Alumna Profile: Jyotsna Jagai | WSSS | Tufts University

Alumna Profile: Jyotsna Jagai

by Libby Mahaffy

Jyotsna Jagai graduated in August, 2009, with a PhD from the Freidman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. Her dissertation was entitled "The Environmental Determinants of Seasonal Patterns of Waterborne Diseases." She joined WSSS in 2005, the year the program was founded.

Libby Mahaffy, a graduate student in the UEP program and an intern at the Tufts Institute of the Environment, spoke with Jyotnsa in December 2009 about her perspective on the program, her experiences at Tufts, and her latest endeavors in the world of water.

Learn more about Jyotsna here.

Libby Mahaffy: What was your favorite part of the WSSS program?
Jyotsna Jagai: Honestly, my favorite part was seeing the whole thing come together and the energy around this new, interdisciplinary concept. The conceptualization of the whole program was exciting to me. Iím an engineer by training Ė my undergrad was in engineering Ė so even though I ended up in Public Health, Iíve always looked at the world as one big system. This program is really systematic, too, in how it sees the world as interconnected via this issue of water. All issues are interconnected, from poverty to food systems to health care to infrastructure. It really suited my nature.

LM: What was the most difficult or challenging part?
JJ: As expected, [interdisciplinary programs] require a little extra effort or an extra step. As long as youíre interested and you want to make it happen itís doable because all the resources are at the school, itís just a matter of carving it out.

LM: How are you using your experiences?
JJ: Iím a post-doc at the US Environmental Protection Agency at Chapel Hill [North Carolina] doing research on human health and the environment. Iím looking at creating an index that will take into account air issues, water issues, land issues and built and social environmental issues, all within one large index. The members of the team Iím working with are much more expert in the areas of air pollution and air problems as well as the built and social environment -- they hired me on for my expertise in the areas of water and land issues. The data sets and the work that I had done [for my PhD] Ė understanding these huge national datasets and being able to draw upon national-level analysis Ė really put me in the right place for this type of a role.

LM: What was something you didnít expect from the program?
JJ: I think what I liked about WSSS was the energy of the professors, especially those on my committee [Elena Naumova, Jeff Griffiths, Paul Kirshen, and Patrick Webb]. As chaotic as it was organizing them all in the same room at the same time, it was really great when they were all together. Everyone was always so excited about what I was doing -- they had lots of ideas and faith in me -- it was really energizing and encouraging. A couple of times after meetings they even thanked me for getting them all to work together! I think they all want to but have a tough time because of the constraints that fall on faculty -- schedules, grants, funding, etcetera Ė so they donít always get the chance to work with each other the way they want to. Sometimes a student can facilitate that by pulling them all together. When people talk about interdisciplinary work they scare you because they say ďoh, interdisciplinary work is SO HARD!Ē which is true, but at the same time I drew a lot from the energy that was already there to make it happen.

LM: If WSSS were a Jelly Belly, what flavor would it be?
JJ: Oh! I need to think about thatÖ. I guess if I were to pick a Jelly Belly flavor to describe the WSSS program I would say it was Dr. Pepper... a little unexpected but all together wonderful!

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The Water: Systems, Science and Society (WSSS) program is a graduate research and education program that provides Tufts students with interdisciplinary perspectives and tools to manage water-related problems around the world.

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