The experience of a young Pakistani scientist at GeoMIP

By Varisha Khan
varisha khan presenting at geoMIP
Varisha Khan (Pakistan) presenting SRM’s potential impact on malaria transmission across South Asia. Photo Credit: The Degrees Initiative.

Varisha Khan is an early career scientist working with the Degrees Modelling Fund (DMF) team in Pakistan. She attended GeoMIP alongside ten other DMF scientists, from across Africa, Asia and South America. She took the opportunity to reflect on her experience in this blog post:

I’ll be honest, when I first heard about solar radiation modification (SRM) during a class at Islamabad University with Prof. Athar Hussain, I thought it was something out of The Matrix or a sci-fi novel, where some villain scientist plays with nature and risks the stability of the whole planet.

But learning more, I began to realise that we, as scientists, should analyse all the positive and negative aspects of SRM to accurately compare it against the risks of global warming in a way that allows us to make informed decisions. This feels particularly true in my home country of Pakistan, where climate change is already having a major impact on health.

"When I first heard about solar radiation modification... I thought it was something out of the Matrix or a sci-fi novel".

So travelling to Exeter and attending the 13th GeoMIP meeting for the first time was a welcome step towards joining an international community of SRM experts and felt like a career breakthrough for me as an early-career scientist.

I hold a Bachelor’s in Biotechnology and a Master’s in Health Informatics and recently began working on SRM as part of Prof. Hussain’s DMF team. Transitioning to climate science and integrating healthcare concerns with climate modelling has been an interesting but compelling challenge for me.

Degrees Initiative scientists at 13th GeoMIP
DMF scientists Godwin Ayesiga, Frédéric Bonou, Amadou Coulibaly, Temitope Egbebiyi, Alfonso Fernandez, Varisha Khan, Chris Lennard, Romaric Odoulami, Muhammad Shoaib, Md. Abu Syed, Mou Leong Tan attending the 13th GeoMIP meeting in Exeter, UK. Photo Credit: The Degrees Initiative.

GeoMIP was one of the first times that I had the opportunity to present my team’s research to an international scientific community, an experience that was both nerve-racking and exciting at the same time.

In general terms, our work attempts to shed light on the alarming rise in malaria cases in Pakistan and South Asia due to changing weather patterns as a result of human-induced climate change. We are trying to understand how SRM might impact these changes and to see if it could reduce or increase the risks. 

My healthcare background gave me a unique perspective at GeoMIP, and I found myself connecting the physical processes being discussed with biological ones to brainstorm new research ideas. For example, I started thinking about SRM’s impact on seasonal diseases or how changes in sunlight could impact disease mutations and spread, and I am now hoping to take some of these fresh ideas forward into my PhD research.

"I'm grateful that I had a chance to talk with senior climate scientists and authors whose work I have been reading so much of recently."

I also learned new ways of approaching data and problem-solving techniques to better understand how to model the impacts of SRM and climate change. I’m grateful that I had a chance to talk with senior climate scientists and authors whose work I have been reading so much of recently.

Outside of the meeting, my colleague Muhammed Shoaib and I got the chance to explore the City of Exeter and its rich history. There were also lots of informal opportunities for one-to-one networking with other participants during the fun social events. 

GeoMIP group photo exeter
Group photo of GeoMIP early career research day participants preparing to go canoeing in Exeter. Photo Credit: The Degrees Initiative

GeoMIP was a unique ‘British’ cultural experience for me. It was certainly my first time cycling down the banks of the Exe to a small English pub, and seeing other fellow participants race against each other in canoes was really funny. I think these activities helped keep the atmosphere relaxed and made it easy to meet other scientists.

The GeoMIP journey left me with many valuable connections with scientists from around the globe. For me, one of the key takeaways was seeing that I am part of a diverse international community working on SRM. This feeling has motivated me to better understand its potential health impacts and whether it could reduce the effects of climate change in my region.

However, I do think it is crucial to exercise caution and conduct much more research into the potential risks and unintended consequences of SRM before any form of implementation is considered. 

"For me, one of the key takeaways was seeing that I am part of a diverse international community working on SRM."

With the impacts of climate change becoming more severe, it is more important than ever for countries like Pakistan to be part of the conversation about how to reduce the effects. Two junior Pakistani scientists like Muhammad and myself attending GeoMIP added vital geographical and generational diversity to that conversation.

I would like to see future GeoMIP meetings organised in Global-South countries to help further broaden the conversation about climate change and what we can do to manage it. GeoMIP was a great experience, and I’m very thankful to the organisers and the Degrees Initiative for the chance to take part.

Find out more about the DMF team in Pakistan and their research here. You can also follow Varisha on twitter @VarishaKhan97.

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