemurs. LemurFaceID can boost the IUCN’s efforts to conserve the lemur populations. In the future, face recognition tools similar to LemurFaceID can be developed for other animals that show similar variations in facial and skin patterns, such as bears and red pandas. Such innovative approaches, combined with advanced technology, have the potential to create better solutions for conserving our biodiversity.

Journal reference:

Crouse D, Jacobs RL, Richardson Z, Klum S, Jain A, Baden AL, Tecot SR. LemurFaceID: a face recognition system to facilitate individual identification of lemurs. BMC Zoology. 2017, 2:2. DOI: 10.1186/s40850-016-0011-9.

Other references:

Featured image source: Pixabay

About the author:

Isha Verma is currently pursuing her PhD in Stem cell research from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. She loves reading and traveling.

Edited by: Radhika Raheja

Pooja: When a film maker becomes a science communicator

in Biodiversity and Environment/Uncategorized by

I have wondered if there is psychological factor driving one to work hard towards making their aspirations come true. Our society is mainly fuelled by the notion of success and growth.

Pooja started painting while she was in third grade. Her passion for painting and sketching continued every summer. She obtained her formal education in fine arts. She always felt that studying fine arts in school robbed the real art space. Nevertheless, by the time she graduated from high school, Pooja Gupta was a water-color queen (and revered for the same in her undergraduate).

Maria Papova, thinker of the modern times has taught that one should be always allowed to change their mind. I have been fortunate interacting with such people. Pooja also switched from commerce to film making. At present she is working on wildlife conservation and related projects, she made a remarkable insight, while paintings invites attention and appreciation, film making captures the real emotion thereby enabling a direct call to action. Unlike painting, film making invites participation towards a solution.

Pencil work by Pooja

The end product of her degree was a film on caged birds that questioned the concept of captivating birds and animals. This work provided positive reinforcement and she extended her niche covering nature and animals. Through extensive networking, she got the opportunity to make a movie on mangrove trees in Andaman Island after tsunami.

She has gone back to science with love for it than she ever had at school. Her story is yet another reminder to the society questioning how education ruins curiosity. Fortunately, she found her way back. She is instilling the same interest in young kids by organizing educational field tours. Traditional school is not for everyone, she observes. This resonates with sentiments expressed by Abhisheka. Hence this effort made by her in the direction of alternative education will hopefully bring a new of generation of truly learned individuals.

She believes Art is a practice and not an exam. She is on a mission to use art of film making for science. She works towards the goals of creating awareness, spreading education, inciting appreciation (for nature), and satisfying curiosity. I sincerely hope that her work spirals a butterfly effect that culminates in rescuing an ecosystem from destruction.

Digital work by Pooja

Her story, along with several others is a reminder for me that, certainly amongst us, will find our way to do things that we really want despite having been fed to the education factory.

The destruction in natural resources and environment are often justified by causes of growth and development. People like Pooja might train a new, more sensible generation, which understands the value of preservation in development of society and economy.

Here is the link a team initiative she is involved in: https://


About the Author:

Ipsa Jain is Ph.D. student at IISc. Wants to gather and spread interestingness. Prefers drawing and painting over writing. Posts on Facebook and Instagram as Ipsawonders.




Arjun Srivathsa: scientist and communicator and cartoonist

in Biodiversity and Environment/Face à Face/Theory of Creativity by

The daily ritual of pipetting cells and solutions made me realize that I’ve been oblivious and was living in a different world. On my journey to becoming a science illustrator, I was under the impression that there were a mere handful of them in the world. As I progressively talked to people, I realized it was only my ignorance. While I try to make my footing as an illustrator, it’s my privilege to showcase my fellow illustrators. Although some of them are exclusive and have a defined niche, I aim to reveal their stories and journeys for more people to learn. I sometimes wonder if I am the child of Horace Slughorn. Like Horace, I see myself at the center of a web where each thread connects an artist. While Horace exploited his network for pineapple candies and free tickets, I am going to use this web to bring out motivating stories for as long as I am able to spin more threads. I had the pleasure to meet Arjun Srivathsa, a wildlife artist and cartoonist. He dons the hats of a wildlife researcher, conservation scientist, and an artist. Following is our conversation:

I.J.  How/when did you make the choice to be a biologist and that too a wildlife researcher?

