Early Career Perspective: Adeel Khan

Note: We first met Adeel when he reached out with a few questions on air pollution. From there, it has been wonderful to see him grow & learn. We wish him all the best! Find Adeel on LinkedIn or Twitter. This is a guest blog and the piece has been lightly edited for brevity.

Early days

I remember being clueless in my final year of Bachelor’s in Chemistry at Delhi University and I wasn’t sure about pursuing a career in Chemistry so I signed up for MBA coaching. I believe some of the bachelor’s people who are reading this blog can relate as well. But deep down I knew I was not sure about having a career in management. November 6, 2016- I still remember the day- I was breathless, I had red eyes and the sky above me was yellow. Immediately, I started to do my research (Google, I mean :)) and found out that this had a lot to do with air pollution. It was staggering to me that the air quality in Delhi is about 50x more than WHO limit and is one of the biggest silent killers. From then, I started reading more about environmental problems such as air pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, and their impact on our lives. I left my MBA coaching and I was determined that I would like to do something in the field of environment and sustainability.

Tryst with uncertainty

Having an interest or passion is not always enough. After completing my Bachelor’s degree, I knew that the real uncertainty and struggle was going to begin. So I did what many unemployed Bachelors do, an unpaid internship for the experience. I looked around and read about the work of UN with their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Agreement, and work in the field of environmental development. I applied at UNDP as an intern and luckily got it- the UN doesn’t pay the interns but the exposure and network I got was really good.

To widen my experience, I interned with two other environmental organizations in India –TERI and Center for Science and Environment (CSE). However, I realized that I needed proper coursework and technical knowledge in this field and started looking for Masters programmes in India and abroad. I applied abroad (again, Google and my colleagues helped me) and got several offers. But, getting a full scholarship was the biggest hurdle. This led to uncertain and tough decisions, but in the end, I joined TERI School of Advanced Studies (TERI SAS) in India.

The TERI-SAS years

During my time with TERI SAS, I used to attend meetups, summit, conferences related to different environmental issues. I joined a group called India against Air Pollution where they invite startups, students, policy makers, scientist and different stakeholders for discussions. I was fascinated with the work being done by startups on air pollution including converting air pollution into ink and the use of Machine learning and AI to solve air quality data gap, scientists utilizing satellites and remote sensing techniques for air quality measurements and public policy professional and lawyers making action plans and policies for air pollution.

To get some hands-on experience, I joined an air quality startup for my summer internship project. There, I had the chance to work on satellite data and machine learning algorithms to analyse and predict the air quality. It was a great exposure with data analytics software like Python and R but at the same time, it was a challenge since I didn’t have any experience with data analytics. What really drove me is the idea of how data analytics and modeling can help government and policy makers in taking informed decisions. To continue this learning process, I applied to another air quality startup in Germany as part of my Masters dissertation, and there, I worked as a data analyst intern in the software team. To ensure that I was making the most of the opportunity and to expand my skillset, I also signed up for an online course on data science.

I’d like you to know that..

We are producing more data than ever and there are a number of avenues to be explored on the use of air quality data, both for understanding trends and forecasting. Recently, I’ve started working with air quality data from around the world via OpenAQ data. I’m using the open access openair package (in R) using which you can analyze air quality data with just a few lines of code (who would’ve thought!). To illustrate this, I made the following visualization for one of the most polluted stations in Delhi (Anand Vihar). The data is for PM10 from 2017-2020 for the months of January to June. Will you believe that this whole analysis just took me 10 lines of code (including loading the package and reading the data)!

What’s on my mind

Environment is still an emerging field and it requires more people than ever to solve the challenges. Job security is still an issue, but I think we are experiencing an expansion in the field- more institutes, organizations and department are setting up. For example, Delhi University has setup the Institute of Climate Change and Sustainability and IIT is introducing a course on UN-Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The future is hopeful.

Finally, I feel that people are willing to help and mentor you if you ask. I am thankful to my teachers, colleagues and friends who helped me and encouraged me throughout. Having recently completed my Master’s degree, I’m ready for career in air quality!

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