Interview with ecologist Dr Joanna Nelson about her climate-action work at the land-sea edge, Indigenous land trust collaborations, and her conservation efforts
It is February of 2020 already! Wishing you all a belated Happy New Year and Happy New Decade. Thank you, dear readers, for the engagement and readership, I feel hugely encouraged. Last year has been a blast in shaping out the path for 500 Poppies. The first post for 500 Poppies went out in May 2019, after planning since November of 2018. Since then it has only grown in readership. I have heard back from many people who are looking forward to our future posts. That is exciting to know.
500 Poppies is the labor of love and vision to bring out and amplify the voices of women scientists and supporters of women in science, who are doing great work. Some are mostly hidden to the public eye. This is the blog that makes their voices reach the masses, without losing the scholarly touch or geekiness, but still showing the human-side of the scientists at work when they talk about their loved ones, or their professional struggles as well as their achievements.
For today’s post, I have interviewed Dr. Joanna Nelson, starting last October, about her work in conservation of land, sea and climate, through LandSea Science, an organization she founded in early 2016. Catch up with her on twitter here.
Rather than one specific centering, Nelson’s work is at the intersection of land and sea and an integrated investigation of human impact on those. One fascinating thing that she talked about is the concept of cultural fire, with “Indigenous people reclaiming their use of fire as a sacred tool in managing landscapes.”
There has been a lot of discussion going on in climate right now, the actions being taken and why they are crucial for this planet — fire being a dominant theme with the recent wildfires of California and Australia, and Indigenous cultural practitioners having tested solutions to using fire as a tool to prevent catastrophic wildfire, in a holistic view of the living planet. For example, this article in New York Times, Native Solutions to Big Fires (Joanna Nelson is non-Indigenous and follows the lead of Indigenous cultural practitioners.)
Nelson’s interview will provide the readers a glimpse into what goes on inside the inner professional world of climate and nature conservation scientists. Nelson talks about the breadth of her day-to-day work that goes into it — from chain-sawing, to writing, to literature review, to attending conferences and advising the directors or leadership of other programs.
We also get a peek into her family life, as well as her bereavement of the deaths of her friend and family about twenty years ago and how she coped with it, and came out a “whole human.”
She has great advice for the budding scientists (jump to Q 9 & 10), where she talks about some great resources to check out, or where to go to as a starting point to begin making your own network of supportive people.
So here’s Dr. Nelson’s interview.
Q1. Thank you for interviewing with 500 Poppies, I am so thrilled. You are the first Ecologist I am interviewing. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your scientific expertise.
Thank you, Promita, for this invitation and your great questions. I am a part of 500 Women Scientists, in the SF Bay Pod, which is how you and I met. I am an ecologist working from headwaters to the sea, centered on Central Coastal California and extending to international work. I focus primarily at two intersections: a) science better integrating with stewardship and tending of land, air, water, and people; and b) land-sea interactions, especially with climate disruption. In the land-sea work, I love ecotones, edges, places that are in-between, like coastal salt marsh. I’m really curious about what happens when human impacts (both beneficial care and detrimental impacts) on land crash into human impacts on the ocean, here at the coast; are impacts additive, or synergistic in an amping-up way or a damping-down way? I build interdisciplinary teams to create solutions for conservation, heightened resilience, and the well-being of humans and nature — which means taking climate action. Trained as a scientist in ecology for a changing world, I earned a PhD from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and MS and BS degrees from Stanford University in Earth Systems. I completed postdoctoral fellowships at Stanford at the intersection of primary research and conservation action, as a NatureNet Science Fellow. My expertise is in these fields of ecology: plants, fire, estuaries and the coastal ocean, and global change. I have studied fire ecology in the Mediterranean-type landscapes of California and Greece, and the boreal forests of Alaska, including teamwork in a project called “Human-Fire Interactions” in Alaska, working amidst academic scientists, agency managers, and tribal-council members who are Koyokukon Athabaskan. Investigating land-sea interactions, I have investigated the dynamics of, and solutions to, nitrogen pollution flowing downstream from primarily conventional farms, and sea levels rising, and those dual impacts on the existence and function of salt marsh plants. In terms of theoretical frameworks, I am usually working across community ecology and ecosystem ecology; I use these frameworks toward an ethic of care for lands, waters, and life. I work on climate- and gender-justice.