​A.S. Ever since I can remember. I profoundly loved animals as a child- as most children do, I guess. Starting with high school and all the way through college, our teachers or professors would ask us to introduce ourselves to the class. My stereotypical answer to that was I wanted to become a ‘zoologist’; I didn’t know that wildlife biology was a separate field of study. Following an undergraduate course in life sciences (with Chemistry, Botany, and Zoology as the core subjects), I pursued a M.Sc. in Wildlife Biology and Conservation. A Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Ecology has been somewhat of a natural progression.   

Wildlife tourists By Arjun
Wildlife tourists By Arjun

I.J. When did you realize your passion to be an artist? Was it during your M.Sc.?

​A.S. I have been an artist all my life, although I didn’t learn it professionally. It started out as a hobby that I continued to pursue. I would doodle on all my school notebooks- animals, cartoons, caricatures of my teachers and what not. During my undergraduate years, I spent quite some time on my art. That’s when I experimented with oils for the first time. It continues to remain my favorite medium. But now, I don’t get a lot of time to draw on canvas. So, I’ve switched to digital art. Although I don’t enjoy it much, it’s much faster.

I.J.  What’s your inspiration for art? What are your favorite subjects/style?

​A.S. Most (almost all) of my artworks are inspired by nature and wildlife. I enjoy working with oils on canvas, acrylics, color pencils, etching/stippling and cartooning. It’s been 4  years since I dwelled into digital art. I found it useful for making cartoons (although not as gratifying as traditional media). It also became a very handy tool for combining art and science to create my “science-toons”. I now use these science-toons for science communication and conservation awareness. 

I.J. How has the response been to your art from the scientific and non-scientific audience?

A.S.Art in Science or #SciArt – as it’s known on social media – is a very powerful tool for science communication. A lot of scientists lack the skill of science communication. It is often difficult to let go of statistical jargon and esoteric nuances of our fields and “dumb-down” science for non-scientists. Art bridges that gap in a very effective and innovative way. I also received positive feedback from scientists regarding my work. And the main reason I started communicating science via art was that someone who’s not remotely connected to academics can learn and appreciate the work of Indian wildlife scientists and conservationists. While it is difficult to accurately measure my artistic impact, I think it’s certainly not negligible. My cartoons have been used for fund-raising, creating awareness, sustainable harvest of marine fish, education of school children in distant villages etc.  

King Cobra by Arjun
King Cobra by Arjun

I.J. Is art only a hobby or do you also freelance?

​A.S.  Both. I use art to de-stress from the relatively exhausting academic life. I publish a lot on social media. But, I also freelance when people or organizations approach me with projects. I strongly believe in an endeavor involving goodwill and creative freedom. So, most of my work (if not commissioned) are free for anyone to use as long as their purpose is to create awareness on wildlife conservation or nature education.

I.J. How supportive have your PIs/teachers been when you engage in art as an expression?

​A.S. It’s a bit difficult to answer this question. My PIs/mentors have never hindered my endeavors. Sadly, in our institutionalized academic scenario, science communication or nature education etc. generally do not count as units of success or achievement. It is yet to qualify in the league of conference presentations or journal publications. So, while my mentors have always been supportive, there are no mechanisms (that I know of) where this can be formalized and be given more credence. 

I.J.  Are there any stories/anecdotes that you would like to share?

​A.S. I was giving a talk at a climate change-themed event a couple of years ago, and I used some of my artwork from the science-toon series to elaborate about the sea food crisis and crash in marine fish stocks. I have learnt from my experience that it’s not easy to convince people to change their food preferences. But at the end of my talk, one person raised his hand, thanked me for the information, and pledged to give up sea food. I used 9-10 cartoon panels to convey the scientific information published in some top-notch journals. Although I’m not sure whether those papers made an impact or not, I was glad that the medium I chose was powerful enough to change at least one person’s attitude. I wish more scientists engaged in science communication. They don’t have to do it themselves, but liaising with communicators, artists, and educators can make science accessible to the common man.

Elephant Iworry by Arjun
Elephant Iworry by Arjun

Proust had once said that habits ruined lives. “A blanket or a shroud of familiarity that descends between us and everything that matters dulls our senses and stops us appreciating everything, from the beauty of a sunset to our work, and our friends.” He believed it’s the artists who can “strip away this habit and return life to its deserved glory.” While my ignorance about science-artists has been rectified, my appreciation for their work continues to grow. I hope their cumulative work will shine more light in the daily lives of scientists and pave a way for an elegant expression of science.


