Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan


CLaSP PhD student talks about Rackham King Talks participation

Posted: March 6, 2018

CLaSP PhD student talks about Rackham King Talks participation

This past January, Climate & Space PhD student Garima Malhotra gave a presentation at the inaugural Rackham King Talks, as part of the University of Michigan's annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium. The King Talks bring together Rackham graduate students to give a talk on a common theme. This year, students were invited to share their thoughts on the theme of “The Fierce Urgency of Now” in the form of 5 TED-style presentations.

Garima recently shared her impressions of the experience.  

You were invited to give a presentation at this year's King Talks. Can you tell us what the subject of your talk was, and why you chose that subject?

The title of my talk was ‘Skirts & STEM.’ I talked about the unconscious biases beginning from our childhood that ‘Engineering and Math are not for women’ affect how our careers and personalities are shaped. Currently, only 11% of the engineers and only 14% of the physics professors in US are women. I have been wanting to talk about this subject for a long time and the ‘Rackham King Talks’ was a perfect platform for me. I shared some of my personal stories which had made me question my choice of career in the past. I talked about how positive things are happening for women in STEM but we are not as far along as we should be and thus, we need to keep pushing. What we need is a world where everyone discovers their passion without being affected by notions of the society, and only then we will be able to perform to the best of our abilities.

How did you become involved with the King Talks? 

While browsing through the University’s MLK celebrations website, I found the link to ‘Student Ted-style Talks - King Talks’. I applied for it and luckily my application got selected. Overall, the experience was very inspiring. It gave me a chance to improve my public speaking skills, a chance to express myself in front of a big audience. I also understood how hard it is for Ted speakers to be up there and speak out a memorized speech. On total, there were five King Talks, and I found all the topics to be eye-opening. I loved the support and encouragement we received from Rackham, from the Dean and from the audience at the event. It turned out to be a great opportunity for me and I would encourage everyone to give it a shot. It can be anything - a social issue, a personal story close to your heart or your research results.

Here's a link to a gallery of the Rackham King Talks speakers:

What's your background? 

I was born and brought up in New Delhi, India where I also did my undergraduate in Electronics and Communication Engineering. I then decided to come to United States to join graduate school in Virginia Tech for MS in Electrical Engineering. And now, I am here [CLaSP] for my PhD.

When did you discover your interest in science?

I remember being fascinated about planetary and earth sciences as early as my first grade in school. Studying space has been my greatest fascination throughout my life. With very few resources and almost no knowledge about how to pursue studying this topic, I grew up watching shows like ‘Cosmos’, and ‘How we left Earth - Nasa missions’. I was very confused even while choosing my path after high school. I struggled to choose between bachelors in physics vs. engineering, and ended up choosing the latter, but even after four years of electronics engineering, the craving to study and explore space never died and hence I decided to move to Virginia Tech. I was a research assistant in Virginia Tech in the SuperDARN lab at Space@VT. To be honest, I would credit my previous advisors, whom I consider as my mentors, for introducing me to the world of space science, magnetospheric physics, ionospheric physics, etc.

Tell us a bit about why you chose U-M Climate & Space? 

As I was pursuing my Masters in Virginia Tech, I decided to move to a University with a bigger department in space sciences - University of Michigan. The seminars, the student groups, the activities, the courses, are much more closely related to space sciences and hence, I feel I have landed at the right place. I love being here, as this department has a long history and is full of experts of this field.

What's your area of research? What inspired you to pursue this area?

I am studying the effects of lower atmospheric disturbances on the Ionosphere-Thermosphere system. One of the biggest mysteries in space weather is understanding how the Earth’s lower atmosphere influences its upper atmosphere and vice versa. There is a huge gap in our knowledge in this field. And it becomes even more important to understand this, as the lower atmosphere is warming up due to global warming, and the thermosphere is cooling. While choosing my specialization for PhD, I realized that I want to study space sciences while staying close to Earth so that I can undertake projects which have much closer/direct implications on the life on Earth.

What are your plans after Climate & Space? 

I want to continue working in the research field, however I would want to take up different projects. Studying Martian thermosphere and ionosphere has also been on my mind because it is so different from the Earth’s. This is also complementary to human efforts of colonizing Mars. I would love to work in R&D for commercial space sector. Someday, I dream of starting something on my own - which would obviously be related to Mars colonization.