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Where Are They Now? An Interview from Poland

June 22, 2022

Somsubhra (Som) Chattopadhyay, a doctoral student in the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering from 2014-2017, caught up with us from Poland, where he now works.

Alum Som Chattopadhyay (left) working in Poland

Alum Som Chattopadhyay (left) working in Poland

Somsubhra (Som) Chattopadhyay was a graduate student of Dr. Edwards from 2014-2017.  His work involved using the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model together with data from a variety of General Circulation Models (GCMs) to evaluate the effects of climate change on the hydrology of the Kentucky River Basin (KRB).  He also did work on evaluating the accuracy of the GCMs in comparison to observed weather data in the KRB, and he and Dr. Edwards worked together on analyzing historical weather data for Kentucky for detectible trends in temperature and rainfall. Som recently signed up to receive this newsletter, and I noticed that he is Poland. That seemed interesting, and a good reason to ask Som to answer a few questions. He generously agreed.

Can you recap your time at BAE? What are your favorite memories of Kentucky?

After finishing my MS, I moved to Lexington from Greensboro, North Carolina, and started as a PhD student in summer of 2014. I had one of the most memorable phases of my life during my stay at BAE. I was really fortunate to have a great person, Dr. Dwayne Edwards, as my advisor, and we became friends for life! I made many awesome friends in the university and time spent in the beautiful UK campus is something I will cherish forever! It was a long path for PhD, sometimes quite testing, but with great faculties and friends around it was a rewarding and smooth journey overall.

I would love to be back on the campus one day to revisit the happy time!

Where did you go after finishing your degree at University of Kentucky?

I moved to my home country, India, in June 2017 and started working as a postdoctoral research associate at Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE), at Bangalore. After spending one year studying groundwater-surface water interaction at Cauvery River Basin, I joined Mahindra University as an assistant professor of Civil Engineering.  

How did you end up in Poland? What is Warsaw like? What is your university like? In what ways is the university/department similar or different to UK/BAE?

This is a tricky question but not so uncommon for me. I was looking for some exciting research collaborations abroad and I found this really cool interdisciplinary project focusing on aquatic ecology and hydrology at the Warsaw University of Life Sciences. Voila, I moved to Warsaw in January 2020. As a Second World War enthusiast, I was always curious about Poland since it happened to be the epicenter of the war. I am really happy to be in this culturally, traditionally rich yet very modern cosmopolitan city. It has a very unique mix of European history and traditions along with many hardworking immigrants.  

The university is heavily focused on agriculture and life sciences and is one of the highest ranked in the world in this area, an aspect similar to UK! The research group that I am involved with is comprised of young, dynamic researchers passionate about their work. Although the pandemic started very shortly after I arrived here, I fortunately was able to keep up the pace of my research activities.

I think the university/department is similar to UK/BAE in terms of very active and dynamic faculty members who are also very helpful to students. Probably one thing that is different to UK/BAE as of now is the current number of international students, but the number of international graduate students and postdocs are gradually increasing here.  

How would you describe your job?

I work on a National Science Center (NCN) funded project with a goal to understand the effect of river flow variability and extremes on the biota of temperate floodplain rivers under multiple pressures. So far it has been an incredible experience working on this exciting project which has both modeling, field work and laboratory components.

How did your experience in BAE prepare you for what you are doing now (or since leaving)?

My graduate studies at BAE indeed prepared me for my professional career in ways more than I could imagine. I learned how to keep focus even when things were not working out exactly as expected. I was able to develop a good professional network which is very helpful till date.

Poland has played a critical role in the humanitarian response to the war in Ukraine. Has that affected you? What is it like to be close to Ukraine, which has been invaded by Russia?

Perhaps it is the first time I have experienced how it really feels to leave your own country all of a sudden with no foreseeable good future. I have seen many people in Warsaw seeking help, refuge and struggling in a harsh winter all because of this unfortunate invasion by Russia. My wife and I just recently got back from India and within a month this incident took place, which was not so easy for us. We did our small contribution to help the refugees. Parents and friends back home were really anxious as they worry something may happen in Poland as well. Luckily, the situation in Poland has not taken a bad turn so far.

What do you like best about Warsaw (or Poland)?

Tempted to say vodka! Polish food is delicious and the public transport is super awesome. I also appreciate the green urban ecology of Warsaw which is visually very soothing.

Have you learned to speak Polish, and if not, are you planning to?

I don’t think there exists any language which is more difficult to learn than Polish (pun intended). I am managing with few words/sentences and I do not intend to learn it anytime soon.

Dziękuję Ci!