Postdoctoral researcher Nahal Hoghooghi is one of the newest members of the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) team!
Her curiosity about the interaction between soil, water, and plants as a child eventually led her to study soil science and its contributes to the health of the environment as an undergraduate. While earning her Ph.D., Nahal's research opened new paths in her academic journey by learning and applying new hydrology and environmental sciences skills. At the Water Survey, she will conduct watershed hydrological modeling and water supply planning studies across Illinois.
Nahal recently answered some questions about her journey in STEM and why she believes interdisciplinary research is an invaluable experience for young scientists.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at PRI!
I earned my Bachelor's and Master’s degrees in soil science with a focus on soil physics, followed by my Ph.D. in environmental sciences at the University of Georgia. My doctorate research (under the direction of Dr. David Radcilffe) focused on assessing the effects of septic systems on stream water quantity and quality in the metro Atlanta area. After graduation, I worked as an ORISE postdoctoral fellow in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development in Cincinnati for a year as a hydrologic modeler to evaluate the effect of green infrastructure on watershed hydrology. Then, I rejoined the UGA at the College of Engineering in Dr. Brian Bledsoe's Lab, where I was a lead researcher on modeling the effects of agricultural land management changes and future climate extremes on hydrology, nutrients, and sediment loads in the southern coastal plain of the U.S.
What drew you to your particular area of study?
I was always curious about the interaction between soil, water, and plants as a child. I enjoyed studying soil science as an undergraduate because it contributes directly to the health of our environment. My Ph.D. research, however, opened up new paths in my academic journey. In addition to my soil science knowledge, I learned and applied new hydrology and environmental sciences skills. I am fascinated that my research output can help other scientists and state officials develop solutions regarding watershed management.
What are some challenges you’ve faced in your career?
I find being ambitious a key to academic success. Although, it is sometimes a challenge to find a novel research question at the right time, in line with your scientific goals.
What do you wish more people understood about being a scientist?
Science involves risks and uncertainties that require trial and error. Therefore, having the correct answer with high certainty might take time.
What’s it like taking on this role in the middle of a pandemic?
I have been working remotely since the start of the pandemic. I was excited to move to the new location and have an opportunity to be around other scientists (thanks to the vaccine). I would like to thank the people at PRI that made this transition straightforward during the pandemic.
What advice would you give to those just starting out in your field?
Try to see the big picture in your research and do not limit yourself to one subject. Interdisciplinary research helps you to learn more skills and expand your scientific network.