About the author:

Ipsa is a Ph.D. student at IISc Bangalore, India. She wants to gather and spread interestingness. She prefers painting and drawing over writing. She posts on Facebook and Instagram as Ipsawonders.


Rohan: Wildlife ‘cartoonizer’

in Biodiversity and Environment by

I am yet to meet someone who decided to be an artist early on and work their way up. I wonder if as a society we don’t allow the young to make that decision. While we root for them if they want to be doctors and pilots and engineers, we don’t encourage careers in humanities and arts. I remember a perceived notion in India is that the students who scored “low” took up humanities and were treated as low rung, and pursuing science was most prestigious. The creamy layer went on to do science. Unfortunately, this mindset has washed away generations of talented students to pursue what they love to do and find a niche for them. However, today’s India is perhaps the right place to pursue those unchartered career paths. The guy I spoke to recently, as a part of my thesis on alternative career (This time I am my own guide and my own university) was a part of the famed and celebrated creamy layer.

Rohan Chakravarty since, childhood wanted to become a playback singer but soon realized that it’s not going to happen (it may have been his voice!). He went on the ‘good Indian kid path’ and joined the medical school to be a dentist. It was there that he met with frustration and lack of contentment. And being witty, as he is, he started cartooning as a way to express his dissent from boredom and routine subjects. Boredom and frustration can be the cradles for imagination and play. We have seen this in others stories that we shared as well (link).

Running away from dentistry took him to unchartered routes. He learned animation skills and took up a job of an animator. At some point, he made a courageous move of taking up cartooning as a full-time venture. The first cartoon he ever published was that on Fardeen Khan (Bollywood actor) and his drug abuse way back in 2001. By his admittance, that piece was not something he is very proud of. His confession not only speaks of his humility but also reminded me of something Ira Glass pointed out. Ira said, “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years, you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.”.

A real artist keeps making more and more work until the ‘gap’ is narrowed down, something Rohan has achieved.

Wildlife and women have been the subject of his attention and his cartoons for a long time. When he started his cartooning, Rohan to form niche of his own, in which he still resides. He said, ‘creative satisfaction obtained from drawing wildlife is beyond measure.’

Superb lyrebird by Rohan
Superb lyrebird by Rohan

In this world with growing intolerance, Rohan has had his share of the hatred pie. From a right wing group (not to be named!), he received flak for a cartoon that encouraged people to reject firecrackers on Diwali. Authoritarian critics, in their criticism, without their knowledge, make the art come alive. Such projects keep Rohan excited and alive, inspire some of us and educate most of us.

One of his recent projects was an illustrated map of wildlife in Bhutan ( He narrated his experience in a few sentences, “Having moved to Delhi from Nagpur (one of India’s greenest cities) and failing to acclimatize with Delhi’s air miserably, I was desperate for some lung therapy. Fortunately, a collaboration with WWF Bhutan was struck, which made way for the most peaceful week of my life, in Cloud Kingdom. My ‘Wildlife Map of India’ had met with a great response from both the media and print collectors in India and abroad, and Bhutan was always a dream destination both to travel to and draw, so I proposed the concept of a wildlife map to WWF Bhutan, which they instantly accepted. My trip spanned 7 days, in which I visited Jigme Dorji National Park, the fields of Punakha, The Royal Botanical Gardens at Lampelri (where I saw my first Brown Parrotbills and Large-eared Pikas!), trekked along the Punatsang Chhu in search of the critically endangered White-bellied Heron (the search ended successfully!), interacted with and fed captive Takins (Bhutan’s national animal) and Serows at the Takin Rescue Centre in Thimphu, and finally went birding in Paro, where we saw Blood Pheasants and Himalayan Monals at Chele La, Bhutan’s highest motorable pass. Wildlife aside, the trip was memorable for several other reasons- witnessing a warm and hospitable culture, hanging out with some of the most affable folks I have met, hogging on Ema Datsi and outstanding pork momos, and having three lovely Bhutanese women wrap a Gho around me! When flew back from Paro to Delhi, statistically from the world’s cleanest to the world’s dirtiest air, it felt like an oxygen mask was being pulled out of my face!”.

Recently on CSG, there was a discussion on how scientific illustrators are poorly paid in India. Rohan mentioned that while scientists always pay him his fair due, it is the administrative agencies who find it difficult to pay up. His words are reassuring for the some of us who do want to be professional scientific artists and illustrators.

