Kripa Jagannathan

Visible Spectrum is a series to spotlight talented and dedicated women employees across the Lab

April 27, 2023

Kripa Jagannathan is a research scientist within the Earth & Environmental Sciences Area working on climate change adaptation and actionable knowledge for environmental decision-making. Her day-to-day work at the Lab is far from what one would consider traditional lab work as she is an interdisciplinary environmental scientist.

She primarily uses social science research methods such as interviews, surveys, focus group discussions, workshops, and other participatory approaches. On a typical day, you would find her in a meeting, perhaps interviewing a flood manager on what kind of climate information they need to make climate-related decisions, or perhaps facilitating a working group discussion that brings together climate modelers and electric utilities to understand how to design a climate data platform to assist energy sector decisions. 

Outside of the lab, Kripa enjoys spending time with friends and family both in the Bay Area and back home in India. She particularly enjoys cooking and hosting friends to enjoy her home-cooked meals. She also participates in fun Bollywood dances and going to live performances and concerts.

What inspired you to work at Berkeley Lab? What excites you about your work?

Nine years ago, I moved from India to the United States for my graduate studies. In India, I was already working in the climate change space, and I remember reading a lot of research on carbon sequestration and energy efficiency coming out of Berkeley Lab. So I knew the Lab was a space for transformative and impactful research. However, my inspiration to work at LBNL came from my experience as a graduate student research assistant for the Lab’s Earth and Environmental Sciences Area (EESA) in 2014. I remember bumping into many famous senior scientists and being treated with genuine respect for my research ideas and aspirations. I am inspired to work in such a respectful, friendly, welcoming and supportive space. One of the most exciting parts of my work is that I get to work with an amazing team of people. Despite being surrounded by some of the best scientists in the world, the Lab has always been a friendly, welcoming and supportive space. 

Another very exciting part of my work is that I get to interact with community groups and decision-makers who are at the forefront of the climate challenge, and support the development of actionable knowledge that can aid their decision-making.

What does your current scientific project or research entail?

The two main projects that I am currently working on are what we call “co-production of actionable climate science” projects. Co-production is an approach where scientists work together with potential users of science (e.g., water managers, electric utilities, land management agencies, energy policy-makers) to collaboratively and iteratively develop scientific research and tools. We integrate feedback from these decision-makers into the research plans at all stages. My work is to design and facilitate these engagements between climate scientists and practitioners, and ensure that the subsequent scientific results and outputs are actionable for the users, and supports their decision-making. 

Part of my work also entails conducting rich qualitative and systematic reviews of these co-production engagements to identify what processes work or do not work, especially when it comes to developing actionable climate knowledge. Scientists and decision-makers often have different needs and priorities from climate science, therefore understanding what processes lead to mutual understanding and common goals are a big part of my work. 

My two main projects are:

What have you been most proud of in your work?

I am often interested in complex climate-related questions whose answers require many different types of disciplines and expertise to come together. I am most proud of the inter- and transdisciplinary networks and research teams that I have been a part of and have helped to develop. A lot of my research papers and projects are highly collaborative, and I always enjoy working with a wide-range of experts across disciplines, and also across both research and practice. I am most proud of these collaborations and relationships that I have been able to build over the years.

Over the last few years, I have had the opportunity to be a contributing author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Climate Assessment Report (IPCC AR6), as well as be a Chapter Author for the Fifth US National Climate Assessment report (NCA5). These two reports are widely regarded as some of the most important syntheses of the current state of climate change knowledge. These reports are also used by many policy and decision-makers across the world for making key climate mitigation and adaptation related policies and decisions. As a climate scientist, it is an honor and a privilege to be able to play a role in developing these important reports, and it has been one of the most meaningful and rewarding experiences to participate in these processes.

Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter and/or succeed in your field of work?

My biggest tip for anyone looking to work on climate change issues would be to talk with different people - both researchers and practitioners - working on the topic. Climate change is a complex issue both scientifically and practically, and most people across the world are affected by this problem directly or indirectly. So understanding the problem and potential solutions, requires listening to different and often new perspectives with an open mind. Reaching out to people from different disciplines working on the topics, attending conferences, joining networks or groups, and perhaps even engaging with people whose perspectives we do not agree with can all be great ways to continually learn and grow in this space.

How can our community engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?

This is quite a heavy and difficult question to answer. In my opinion, there is not a straightforward answer. Our societal systems and institutions are not always set up in ways that promote and encourage traditionally marginalized groups. To improve the representation of such groups within these systems, I think our institutions need to change and be molded such that they are viewed as welcoming places rather than elitist institutions for a select few. 

Particularly in STEM, we need to change the notion of “who is a scientist.” Our community can help create a space where everyone can see themselves as scientists, not just those with access to expensive data, tools and technologies, but also those who are citizen scientists, or community scientists or Indigenous Knowledge holders. Expanding what we think science is, and ensuring we become a community that is not exclusive but inclusive, and is welcoming of all types of “scientists” would be an important first step.

From top left and clockwise: Kripa speaking at a climate tools workshop in UC Merced, interviewing farmers at a Central Valley almond orchard, and with the Executive Committee of the American Geophysical Union Science and Society Section