Research in the Himalayas: A Story of A Young Researcher

One perk of doing research in the Himalayas — there is always a refreshing view at work

How often do we come across people talking about “research”? If you are traveling to a new place, do some “research” on it. What restaurant to eat in? A little “research” and you get your answers. In this age of internet and social media dominance, everyone is a “researcher”. And rightly so, anything important that is pursued needs careful evaluation and of course, “research”.

This new blog piece is about a local researcher, in fact, a Ph.D. researcher who got into research unexpectedly but now cannot imagine a world without qualitative research. A researcher who has fulfilled the dream of many to work in his region and on the region’s communities. IABT role model stories want to inspire the local young people through stories of young role models and research is one area where, strangely, not many young people have researched about. Mayank Shah hails from Nainital and has recently been awarded his Ph.D. degree from Kumaun University. Mayank is currently working with IABT. Mayank’s Ph.D. was on climate change-related livelihood vulnerabilities and how communities in the Central Himalayas build resilience. His Ph.D. is an important work to talk about given the emerging conversations on climate change narratives and vulnerability studies in the Western Himalayas. Studies have found out that the various impacts of climate change like changing temperatures and receding glaciers are already felt in Uttarakhand. Mayank’s work not only talks about the climate change impacts on livelihoods and lives of the communities in the Central Himalayan region but also how different structural factors shape up the community’s resilience to these livelihood vulnerabilities.

Qualitative field research requires one to be part of the community’s socio-cultural life. In one of his field studies, Mayank here took part in the community’s traditional and cultural procession of welcoming the goddess Nanda to their village on her journey to her marital home. Nanda is the daughter deity worshipped in Garhwal and many parts of Kumaon.

But doing research was not Mayank’s first choice, or rather, the first venture. After completing his schooling at Nainital and Dehradun, Mayank did think of going to Delhi to pursue graduation back in the year 2005. But for youth from smaller towns, the choice of going to a metro city for higher education is not an easy one. The world, despite the emergence of the internet age, was not as connected. Besides, a 2015 paper by Somerville and Walsworth found that only 4% of Indian students in Canada go through websites as a source of information. Immigrant students overwhelmingly rely on networks of family and friends. This is especially true for students from smaller towns and cities. Mayank did not know people studying in Delhi, and when he applied for colleges in Delhi, he did not have complete information about what colleges to apply to and what courses to pursue. Mayank ended up pursuing his graduation in commerce from Kumaun University.

The journey from graduation to Ph.D. did not happen right away for Mayank. After completing his graduation, Mayank spent some time in Kolkata visiting his relatives. Coming back to his hometown, Mayank did not want to pursue commerce anymore. Instead, he took admission in Economics. Like most Economics students, Mayank chose to work in the corporate sector in Gurgaon after completing his post-graduation. The long hours of the corporate sector and the hectic schedules forced Mayank to leave his job and come back to Nainital.

Mayank conducting a participatory ethnography with a village lady at the last village of India on the Tibet border.

Once back in Nainital, Mayank started teaching. It was then that he realized his ambition of doing more in the subject and pursuing higher studies. Mayank did not imagine that he would ever pursue a Ph.D. He had never thought of himself as someone who could pursue teaching. And like most people, he thought Ph.D. meant being in academia. Doing research was never an option, in fact, research was never thought of as an option. “I remember our Ph.D. orientation day,” Mayank recalls, “When the students were asked what they would do after Ph.D., all of them except one said they will try for academia. Only one person talked about doing research.” And of course, that person was Mayank!

Mayank started his Ph.D. after getting through the Kumaun University entrance exam. But he still had not decided on the topic of his Ph.D. thesis. Mayank did not want to do his Ph.D. in a mainstream (common) economic field, he wanted to explore more about the non-mainstream and the emerging, relevant branches of the discipline. Climate economics has been an important debate amongst mainstream economists. Prevalent economic theory’s refusal to address climate change makes Mayank’s work very significant. The wish to work on his region, talk about the region’s communities, and highlight the key issues is every researcher’s dream.

“When I started my Ph.D., I did not know anything about vulnerabilities,” smiles Mayank. It is worth noting that Mayank’s Ph.D. was entirely on vulnerabilities in the Central Himalayas. Mayank is also an ardent believer in the importance of qualitative research. Qualitative research involves collecting and analyzing non-numerical data through interviews and case studies. While the economic theory has always shown bias towards quantitative research, Mayank’s work shows how research need not always be quantitative and how qualitative research can bring out insights that quantitative research can miss out on. Mayank interviewed many young people for his research and understood their perceptions which would not have been possible with mere quantitative research.

Mayank’s story is important because it shows everything that young people go through before making a decision. We often end up doing things that most people do, but without realizing our aspirations. There is so much to be researched and the more young people get involved in the domain, the better is the world.

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IABT is a non-profit & social organization working to bring opportunities, awareness, and mentoring to youth in rural and small-town India.

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IABT Foundation

IABT Foundation

IABT is a non-profit & social organization working to bring opportunities, awareness, and mentoring to youth in rural and small-town India.

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