His journey is a reminder that we need not only doctors, engineers and scientists; we also need artists and educators. Hopefully, our generation will encourage the young to be more open to such choices while growing up.

Oh! and by the way, he is apparently, not that bad a singer (

Clean India by Rohan
Clean India by Rohan







Ipsa Jain is a Ph.D. student at IISc. She wants to gather and spread interestingness. She prefers painting and drawing over writing.


Creative Commons License
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Abhisheka the multifaceted artist and scientist

in Biodiversity and Environment by

“We have come to this world to accept it, not merely to know it. We may become powerful by knowledge, but we attain fullness by sympathy. The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence. ” Tagore, 1917

A Multipotentialite

When I met Abhisheka the first time, it was those sparks in her eyes and a very characteristic short spurts of laughter that caught my attention.  Abhisheka K Gopal is a painter, a dancer, a veena player, nature educator, wildlife rehabilitator and an ecology researcher. Yes, talk about multipotentialite, she defines it.  Today I will share her story which is mostly her journey to the foray of science communication.

Like Aarthy (link), Abhisheka studied science in pre-university. She says “I was not the brightest student and I knew back then hat marks did not add up to knowledge.”  She realized that though she loved science, especially biology, science education at the college was killing her curiosity, and eventually decided against pursuing science post pre-university. The ‘fractured’ education does seem to put off quite a few good science students in the class. The culture of memorization in our education with little stress on rational thinking drives many like Abhisheka away from pure science.

“This education of sympathy is not only systematically ignored in schools, but it is severely repressed. From our very childhood habits are formed, and knowledge is imparted in such a manner that our life is weaned away from nature and our mind and the world are set in opposition from the beginning of our days. Thus the greatest of educations for which we came prepared is neglected, and we are made to lose our world to find a bagful of information instead.” Tagore, 1917

Dabbling with creative art:

After school she joined the bachelor of fine arts course at the College of Fine Arts, Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath in Bangalore. While she enjoyed art, she disapproved of the way art was taught. She found that there was no freedom to express her artistic creativity under strict syllabus of the college. That art was mostly governed by the imagination and style of the teachers at the college. Being part of the urban wildlife rehabilitation group, she was deeply concerned with the way humans upturned the balance of nature by destroying the animal and plant ecosystem. She wanted to explore the idea of “conflict between concrete civilization and green civilization”, in her canvas only to realize that the apart from a couple of teachers, the others at the fine arts college would approve only human-centric and abstract art. The act that destruction of nature by man could be captured on the canvas was incomprehensible to them. As a student, she disapproved of the emphasis on abstract art. Her view was while abstract art does satisfy the creative spirit; it fails to engage the society in a meaningful way since the common man fails to understand what is depicted in that work of art. According to her “It caters to a very small section of the society.” Realizing that her creative expression was getting choked by the academic discipline of the school she drifted away from arts as well after completing her graduation.

“We rob the child of his earth to teach him geography, of language to teach him grammar. His hunger is for the Epic, but he is supplied with Chronicles of facts and dates…Child-nature protests against such calamity with all its power of suffering, subdued at last into silence by punishment.” Tagore, 1917

Because of her interactions with the Chief Wildlife Rehabilitator Mr.Saleem Hameed at the wildlife rehabilitation center and other wildlife experts in Bangalore, she soon realized her calling in ecology, biodiversity and conservation sciences.  When she read up about Environmental art which was quite popular abroad she realized that artists in the process of creating nature-based art were destroying the natural habitat of native flora and fauna. She recollects an example of such art installation where artists covered Surrounding Islands with a pink plastic sheet for a week ( Realizing that such project would have caused havoc on the biota of that island at the shores, she decided that artists working in the field should have a primary education of ecology to understand the catastrophe they were creating during their creative process.

The struggle to pursue Ecology:

It was then she decided to pursue ecology only to find that most colleges in India require strict criteria of having a minimum level of science education. She soon came to know that she was not ‘qualified’ to do a postgraduate level course in ecology. Very quickly she noticed that the strict curricular requirement does not allow one to learn what one aspires for, something that Gaurav Goyal also mentioned in his conversation with CSG (insert link).

Determined, she eventually found a distance learning course from Manipal University that allowed her to learn the concepts and science of ecology and conservation. The subject knowledge of the process in combination to her work with animal rehabilitation in urban spaces, made her realize that education is fun when it is interactive.

