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Amy Ganguli stands in a rocky field.

Conversations with #WomenInScience: Amy Ganguli, Ph.D.

Nifa Authors
Dr. Amy Ganguli , National Program Leader

In celebration of Women’s History Month, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is featuring Dr. Amy Ganguli. Dr. Ganguli serves as a National Program Leader in the Division of Global Climate in the Institute of Bioenergy, Climate, and Environment. 

Tell us a little about your path into your current field.  

As a child, I had the chance to travel to my father’s homeland of India where I was exposed to a beautiful, albeit developing nation facing strife from poverty and pollution. This exposure ignited my desire to work on environmental issues that impact society, and it is something I have been able to do throughout my career.  

After growing up in New England, my research interests took me west where I conducted research for over 20 years in grasslands throughout the Great Plains, rangelands in the Rocky Mountain foothills, and deserts including the Great Basin cold desert and Chihuahuan hot desert. The topics I worked on centered on ecosystem services and were driven by feedback I received regarding the challenges facing agricultural producers and other land managers in the places I have worked.   

What is your role in NIFA?  What is a typical workday for you? 

In my position, no two days are alike, so I lace up my shoes and prepare to be nimble for the known and unknown that comes across my desk. Although my primary role is to develop, implement, and manage climate change and sustainable agriculture funding programs, the interactions I have with NIFA stakeholders are the most rewarding. There is no better feeling than sharing the good news of an award recommendation with grant applicants, but I also enjoy visiting with people and discussing how they can strengthen their approaches in the future.  

Another exciting aspect of my job is responding to information requests that come from the highest levels of leadership within the USDA. It is rewarding to work with NIFA colleagues to fulfill these requests under tight timelines and see how your contributions make it into reports and presentations. 

What personal challenges have you encountered and how did you overcome them? 

In retrospect, the challenges I faced earlier in my life were rather simple. People doubted my abilities and restricted certain academic opportunities because I performed poorly on standardized tests. Ironically, I had to advocate to take science courses in my early high school years because standardized tests suggested I would be better suited for secretarial work. These obstacles were relatively easy to overcome with persistence and advocacy from others.  

As I progressed in my career and worked throughout the United States, I encountered very different obstacles that were less about my abilities and more about my “fit” in environments where I was considered “different.” Admittedly, these represent some of the greatest challenges in my life but with hard work, determination, and the most important item, support from my network, I was able to overcome the challenges associated with being treated differently.  

It was not easy to overcome these obstacles, and it wasn’t until I brought my authentic self to everything that I found peace. As a result of my experiences, I have chosen to be an advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion because I care about people, and I believe it is impossible to bring your best to work if you are not bringing your authentic self.    

What advice do you have for current students who may be interested in pursuing a similar career path? 

Everyone is on a unique path that rarely follows a straight line. If you are interested in a career in agriculture or natural resource management expand your network, get as much experience as possible, and develop key competencies like teamwork and communication skills. Talk to peers and other professionals to learn about different career paths and seek advice to help you be more competitive for positions. 

For those interested in a federal career there is no better advice I can offer than to apply for internship experiences, especially USDA Pathways positions. There are numerous paid internship opportunities where you will not only learn more about different career paths, but programs like Pathways also offer the potential to be converted into permanent positions after two years of work experience. Regardless of what route you take, find a career that excites and challenges you! 

Farm Bill Priority Areas
Bioenergy, natural resources, and environment

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