Q2. You have a research and consulting company called LandSea Science. Tell us about that, and how you came to start that initiative. I must add that this is a brave leadership effort.
Thank you for your phrase of “brave leadership,” given that I had no background in business before this effort. I launched LandSea Science because I found a dearth of ways to do the most meaningful work I needed to do in the world, so I created the container to work at intersections, in relationship across groups of people, and at different scales. Brave leadership is also stepping into intersections that aren’t common.
In my NatureNet Science fellowship, bridging academic science at Stanford University and conservation action with the Nature Conservancy — a postdoc fellowship designed to create the new knowledge needed for immediate conservation action, and how to deliver new understanding for uptake by people directly involved — I was right in my sweet spot in the Venn diagram between research and stewardship action. In that fellowship, I worked on the contributions of upstream land management for downstream delivery of clean, abundant freshwater. I had been researching how to do this connective work throughout my PhD study and into my postdoc…and then there was a cliff that dropped off, in terms of opportunity to do this in employment, knowing that I didn’t want to stay in one realm of academia. I saw many conservation organizations separating into land, freshwater, and ocean groups, and my frameworks depend on seeing the interactions between all these dynamics, with people as an integral part of nature. (See diagram.) I know that people find ways to work across borders from within academic, management/agency positions, wherever they land, and I celebrate that creativity. I see bridge-building work on the rise and I’m grateful to feel less alone.
I love the big picture and work well there. I also like landing the big picture down to earth and to action; that motion, and translation, back and forth is exciting to me. Working at edges and interfaces, I am curious about systems interacting and influencing each other; curious about processes, patterns, relationships and interactions. Scientists, science agencies, community members, conservation non-profits, and Indigenous organizations — for example — know to call me when they are growing into new spaces and finding their edges, experiencing new influences on the space they inhabit and creating strategies to respond or move forward in new directions, where entities-ideas-worldviews bump into each other and are not yet resolved or aligned. In practice, that might mean facilitating meetings of many people involved in the a conservation group (from a watershed organization to a distributed-organization across countries); conducting a scientific synthesis of the peer-reviewed literature with my own analysis and perspective, e.g., to inform ocean actions for climate solutions; interpreting published science for an Indigenous land trust that moves far beyond Western-academic science and still needs some interpretation of the jargon, tools, and insights of Western science; creating new climate curriculum for university students that addresses not only climate knowledge but climate grief.
Q3. I know you are very excited about your project with Amah Mutsun Land Trust, which is about restoring Indigenous knowledge and stewardship. It sounds compelling. Tell us about that work and its significance.
The people in the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band are the descendants of the Indigenous survivors of Mission San Juan Bautista and Mission Santa Cruz. The tribal members created the non-profit Amah Mutsun Land Trust (AMLT) to engage in traditional stewardship of lands and coasts. Mr. Valentin Lopez is the Tribal Chairperson and the President of AMLT. Together, he and I are Co-Directors of Stewardship for AMLT, and I currently work with the Native Stewardship Corps in the field. The work I engage in with Native Stewards is very powerful for me, both to witness Indigenous people back on their lands, and to take part in the restoration. That said, I am non-Indigenous and I do not speak for the tribe, so I phoned Valentin and asked him about the work and its significance. The following is a transcription that he has reviewed and approved.
“The colonizers tried to destroy and dominate our spirituality, culture, environments and humanity. This means genocide for our people, through three waves of colonization: the Spanish Mission period, the Mexican period, and the Californian-American period.
“In 2006, the Elders attended a Tribal Council meeting to say our Creation story tells us it is our obligation to take care of Mother Earth and all living things, and that we needed to find a way back to that. Our tribe has been working hard since 2006 on restoring our Indigenous knowledge regarding traditional land management and stewardship. Then, in 2012, we formed the Amah Mutsun Land Trust. The four goals of the land trust are:
1) To protect our cultural and ceremonial sites and environments. Today we fight very hard to protect the few remaining cultural sites that still exist.
2) To conduct research to restore the knowledge of our ancestors, to restore our food plants, medicine plants, and basketry plants, our Native plants, and to restore habitats and the animals that depend on them. We care for the water, the air, the land, the plants, the birds, the insects, everything.