“Thus the greatest of educations for which we came prepared is neglected, and we are made to lose our world to find a bagful of information instead. We rob the child of his earth to teach him geography, of language to teach him grammar.” Tagore,1917

Canvassing ecology:

For her MSc project, she went to ATREE Bangalore where a senior scientist spotted her talent for field work and employed her as a researcher. There she worked on a project which involved studying water use in agriculture and its impact on bird diversity and local migration patterns. She says that she is grateful that she found a supervisor like Dr. T. Ganesh who was willing to work with her despite her lack of formal science education and “that is a rare event.” “As long as you can work in the field and think and analyze its good” was what her mentor expected. She is also grateful to her teammates in ATREE who taught her wildlife monitoring techniques and basic statistics and never once treated her indifferently.

Sketches of flora and fauna

After few years of working with ATREE she worked with Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) where she studied bird migration patterns. Every winter she would spend time at the Chilka Lake in Odisha and Point Calime in Tamilnadu and in Pong Dam in Himachal Pradesh. The work involved tagging birds and learning about their migratory patterns.  While being part of these research she won scholarships to do short courses in institutes like Smithsonian school of conservation USA, Wageningen CDI, Netherlands and so on which made her realize how much she enjoyed science.

Apart from her research, she worked as an educator at ATREE. She coordinated a program where they interacted with rural as well as urban school students in an attempt to encourage them to adopt and spread sustainable practices. As part of the program, students are trained to monitor biodiversity in and around the schools eventually turning those schools “green”. She realized that being an educator can touch so many lives. During those years, she had interacted with students, few of whom now are pursuing studies in the field of ecology and environment, working with Greenpeace, conducting nature awareness programs, etc. She says “It is a gratifying feeling to be able to touch and change the lives of impressionable minds for the welfare of not just the mankind, but the whole ecosystem.”

Students sketching animals at a pond.

It was then, based on the encouragements from both her mentors Mr.Saleem and Dr.Ganesh that she started dabbling with her passion for art again for the purpose of audience engagement and science communication. “I finally began to enjoy the art.” She worked on nature illustrations that involved a lot of audiences and also used them for developing nature education material.

Though as a student she felt she may not be able to reach out to the common man with abstract art or installation art, she now wants to try her hand at using these forms of creative expression to see if  environmental awareness could be achieved amongst non-artists without sticking to just realistic art works.  Experience also has taught her not to stick to a particular style or medium but to work according to the requirement of the target audience. 

The dancer within:

After her stint at ATREE, she took a stab at the contemporary (movement based) dance forms. She was trained in Bharatnatyam since childhood. With the help of her dancer-choreographer friend Veena Basavarajiah, she realized her potential as a dancer lies in engaging her audience with a story. Being part of a dance-theatre piece titled ‘Mooki’ (means mute) that invoked questions on gender-based issues, changed her conception about the art form. She loved that experience so much that she now wants to communicate the story of diverse flora and fauna through dance. She hopes that ‘someday’ she will be able to realize her dreams.

Performing ‘mooki’

Painting the wall: Foray into science communication

While Abhisheka has led few community art projects, the one she values the most is the wall mural done for ‘Punarchith’, a collective started by social anthropologist Dr. A. R. Vasavi to work with village youth to empower them and develop sustainable agricultural practices. She painted the different millet varieties on the walls with Soliga youth an ethnic group living on the foothills of Biligiri Rangaswamy hills and Malai Mahadeshwara Hills near Mysore. The idea behind the wall mural at Punarchith was to encourage the revival of traditional millet farming in Nagavalli village and surrounding areas as the farmers there have switched over from dry agricultural practices to water intensive sugarcane and banana cultivation in the recent years. Since the region falls under the rain shadow area, it is largely a belt suitable for dry grain production and was once well-known for producing millets and pulses. However, recent trends have led to bore wells being dug in large numbers, and the extensive use of water has led to the decrease in ground water level.

During the process of painting the mural on the public wall with the help of two young boys, she realized that potential of visual art as a strong medium of science (agriculture in this case) communication to involve the society which could have a tremendous impact on the sustainable development of rural India. A lot of locals became enthusiastic about the paintings, and she started using the opportunity to talk about sustainable agriculture practices. “I hope to pursue and engage at the interface of science and arts, considering that I now understand both….it is an incredibly powerful educational tool.”

