Dr. Kaustubh Thirumalai

Kaustubh is an invited speaker for the 2022 GSA Connects Session
T145. Advances and New Voices in Marine and Coastal Geoscience.

What is your current professional role?
Currently I am an assistant professor at the Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona. I teach classes related to climate/geochemistry/oceanography/paleontology & oversee the Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology Laboratory. I greatly enjoy my role in facilitating graduate and undergraduate research. 

What aspects of marine or coastal geoscience do you work on (or have you worked on in the past)?
There are several problems in marine geoscience and paleoceanography that our research group and I are currently working on; major themes include the past and future impact of Indian monsoon variability on northern Indian oceanography, coupling between equatorial ocean dynamics and sea-surface temperature fluctuations, low-latitude variability of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, and calibrations of various foraminiferal geochemical techniques in marginal seas.

How did you first become interested in science?
I recall first becoming interested in chemistry & physics early on in middle school when I also enjoyed learning about climate, geography, and history - particularly of the Indian subcontinent. Thanks to family trips to wildlife-rich forests in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, I also became interested in the natural sciences (and when I started to enjoy birding!) Later on, I chose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, but I was a below-average student, partly because I was unaware if I was capable of pursuing research in interdisciplinary natural science. During a summer break, I was lucky enough to stumble upon the Centre for Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences (CAOS) at the Indian Institute of Science in my hometown of Bengaluru and was introduced to monsoon and stable isotope dynamics. That was a very influential experience which led to a subsequent summer stint at the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad. These opportunities that I was privileged to encounter propelled me towards pursuing a career in science. 

Who have been your greatest mentors?
By way of family, friends, my PhD advisor and committee members, labmates, research advisors, post-doc advisors, research staff, service engineers, students, and colleagues across several career stages, I have had far too many mentors (in various space/time scenarios) whose generosity and perspective has helped me be where I am today. I am continually grateful to them all!

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in this field?
One piece of advice that I wish I followed more early on, is to reach out to others and ask for help. Marine and coastal geoscience in an incredibly broad and interdisciplinary field! There are plenty of exciting problems to be explored and techniques to be learned from reaching out. Research aside, I think it is also critical to build a vast group of mentors to help navigate the myriad nuances of academia. 

Where is your favorite coastal or marine location (includes paleo-coastal or -marine)?
This is a tough one, but working in the coastal lagoons and coral reefs of the Western Solomons forearc was a life-changing experience!

What are some things (not including work) that you are passionate about?
I greatly enjoy birding, listening to various forms of music, playing pool (I wish there was more snooker in the United States!), and taking photographs.

You get a chance to relax with your favorite meal and your favorite music- what are you eating and listening to?
I am eating a CTR masala dosa with mint chutney and listening to Sunn O))).