3) To share this knowledge and teach others about what our people learned over 12,000–14,000 years on these lands. We need to take care of Mother Earth, first and foremost remembering to restore sacredness to the lands, to understand the land is sacred and the animals and the water are sacred. We restore spiritual stewardship to Mother Earth. We educate our members, so that these traditions and knowledge can be passed on generation to generation. We work to educate the public as well.
4) To develop a traditional Native Stewardship Corps, so that our people can actively work on the lands and use the knowledge that we re-learn, how to take care of our Native plants, to restore landscapes, for example restoring the biodiverse California coastal prairie, and working so that the animals who have been diminished in such great numbers can be restored.
Those are the goals of our land trust. That’s the reason and purpose for AMLT today.
“Today we’re a very poor tribe, and we do not own any land. Our ancestors did not own the land, either. The land belongs to Creator. We have the obligation to steward and take care of the lands. We recognize that over time, we may acquire land, and that would be important to us, if it helps us with the protection and conservation of the land, protection from development and desecration.
“I’m very proud of the accomplishments of our tribe, our Native Stewards. I believe we are truly honoring our ancestors with our work, and we are fulfilling our obligation to Creator to take care of Mother Earth and all living things. And I know this is our purpose, from Creator, for our Creation.” — Valentin Lopez, Tribal Chairperson, Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, phone interview 21 January 2020.
The significance for me is putting my effort, training, head-hands-heart behind Indigenous presence on the land, Indigenous knowledge, and Indigenous stewardship. I agree with Chairperson Lopez that successful climate action will be Indigenous led, and will not be Indigenous folks by themselves, but a groundswell of support from non-Indigenous people behind their good ways. I’m here for it. I show up as an ecologist, a naturalist, a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) who can look out for Native Stewards’ safety in the field, with another Native Steward also certified as a WFR; someone using a chainsaw and hand tools with Native Stewards; and an accomplice. I’m honored to be a guest of the tribe.
Q4. Are there any other projects that you are super-excited about?
Yes! In some ways I’m mentioning other people’s projects, because we are cooking something up together.
1) Fire, specifically cultural fire. Related to work with the Amah Mutsun Land Trust is that of Indigenous people reclaiming their use of fire as a sacred tool in managing landscapes. I just participated in the Klamath Training Exchange (October 2019), part of the Fire Learning Network, where we put good fire on the land — a first for me, after studying fire ecology for 25 years. For leadership in cultural fire, I am appreciating tribes in Northwest California, such as the Karuk and Yurok tribes; the Amah Mutsun Land Trust; and Don Hankins, PhD, who is Indigenous, Plains Miwok, and a pyrogeographer, a professor at CSU Chico. I have heard Dr. Hankins say that Indigenous people have ready solutions for catastrophic fire (“good fire,” planned, cultural burns carried out with great skill) that California and many other places are reeling from. (Go find out more from the Good Fire podcast, Faith Kearns’ writing, documentaries by the Karuk Tribe on fire, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/24/us/native-american-controlled-burns-california-wildfires.html))
2) Gender justice in STEM fields. My colleagues and I support women, femme, and non-binary people to survive and thrive in STEM fields, in community. I’ll talk about this in the next question you ask.
3) Education. I’ve written Earth Systems and Climate Science curriculum that not only addresses the science, but builds in practices of equity in the classroom; explicitly brings in “climate grief” to studying climate, another effort to be a whole human with feelings, overwhelm, and determination; let the grief show up so the joy and action can, too.
4) Social/environmental justice work. As an outgrowth from the Adaptation Futures conference in 2018 on global adaptation, in Cape Town, South Africa, I am really excited about work by women researchers connecting gender and climate justice. For example, in a project in Chad (where one researcher was from France and another in-country in Chad), researchers found that before they could carry out any of their plans to co-create capacity for climate resilience, the women in villages were saying: first we have to talk about the never-talked-about reality of domestic violence. Everyone involved took risks to be able to have those conversations, create solutions, and circulate not only the report but the desired way forward. As another example, Project Drawdown recognizes that the sixth most significant way to reverse climate damage is to support women and girls.
5) Continued work on how coastal communities can build equitable resilience to climate threats such as sea-level rise, increased incidence of flood and drought, and rising temperatures.
