Harihar Jaishree Subrahmaniam

PhD graduate from French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (INRAE)

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Never set a limit on yourself.

What do you do?

I am a Plant Evolutionary Ecologist by training. My passion is towards understanding the amazing world of plants. For my PhD research, I wanted to see whether plants could also behave altruistically towards a relative as animals and other organisms often do. Three years of my research gave the first ever evidence on two different types of cooperative interactions among wild Arabidopsis populations. Plants have previously known to help their kins, but my research highlighted that plants are also capable of identifying their natural neighbors coming and extend mutual support to their relatives coming from the same populations. Furthermore, I could also prove that this nepotistic behaviour of sharing resources and helping each other is inbuilt in their genetic codes. The ability to help a neighbour if they are experiencing stress is how natural selection shaped these interactions! I am now a firm believer that plants can teach us to be a little more kind, a little more empathetic and what it means to be good for the group.

Why did you choose this field?

My love for plants started back in my childhood. Growing up in a middle class joint indian family, my grandmother's terrace garden was my favourite hiding spot where I found solace from all the chaos I was a part of growing up with 14 cousins under one roof! Added to the fact that this place was always beautiful to me and it was full of all plants imaginable! Eventually I took up the responsibility of helping out with the garden, it was then when I first
realised how dynamic lives of those plants was. To witness the journey of a seed to a plant and coming to a full circle into a seed again was so exhilarting. It taught me the importance of patience and how good things take time but also what it means to be resilient in the face of stress and uncertainty. Spending time in that terrace gave me a sense of purpose and calmness at the same time. I knew then, plants were my happy place. All my career, I have been trying to understand the what, how and why behind their every amazingly complex yet simple looking behavior. They have taught me life lessons on strength, adaptability and even humanity, better than any human. I am certain my love affair with plants will continue all my life!

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

The surreal moment when I heard the word Doctor as a prefix to my name was a dream I carried in my heart for 20+ years.

Why do you love working in STEM?

For me, being in the service of science is a great honour. Science is about asking questions, being critical about observations, giving unbiased results and mostly being open to changing your preconceived notions upon observing something different. Sometimes it involves taking leaps into the unknown. I love every step involved in the scientific method, to me, it is a way of life!

The best part of being a scientist is that one never stops learning, or being curious about the world around. Science is a humbling experience.

Best advice for next generation?

Never set a limit on yourself. Just like plants, you deserve to thrive. Every plant we see in the wild is growing as much as it possibly can, using up every opportunity available, and when things get tough, it digs their roots deeper to find the core strength to keep growing.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

"Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less"

Marie Curie

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