Candidate for Member at Large: Ajit Subramaniam

Ajit Subramaniam

Ph.D. 1995 (Coastal Oceanography), SUNY Stony Brook, USA


Biographical Information

I was born in a small landlocked town about 100 miles from the southern tip of India and always wanted to go to sea. I was an avid reader of “Tom Swift” story books – the boy scientist version of Hardy Boys who was a “biogeochemiphysicist” – and was completely hooked on becoming a scientist who explored the natural world and uncovered mysteries of how it works. The combination of going to sea and being a scientist landed me on the path to becoming an oceanographer. That path has not exactly been straight. I received my undergraduate degree in Physics, my MS in Marine Environmental Sciences specializing in Geographic Information Systems, and my PhD in Coastal Oceanography specializing in the bio-optical properties of a nitrogen fixing cyanobacterium. The fundamental goal of my own research program has been to develop process models that can be used to understand the factors that influence the diversity and productivity of phytoplankton. I worked for NOAA in Charleston, SC and Camp Springs, MD, at the University of Maryland, and at the University of Southern California before landing at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) of Columbia University. Thanks to a lucky misunderstanding, I had the opportunity to serve as a rotator in the Biological Oceanography Program at NSF and subsequently as the Program Director for the Marine Microbiology Initiative at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation before returning to LDEO. All these meanders has given me a very diverse experience working closely with biological and chemical oceanographers, molecular biologists, ecosystem and climate modelers, and marine conservationists, placing in-situ shipboard measurements on a broader basin-scale or global context using models and remote sensing. I serve on review panels and science advisory boards for various federal agencies and private philanthropies to advance the field of aquatic sciences.

Candidate Statement

I am running for a position on the ASLO board as a member at large to continue to serve the community I care deeply about for another term. I first became a member of ASLO when I attended my first scientific conference, the Spring ASLO meeting in Santa Fe in 1992. I felt like a kid in a candy store – so many interesting talks and so many interesting people to talk to. And the giants of the field whose names I only knew in papers I had read were real people, dancing, some better than others, at the ASLO dinner. Some things have not changed – the sense of being overwhelmed at meetings, of the excitement of listening to a presentation that gives you a completely new way of looking at a problem, of the sense that no matter how many great talks you hear, there were more you missed. My Ph.D. thesis chapters were published in L&O. The meetings and journals are two core pillars that support ASLO. However, a third and perhaps fundamentally the most important pillar, is its membership and my goal has been and continues to be find ways for ASLO to serve its members. My first term has opened my eyes to both the unequalness of the three pillars in terms of the resources they bring as well as the extraordinary ways in which the members benefit from ASLO, in ways that often seems to be a well kept secret. The world has changed in ways none of us could imagine just 12 months ago, presenting opportunities and posing threats to ASLO. While we can be very proud of the scientific rigor and the impact factor of ASLO journals, the number of new journals continue to rise. I worry that membership that comes with registration at meetings can’t be the only reason someone is a member of ASLO and believe that we need to better communicate the relevance of membership in a scientific society such as ASLO. We need to come up with new strategies for a continued engagement with the membership outside of the annual meetings. Efforts are currently underway to implement discussion and engagement forums around two core interests among the ASLO membership – DEI and Careers. I would like a chance to nurture these two even as we identify more such activities that leverage the unique strengths of ASLO to serve its members and provide value to members.

My experience as a research scientist, a teacher, an NSF program manager, and a GBMF Program Director has given me an opportunity to view this funny thing we call the scientific enterprise from different perspectives and learn the strengths and challenges of federal agency and private philanthropic support for science. ASLO provides a platform to exchange information and knowledge amongst its members and provide resources to support student and early career members. If elected, I will continue my work in the board to identify appropriate venues and formats to support the exchange information and knowledge and to provide receptive funders with grass roots level ideas and feedback.

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