Q5. Moving on to your other activities. Tell us about your initiatives to support women and non-binary scientists. What were your struggles?
My initiatives to support women scientists focus on community as a response to the hostile environment of STEM training/careers, and also creating gender-inclusive environments where gender is understood as a spectrum, a web, a sphere (thanks to Diane Ehrensaft, PhD, for the language around gender)…a universe. I volunteer as an educator, with training from Gender Spectrum (https://www.genderspectrum.org/), an organization in the East Bay gaining recognition as a nationwide leader in providing gender-affirming care and education and making gender-inclusive environments for all. I love their work, and that literally, people are alive today who would have lost hope without this safe space; I love doing this work — so far I’ve focused on elementary-school environments and school action plans. I also have been invited to give a gender-in-wilderness-medicine talk (most recently I had 7 minutes! speed talk) the past two times I recertified as a Wilderness First Responder.
With two dear colleagues and friends, Jill Doneen Clifton and Julia Thompson, PhD, we’re co-creating a project to support women, femme, and non-binary people in STEM fields. The three of us connected out of a deeply meaningful Cultivating Women’s Leadership training (at that time led by the non-profit, Bioneers), and then a masterclass focused on voice, Sound Wisdom — we’re in a network of the extraordinary women that we worked with there. We’re launching workshops that use storytelling, improv, and other creative embodiment practices to amplify voices, and learn to hear others’ voices and stories, those voices struggling to be represented in mainstream STEM teaching, learning, and culture.
We envision a collaborative, interconnected community — or network of communities — that is grounded in compassion, listening, and the understanding that we will succeed together through embracing equity and our shared humanity. It’s a culture of mentorship and collaboration.
We are focused on being able to tell our stories — as people wanting to express our curiosity and follow our paths in STEM — because it’s important to document the experiences, so dominant culture can stop pretending ignorance…documented stories with their own power and weight.
Struggles are realizing how grim and dangerous it still is: that finishing a science degree/project or getting to a career stage has very little to do with leaky pipelines (a misnomer, a production metaphor with passive water drops falling out) and much more to do with “running a hostile gauntlet.” Just about everyone who you see, WOC in STEM, POC, LGBTQIA+ folks, white women, has run a hostile gauntlet and made tradeoffs to be where they are; as well as all the people you don’t see, who made a self-preserving choice to leave STEM. We have a personal stake in changing the culture of STEM.
Q6. What do you think it will take to change the culture in STEM?
As in other realms of life, changing the culture means walking away from white-supremacist patriarchal structures and into the new systems we have co-imagined and co-created, a climate conducive to life and cooperation.
To acknowledge life experience as education, to acknowledge multiple forms of knowing.
What it is not, is some pretense of knowledge exchange or culture-bridging: “We’ll listen to you and have a knowledge exchange as long as you stay within this structure and get credentialed our way and therefore have the right to be listened to”…nope.
A new culture of STEM would reflect, we’re in this together, my liberation is linked to yours; we are curious and persistent; we love what we study, or we study it to surmount some problem in order to make life better for other beings. That’s why we’re here in Science, Engineering, Technology, and Math.
Let our spiritual lives and loves be part of our STEM experience, however we describe them.
Here is one example of what it will take to change the culture of STEM: I love the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, especially the honesty, wit, and grace of the founder, Dr. Kerry Ann Rockquemore. She says things out loud that _few_ people say out loud, call it like it is; I admire her. In the mission of the NCFDD they say, “We are 100% dedicated to supporting academics in making successful transitions throughout their careers.” So they are non-stop dedicated to finding out what it means to change the culture of STEM so that all are welcome and keep going through the gauntlet, if they choose to. How does the NCFDD change the culture of STEM? Again, by calling it out: e.g., WOC will be over-asked for service jobs and under-acknowledged; will be overly criticized in teaching evaluations and Presumed Incompetent (https://muse.jhu.edu/book/18279); will therefore be more hard-pressed for that precious time to think and write…and here are strategies and community support for getting it done anyway, for coming through publish-or-perish with PUBLISH as the outcome. As another example, Erika Zavaleta, PhD, is the faculty lead for a program at UC Santa Cruz, the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program, whose mission is “to prepare a diverse group of early-career students to lead the future of environmental conservation.” I see that program changing representation, changing the vision of who students see in the outdoors and doing stewardship…they see each other, POC, and are introduced into networks they may not have had access to, through inequity.
