Scripps Student Spotlight: Eesha Rangani

Marine biology master’s student studying invertebrates, involving the systematics of deep-sea Nereidid worms

Eesha Rangani is a second-year master's student in the marine biology program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Rangani grew up in Bangalore, India, and attended college at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England, where she studied marine biology and conservation. She currently works under Scripps marine biologist Greg Rouse in his benthic invertebrate lab, Spineless, and was a COP27 delegate. Rangani’s research interests include invertebrates and the systematics of deep-sea Nereidid worms.


explorations now (en): Why did you choose to attend Scripps?

Eesha Rangani (ER): I choose to attend Scripps because of the community that is fostered here. Everyone that works at Scripps is so driven and motivated to try and make the world a better place. Being part of an environment that shares the same dreams that I do has been the reason behind my choice to attend Scripps. 

Rangani giving a poster presentation during the SICB (Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology) meeting in Austin, Texas.

en: What are you researching at Scripps?

ER: My lab works predominantly on invertebrates and systematics. My research is focused on the systematics of deep-sea Nereidid worms from vents, seeps, and whale falls. Nereididae are one of the most diverse families of polychaetes, a marine annelid worm, containing 700 species and 45 genera. Nereididae are commonly found in shallow-water marine biomes, but also occur in deep-sea environments, freshwater habitats, and estuaries. Several species of nereididae have been described from the deep sea. However, only a few species belonging to the genera Nereis have been collected from chemosynthetic-based habitats, such as hydrothermal vents, and one species of Neanthes from a whale fall. I have been fortunate enough to work under a principal investigator (PI) who has been able to collect new Nereidid samples from Costa Rica, the Gulf of California, Oregon, North Fiji, and Lau basins, representing new species. I will be researching the systematics of the species belonging to the genera of Nereis and Neanthes using mitogenome data and will potentially describe the three new species from different chemosynthetic environments. 


en: How did you become interested in science and your field of study?

ER: One of my childhood ambitions was to be an astronaut. Growing up, I did everything in my power to chase this goal. This dream led me to start thinking about the potential of life elsewhere in the universe, and I had many questions about the intricacies of life. For instance, how life evolved to be what it is today. To explore this curiosity, I applied to Harvard Summer School to study astrobiology, where I spent three months finding possible answers to these complex questions. It was learning about concepts such as the “Goldilocks zone,” or habitable region around a star, that fueled my ambition in this field. Being involved in deep-sea research is one of the stepping stones toward getting closer to my dream of being an astrobiologist. We now understand that deep-sea environments act as an analog to environments in space. For example, Saturn's moon, Enceladus, has an ice-covered ocean, and it has been observed that material erupts from cracks in the ice . Several environments on our planet have similar conditions to Enceladus. Exploring the deep sea through the lens of astrobiology allows us to develop technology and frameworks that might help us answer the persistent question of whether we’re alone in the universe.     


Students analyzing CTD data during deep-sea biology cruise led by biological oceanographer Lisa Levin.

en: What’s life like as a Scripps student? Describe a typical day.

ER: Being a Scripps student is exciting, but also requires a certain drive to keep you going. A typical day in my life would involve getting to the lab early in the morning and setting up my lab bench and notebook for Polymerase chain reactions (PCRs), a procedure used to amplify a sequence of DNA, running the PCRs, and waiting for the PCR cycler to complete its cycle. While I wait, I usually respond to emails, prepare slides for my TA discussion section, use the microscope to take pictures of my worms, or do a bit of writing for my paper. Around noon, I usually meet up with my other brilliant friends to eat lunch on the benches outside Hubbs Hall, which has an excellent view — one of the many perks of being a Scripps student. After lunch, I go back to working on or troubleshooting PCRs. Some days I spend all day in front of my computer analyzing and assembling data. Overall, it’s hard to strike a work-life balance as a graduate student because you always feel like there is something you should be doing. Even if I spend all day working in the lab, coming out of the lab and being able to enjoy the view makes it all worth it.


en: What’s the most exciting thing about your work (in the field or the lab)?

This image was taken in Greg Rouse's benthic invertebrate lab, Spineless.

ER: It’s most certainly working with samples collected from the deep sea. Some of our samples have been collected from depths of more than 5,000 meters (about 16,400 feet) and from environments that witness extreme conditions. Having the opportunity to research and understand these samples always blows my mind. We know so little about the deep sea and its diversity. With plans of deep-sea mining on the horizon, it’s critical that we put in effort towards documenting the organisms found there. It is very exciting to work with species that haven’t been previously documented or described. This makes me feel like my research is going to contribute to making a difference in the world someday. Another thing that excites me about working at Scripps is having conversations about science and the environment with different people. There are so many wonderful scientists at Scripps and hearing about their research always excites me. 


en: Are there any role models or mentors who have helped you along the way?

ER: I think my biggest role model has been my mother; she raised me as a single parent in a community where misogyny was a prominent trend. Her hard-working nature and determination have always been an inspiration to me. My undergraduate professor, Philip Pugh, has also been an incredible mentor to me and always encouraged me to ask questions and not be afraid to do so. Pugh carved a path for me in my academic journey and taught me how to think critically, one of the most important skills to have as a scientist. My primary investigator, Greg Rouse, and his knowledge, experience, and work ethic always inspire me. His guidance is something that will help me mature into a scientist. 


en: What are some of the challenges you face as a student?

ER: I grew up in a country that was under imperial rule for many years and it has become second nature to feel inferior in an environment where people don’t share the same skin tone as you do. The lack of diversity in the scientific community is always something that challenges people of color. Sometimes this prevents me from getting involved in certain opportunities and taking risks. This influences my confidence in public speaking and the research that I do. However, I consider this particular challenge as an opportunity to push myself to grow into a more self-assured and confident scientist. 

Rangani at the COP27 climate conference, where she interacted with people interested in climate action in India, her home country, and deep sea scientists advocating against deep sea mining. 

en: What are your plans post-Scripps?

ER: I plan on staying in academia and eventually, my goal is to be a researcher and professor. To begin with, I would like to get involved in research on microbes and want to focus my research on investigating extremophiles, organisms living in extreme environments, through the lens of astrobiology. I would also like to get more involved in deep-sea research carried out in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean is the third largest ocean but remains poorly understood. The government of India has already sanctioned plans to mine parts of the Indian Ocean for polymetallic nodules and mineral concretions used to power electric vehicles. I want to ensure that I dedicate part of my research to understanding how the deep sea plays a critical role in climate regulation and establishing the importance of the biodiversity of the deep. Today, there is a new theme that has emerged and that is change, the major change to our climate and environment. I believe understanding models of extreme life will not only broaden our understanding of the divergence of life but also may help us find solutions to adapt to these changes. 


You can find Rangani on Instagram at @eesshhhh and on Twitter at @EeshaRangani18.

About Scripps Oceanography

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego is one of the world’s most important centers for global earth science research and education. In its second century of discovery, Scripps scientists work to understand and protect the planet, and investigate our oceans, Earth, and atmosphere to find solutions to our greatest environmental challenges. Scripps offers unparalleled education and training for the next generation of scientific and environmental leaders through its undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs. The institution also operates a fleet of four oceanographic research vessels, and is home to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the public exploration center that welcomes 500,000 visitors each year.

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