Manisha Pant recently joined the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) as a macroinvertebrates coordinator with the Illinois River Biological Station (IRBS)’s long-term resource monitoring (LTRM) program. She earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Eastern Illinois University, where her research focused on effects of in-stream restoration on fishes and macroinvertebrates in a small stream. She then joined Virginia Institute of Marine Science/William & Mary where she served as lab manager and laboratory/research specialist responsible for the organizing, collecting, processing and analyzing data from marine and estuarine benthic ecosystems along the East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico.
What are you looking forward to the most in your new role at INHS?
I am looking forward to once again sampling and studying freshwater macroinvertebrates, after a gap of a few years during which I studied estuarine and marine macroinvertebrates. I also look forward to working with the folks at IRBS, and potentially learning new skills (like genetic and stable isotope analysis) and revisiting old passions (like fish sampling and taxonomy).
How old were you when you first became interested in science? What sparked your interest?
I have always been interested in STEM fields since my childhood. But it was only when I started working in Dr. Robert Colombo’s fish and aquatic sciences lab at EIU that I realized identifying aquatic critters (both fish and non-fish) was my niche.
Who or what drew you to study macroinvertebrates?
As mentioned earlier, working in Dr. Robert Colombo’s lab at EIU focused my path towards taxonomy. I am interested in aquatic animals in general.
What are common misconceptions about your career? OR What question do you get asked most frequently about your career or the subject you study?
People often ask me if I get grossed out by looking at bugs all the time – I answer, emphatically, “No! Bugs are cool!” People also often ask why I study macroinvertebrates instead of something more charismatic like fishes. To this, I again say that bugs are cool, but also that bugs are important to the ecosystems, even to fishes because bugs are fish food, and without bugs, fish communities would collapse.
What are some challenges you’ve faced in your career?
As a person of color and a woman in science, there's always a threat while going out in the field by myself. People have also frequently assumed that I am not a scientist, but rather a “help.”
What do you wish more people understood about science or being a scientist?
I wish people would understand that science is not the truth, but the process to get to the truth. If scientists change their recommendations based on new findings, it is a feature of science, and not a bug (no pun intended).
What advice would you give to future scientists?
Be open to opportunities.