Truly being able to see different knowledge systems and different gifts, saying welcome, there is enough space here for all (Rather than zero-sum, patriarchy-territoriality — if you walk in the door, you are taking up my space/funding) changes the culture of STEM.
I’m acknowledging Tessa Hill, PhD, for her great phrase of “whole-human care for scientists.” We change the culture of STEM when we do whole-human care. (And keep doing our important work!)
We change the culture of STEM when we acknowledge lived experience (and not just dominant-culture credentials or degrees). When we change the words for “soft skills” to their rightful, “professional skills” or another term that says skill in relationship is a big skill and makes the world go round.
We change the culture of STEM when we carry out #MeToo work and acknowledge the founder of that work, Tarana Burke. We change the culture of STEM when people can just do their hard work, without additional burden, distress, disease, assault, or other forms of harm. We change the culture of STEM when we celebrate what people are there for, rather than hierarchies of pain/doing-without/burnout culture. When we ask, “What are you curious about? I’m interested to hear,” and follow with Terry Tempest Williams’ question, a major question of humankind, (in the book When Women Were Birds), “how then shall we live?”
Q7. What is your average day like? It sounds like a simple question, but I love to ask this question because it gives people an inner-world view of a scientist’s busy day, and helps the public to recalibrate their myths and beliefs about women scientists’ scientific leadership capabilities and competences.
One typical day might be doing field restoration, cultural-ecological work with the Native Stewardship Corps. That means eat breakfast, pack a lunch, wear protective clothing (long sleeves, long pants, both for the work and to protect from poison oak); out to the field, in this case grassland/shrubland/forested landscapes; running a chainsaw in a team of two, where one person is a sawyer and the other a swamper, pulling branches away to clear a workspace and looking out for the pair’s safety; checking on other folks; running a safety scenario with State Park’s bio-monitor, what would we do if someone got injured. Check in with the Materials and Safety Steward at the beginning of the day: we have what we need, all of us in personal protective equipment (PPE), ear pro eye pro hardhats chainsaw chaps, cutting down Douglas Fir trees to restore coastal prairie, composed of perennial grasses and other culturally important plants. Check on burn piles; cover them for the coming rain so that they light up while everything else is really hard to set on fire (that’s one big idea of prescribed fire) given damp, high-relative-humidity conditions. That kind of day means communicating among agencies and the Amah Mutsun Land Trust, carrying out a plan, and communicating what we’re doing and why. Related to that work is more connection and communication with partner organizations, for example, site visits to look at places where fuel reduction or cultural burning would advance stewardship, and then writing those plans into grant proposals.
Another typical day might look more like the “writing” part of being a scientist: search the scientific literature to complete a review for a client, taking a month to create a “snapshot” of the current science, which includes a literature review, synthesis and interpretation of the literature, and a summary of the major ideas and leading researchers in that research field. As an independent researcher, I can focus on one project — when I’m available for that — in a way that a director of science of a non-profit, for example, couldn’t stop their day-to-day life and just delve into the literature. It’s exciting work.
Another typical day would focus on facilitation, helping a group clarify their shared goals and work toward them, usually a group focused on ecological health. For example, I facilitated a consensus agreement on the state-of-the-science of wetland resilience to sea-level rise, with researchers from the National Estuarine Research Reserve system on the US West Coast and East Coast, using online tools to indicate consensus or the need for a discussion to come to consensus. I’d like to point out that virtual consensus-building worked, from my perspective, because I’d worked with researchers from one reserve, in-person, for years, and we built on that relationship.
A less-typical day might involve attending a conference, for example, a recent conference on Climate Change Research connecting scientists and local communities, where I attended as a guest of the keynote speaker, Tribal Chairman Valentin Lopez of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band. Connecting with other scientists and community leaders, I was asked for my ability to interpret and build bridges between people who already wear many hats, who are not just from the one dimension of “scientist” or “community member.” (It can be funny to go from chainsaw chaps to conference-wear, “clean up good.”)
In some ways, this means there isn’t a typical day. I love how my work is built on relationship, that having lived around the Monterey Bay for 20 years now, my circles and relationships overlap and allow me to move across spaces and collaborate in networks to get good work done, to support others’ good work.
