Tyndall Spotlight: Manasa Sharma and Chyna Dixon

Manasa Sharma

A young woman with glasses, identified as Manasa Sharma, smiling at the camera in a cozy sweater, indoors, with a world map poster in the background.

Manasa Sharma, Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholar at the University of East Anglia, is researching climate adaptation strategies for smallholder farmers in India. She is developing a temporal climate analog model to assess past impacts and future risks as a pilot study in South India and plans to conduct fieldwork and surveys to document impacts and adaptation approaches. By analyzing crop yields, weather data, and policies, she aims to understand future risk and how agricultural practices and policies have evolved over time. Manasa is passionate about interdisciplinary research and aims to contribute significantly to climate change adaptation in smallholder farming communities.

What is your research about?
I am using the concept of temporal climate analogs to explore how smallholder farmers in the global south are preparing for the climate challenges of tomorrow, today.
I will be heading out into the field soon to study the innovative practices and traditional knowledge that local communities have been using for generations to adapt to changing environments. So far, I have found some sustainable techniques like using drought-tolerant seed varieties, integrating crop-livestock systems, and exploring different livelihood options. Through documenting these climate-resilient approaches in real-world settings, my goal is to promote knowledge sharing and help shape adaptation policies that truly reflect the needs and experiences of farmers, and empower rural communities to plan ahead.

What got you into this field of research?
I was inspired to start this work because I realized that simply studying academic theories out of curiosity is not enough to address the urgent issue of climate change. We need practical and actionable science that can directly guide policies and strategies to help communities, especially those most vulnerable to environmental challenges. Often, solutions are imposed from the top down without taking into account the unique perspectives and traditional knowledge of local communities. I wanted my research to challenge this approach by focusing on the real experiences of people who are directly affected by climate change on a daily basis. Climate change requires more than just book knowledge; it requires meaningful actions that are rooted in the diverse human experiences at the heart of this crisis. I hope that through my work, I can make a positive impact by bringing attention to these important issues.

Who/what inspires you to do this work?
I find so much inspiration in the incredible resilience and creativity of smallholder farming communities! They have been able to maintain their traditional ways of life in harmony with nature for generations, which is truly amazing. Even in the face of climate change, they continue to adapt and their deep connection to the land is so sacred. I truly believe that these communities hold the answers to sustainable solutions, and it’s a privilege and a responsibility to amplify their voices and perspectives in my work.

Why did you choose the Tyndall Centre to do your PhD?
I was drawn to the Tyndall Centre because of its stellar reputation as a leading institution in transdisciplinary sustainability and climate change research.

Do you have any advise for those who want to do a PhD?
It’s important to not only have an academic interest but also a deeper purpose and passion for making a positive change in the world. The journey can be tough, so having a strong ‘why’ that motivates you is key.   Surround yourself with mentors and a supportive community. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and take care of your mental health along the way, this means saying no to people sometimes. Embrace your unique perspective and celebrate your diversity. Most importantly, see your research as an opportunity to make a real impact beyond just the academic realm. 

Chyna Dixon

Portrait of a smiling woman with blonde hair, wearing a black turtleneck, posed against a tan background with Tyndall Spotlight.

Chyna is a PhD researcher in the School of Global Development at the University of East Anglia. Her research explores the decolonial dimensions of water sharing and governance amongst autonomous and collective irrigation systems (acequia systems) in northern New Mexico. Prior to beginning the PhD, Chyna worked as a research practitioner in northern New Mexico. She holds a master’s degree in Environmental Science and Policy and a BA in Political Science, both from Clark University (Worcester, Massachusetts).

What is your research about?
My research explores community water governance in relation to climate and political-economic change, with a particular focus on processes of water sharing amongst the acequias (autonomous and collective irrigation ditches) of northern New Mexico. This research includes exploration into how water sharing practices influence individual and communal responses to change, while attending to the impact of water rights privatization on traditional water use and adaptation. Through this research, I study the colonial matrix of power and its expressions around land, water, and culture in Northern New Mexico — and understand acequia water sharing and governance to be decolonial practices of relational autonomy.

What got you into this field of research?
I think I have always been curious about the relationships between land, water, and community — and, this curiosity was only heightened with recognition of the ways in which climate change will impact our global future. I was born, and primarily raised, along a small acequia in northern New Mexico — and also spent a significant portion of my childhood in Hawai’i. These two places are seemingly disparate, but actually share deep commonalities regarding the commodification and expropriation of land, water, culture, and history –– as well as their unique challenges with, and responses to, climate change. Looking back on my research career, now, I see how deeply this personal background has formed the foundation of my research practice, and how important it is for me that I continue to work at the intersections of climate, community, and (de)coloniality. 

Who/what inspires you to do this work?
I witness, daily, the extraordinary commitment of New Mexican (and indigenous + land-based people globally) to the land, water, and community that constitute “home.” Concurrently, I see the interrelated and global pressures of commodification, coloniality, and climate change, which seem to have an un-ending presence in the communities from which I come and care about. If any of my actions can culminate in a small movement towards a future more-rooted in justice, sustainability, and plurality, then I think it is my job to push my research efforts as far as they can possibly go in this lifetime. As researchers, I feel we are given a tremendous privilege to explore our passions and curiosity — and, for me, that privilege is accompanied by a responsibility to engage in reciprocal research practice that is accountable to those people and places that inform our work (as well as the wider networks of solidarity within which our research is imbedded). 

Why did you choose the Tyndall Centre to do your PhD?
I am based in the School of Global Development, however I first learned about the Tyndall Centre in 2016, while completing my master’s at Clark University. I had been searching for down-scalable climate data to use while developing climate projections for northern New Mexico, and the CRU had just what I was looking for! Fast forward a few years, and I had forgotten about that particular connection…until I began looking at PhD programs, and decided on UEA. It has been very important for me to build a strong climate element into my research, and I feel really appreciative that Tyndall provides such an open and interdisciplinary space for all of us as researchers to work within. Being able to participate in the Tyndall Centre as an early career researcher has been one of the best parts of my PhD. 

Do you have any advice for those who want to do a PhD?
A PhD can be a daunting task, but if you have passion, curiosity, and discipline — it is extremely rewarding. I would say that your supervisory relationship can be one of the most important elements of the PhD, and so it is really worthwhile to take the time to identify a supervisory team that feels supportive and aligned with you as an individual, as well as with your research goals. Sometimes these individuals will not be located in the department/school that you might think: so, (this may be controversial!) I would say it is more important to focus on finding the individuals that you want to work with, rather than finding the department/school that you initially think you want to study in! Also — make sure to think and live outside of the “PhD Box” once in a while (e.g. go for a run, take a walk, garden, dance, whatever you need to do…our best ideas usually come to us when we are refreshed). Lastly, think about what you want to do after the PhD, how you want to conduct your PhD, and continue to weave these elements into your journey as you go along. 


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