Sustainable living:

Today she lives on the outskirts of Bangalore, away from the hustle-bustle of the city. She stays in a small gated community of artists, scientists, and educators. She uses public transport for travel. She engages with local students in remote villages and exposes them to natural history, arts, and painting. She continues to experiment with science, arts and education. She firmly believes that alternative education systems allow students to learn more efficiently. Such education systems also create sensitivity about diverse issues and teach sustainable development a topic of grave importance in our world today.

While we may not be able to give up our city lives and comfort living, we can for sure adopt some practices that help save diversity and conserve the environment. I know, I will tag along next time she is painting a wall in the village or taking art workshop with school kids talking about these issues, and contribute my tiny bit.



Ipsa is a Ph.D. student at IISc Bangalore, India. She wants to gather and spread interestingness. She prefers painting and drawing over writing.

Ananda is a Technology Marketing Associate at Office of Industrial Liaison, NYU, NY, USA and is a co-founder of ClubSciWri. He loves adda (casual chat) and music.


Cotton Stainer Bugs: Living life the weird way

in Biodiversity and Environment by

Cotton Stainer Bugs – Living life the weird way

How often do we stop and admire the nature around us? Almost never. But if we ever decide to take out a little time just to explore our surroundings, we will know the vast number of surprises nature hides in its beauty. But where is nature? We all now live in places which is far from the image of ‘nature’ that comes to our mind.

I expect many of you to agree to this last statement but I beg to differ. The truth is that humans are a part of the nature as well and in whichever way we are shaping our surroundings, it is as natural as a bird building a nest on the tree. I came up with this view recently when we were given an assignment by our Professor Dr. Maria Thaker of CES department, IISc to make a documentary on any creature found in the institute. So, this documentary was made not in the Jubilee Gardens or the forested patches of IISc, but on the streets and drains of IISc.

If you have spent some time in the institute you might have noticed some red and black bugs with their posteriors attached to each other. An awkward position to be found in but this is what attracted us to make a documentary on them. These bugs are called ‘Cotton Stainer Bugs.’ Its scientific name is Odontopus varicornis and it belongs to the family of Pyrrhocoridae. It spends almost ninety percent of its life in this awkward position called ‘copula’ and that is why they are commonly found in this position. Some interesting points we were able to show in our documentary included this mating position and the bug’s strange relationship with the dead bodies of its fellow beings.  They mate on them, lay eggs on them and sometimes even eat them. For all we know these bugs might be mating on the dead bodies of their past lovers. Gross! Over and above this, they are also cannibalistic. Well, that always has a sense of weirdness attached to it. Icing on the cake?

The video was made as part of an assignment given by Dr. Maria Thaker. We would like to thank her for giving us this opportunity.

Alishan Sahu

Alishan is a third year UG at IISc majoring in Biology. She is an active member of the Rangmanch club of IISc. She is interested in Microbiology, although she admits she has no idea where her life is headed towards.

Sajini Patel

Sajini is a third year UG at IISc majoring in Biology. She is a curious person and keeps looking for new things to work on. She is growing as a person in IISc, socially as well as academically and is thinking of doing some serious work in microbiology.

Abhijeet krishna

Abhijeet is a third year UG at IISc majoring in Biology. His research interests lie in Theoretical Biology, Synthetic Biology and Neuroscience. Apart from finishing assignments JUST before the deadline, he is interested in the art of science communications. 


Cover image Courtesy: under Creative Commons License.


in Biodiversity and Environment by

Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica)

The sparrow-like bird displays brilliant blue feathers on the throat, known to reply to the calls of other bird, and sing its tunes is a treat to the bird lovers. In North America, they habitat the tundras. However, they are found in Europe and Asia too.

The male bluethroat has red spots on its neck and European ones mostly have white or entirely blue throats. They also have flashy red tails. These are migratory birds and hence can be found in Rajasthan during American winters. Insectivorous in nature, IUCN classifies them as Least Concerned (LC)


Krishnanand Padmanabhan


Hello everyone, I am Krishnanand, a graduate student in the field of biological sciences currently residing in Tel Aviv, Israel. Seeing the world around us with different perspectives has always inspired me and this was the reason behind choosing Photography as my passion. Being a biologist I firmly believe that equipment cannot match the perfection of Human Vision but they can definitely create art which we love to see.Motivated by this concept I wish to present you all my perspective to the beautiful world around us. Hope u all would enjoy the same!!


Creative Commons License
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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