Q8. Have you faced any hardship or problems in your career that you would like to share?
I recognize the immense privilege I have in my career, as a white woman with educational privilege.
It’s not that I haven’t had hard times; I haven’t had the hard times that are layered on with racism, or the diseases or exhaustion of racism.
Trigger warnings: suicide.
Twenty years ago…my younger sister (only sister), my college roommate, and my dad all died within one year of each other. My sister died by suicide. My college roommate died as a mountaineering guide on Denali in Alaska. My dad died of cancer, one year to the day after my sister was found. I got dunked, hard, into grieving, BIG grieving. I was a twenty-four/twenty-five-year-old who knew (some things new, some ongoing) about Hospice, cancer, grieving, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI, https://nami.org/About-NAMI), the mash-up of struggles that get binned together in the psych ward, conversations with forensics folks who identify people by their skeletons and dental records, co-creating memorial services. Again, I am aware that communities of color are exposed to violence of racism; mass shootings; people who have seen in elementary school what I experienced in my twenties. (So, there I was, one of two twenty-something-year-olds in the Hospice Bereavement group I attended in Monterey (thank you, Hospice of Monterey!) — in a group of about 12 people all of whom were older by decades; that means I was young, on the one hand, and that I had access to free services and care.)
I was working as a technical writer in Boulder when my sister went missing and then died. I came home to California, I took a job six weeks after my father died — having just finished a Master of Science degree — at Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove. I want to thank Professor Mark Denny for four wonderful, formative years in his lab, and for this specific detail: I told him something like this, “Sometimes I will need to walk out the gate and walk and walk and walk, and cry, until I can come back in and work. I will get my work done. I need the freedom to walk out when it’s important.” He gave me a Yes as an answer, a lot of understanding, a lot of respect and curiosity about who I was as a person. As well as asking me for my thoughts, insights, book recommendations when his parents were dying — I appreciate that clear sight of knowing someone else has gone through things you haven’t, even though they are younger.
My hardships are about having big life events, that at times took 99% of my energy, in a culture of American work, and STEM in particular, that seem to say: whatever you have going on, emotions, loves, family…park them at the door and just be hard, cold, and one-point-focused at work. I am thankful to have created and found something WAY different, which of course I needed to be a whole human.
Q9. If you have one piece of advice for budding scientists, what would that be?
Find your people. This is your space and you can step into it. (I’m not being naïve about all the barriers, or at least I know some of my blind spots without knowing all of them.)
For the existing scientists and society members: please keep going to make a world where budding scientists can be curious, whole humans. Scientists are curious, persevering, caring — those are qualities needed in science, and also, people come into their work with all their beauties, warts, gifts and traumas, as you know — and come in all forms.
Find your people might be the association that feels good, a home base:
SACNAS (https://www.sacnas.org/), NSBE (http://www.nsbe.org/Home.aspx), Society of Latinx Engineers (on many college campuses), Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE). That is not at all approaching a comprehensive list, just the general idea. Or the self-knowledge that yeah, groups don’t do it for me, but my aunt/roommate/former teacher is completely on my team and who I turn to for support.
Q10. Do you have some special advice for the would-be ecologists or environmental scientists?
Your love for the world, for the natural world, for the world with people in it, is world rocking, is foundational, is a BIG deal.
If you get told — overtly or covertly — that you don’t belong, shouldn’t be here, notice those messages without believing them, and go find your mentors and wise women and truthsayers.
Q11. And the last question. What do you consider to be your greatest-great achievement in the last one year?
In the last one year…
Being present with, and loving my children, my partner, my mom, and my chosen family…also my people not on Earth, that have passed on. I’ll step into my full self and claim that. Loving up my people; being clear, “I’ve got your back.”
In terms of professional achievements, a) co-creating the open door and walking through it with the Amah Mutsun Land Trust and the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, to design a Co-Director of Stewardship role and pathway forward; and b) continuing to work well across edges, ecotones, groups of people who may just be starting to reach out to each other…those edges are my center.
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This interview was lightly edited for clarity.
Dr. Promita Chakraborty is the founding editor of 500 Poppies. She is a scientist and founder. Find her on twitter.