Yasmin Romitti is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Earth & Environment and a trainee in the BU URBAN Program. Her research focuses on the nexus of climate impacts, energy, and health. Yasmin has a B.S. from Boston University and an M.A. from the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna.
On June 9th, 2022 Yasmin was a panelist at the Congressional Briefing (hosted by BU Federal Relations) where experts and leaders discussed the topic: Building The Next Generation Climate Workforce: Innovative Solutions From Around The Country. Check out the full Congressional Briefing here and to learn more about the event click here.
Our Impact Intern, Aika Ulanova, recently sat down with Yasmin to discuss her journey to BU URBAN, the research she’s currently working on and what being part of The Next Generation Climate Workforce means to her.
For clarity purposes, this Q & A has been condensed and edited.
Aika: Can you tell us a bit more about your background?
Yasmin: I grew up in California, but my parents are from two different European countries. So, growing up, I wanted to be a diplomat. I studied international relations at BU for my bachelor’s degree. And so I tried to continue along with that by doing a master’s in International Studies at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna, Austria. Then, I eventually worked my way back to D.C., and I worked as a research associate at The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. It was at this institution that I decided that I wanted to go back to do a Ph.D., and then eventually I found my way to BU URBAN after that.
Aika: What specifically prompted you to pursue a Ph.D. at the Department of Earth and Environment and become an URBAN trainee?
Yasmin: At the academy in Vienna, I worked on two different boards—the board on Atmospheric Climate and Science, and the board on Earth Sciences and Resources. The academy’s main product is a consensus study. And so I was working on a bunch of different consensus studies that were basically across the climate and earth sciences. And I became very interested in some of the questions that we were tackling. For example, one of the big reports I worked on was about negative emissions technologies: so, carbon dioxide removal. And some of the questions that the committee came up with in terms of research gaps and things that we still didn’t know prompted me to think like, well, that’s really interesting. Like, maybe I could do this type of research because I’m very interested in this. So I was like, okay, I should probably go back and do a Ph.D., and do this type of research. Then, during my first year back at BU doing a Ph.D., I was working on the intersection between water, energy, and food issues, and I became very interested in how that pertained specifically to urban areas. And so, I decided to apply for BU URBAN.
Aika: Can you tell us what your current research topic is and what initially intrigued you about this topic?
Yasmin: I came back to BU to work on the intersection between water, energy, and food. Sometimes this is called the nexus of water, energy, and food. After my first year, I made a pivot and I actually started working more on climate impacts and energy use. So more specifically, how rising temperatures impact electricity use. We’re using less electricity for places that do use it for heating, and much more electricity for air conditioning and any type of cooling. I looked at this issue in urban areas across 36 world cities. As I was working on this, one of the asks of BU URBAN is “how does this link to environmental health”. And obviously, air conditioning use helps prevent adverse heat-related health outcomes. So then I immersed myself into this broader link between climate energy and health outcomes.
Aika: You’ve been a panelist at the most recent Congressional Briefing and the title of the event was Building The Next Generation Climate Workforce. So, what does being part of this community mean to you? How do you see yourself within that community in terms of the role you play or would like to play in the future?
Yasmin: I think being in this kind of academic sphere with BU URBAN really pushes us to think about the links between science and policy. In this kind of framework of The Next Generation Climate Workforce, it’s easy to kind of still remain siloed in that—like that’s the only thing that matters. And I think that actually participating in that briefing yesterday reminded me that the Next Generation Climate Workforce is not just a bunch of Ph.D. students and academics tackling different problems. It’s also accountants, it’s also lawyers. It’s also building engineers and it’s very big. So basically, all this to say is that I realize that my role is just one small piece of it that doesn’t make it any less important. But I enjoy the intersection between science and policy. I came back to do a Ph.D. to do policy-relevant research. And so that’s how I see my role in that workforce.
Aika: If you had to choose one comment, question, or conversation from any of the panelists that stood out to you, or just made you stop and think, or something you just really found interesting what would it be and why?
Yasmin: The briefing was reminding me that the workforce that is going to tackle the challenges of a changing climate is very diverse, and very big, and has many skills. But I would also highlight that one conversation that was talked about a lot in that briefing was just the importance of partnerships. And there’s always a point in building a next generation climate workforce, but it’s important to maintain those partnerships with different NGOs, with the government, with links to Congress. They are what will ultimately help this workforce find a home by investing in their training, investing in the policies that will actually help tackle climate change.
Aika: What is the value of an URBAN perspective or education when tackling challenges related to climate change? What kind of skills did you learn from becoming an URBAN trainee? How has BU URBAN equipped you to be part of this next-generation climate workforce?
Yasmin: BU URBAN provides a community. And so I think that kind of seeds the skills in the importance of building comradery, and partnerships across all levels, and that starts with our URBAN community, and that branches out to all the places that we touch. Also, it has shaped the way my research has gone. It helped me change the direction of my research and it actually probably made it more interdisciplinary, which is something that I think will be important in order to tackle challenges related to climate change. URBAN does have this big emphasis on training and professional development. And that’s kind of what we need. You have your Ph.D. training, but things like the internship or the science communication workshop help us break out of just the academic thinking and break out of that box and learn how to apply our skills. And so we can see how we can make a difference.
Aika: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in your career so far?
Yasmin: I see my career as still pretty nascent—especially since I’m still learning. But I guess, I did want to be a diplomat when I was younger. And so, realizing that and acknowledging that that wasn’t the best path for me was important. It gives you like a crisis of conscience. Like, okay, so what should I really do? And so making that pivot into like…okay…so what am I interested in and what might be better suited for me was something that I really had to think about when I came back to the U.S. and was working in D.C. Also, when I started my Ph.D., I did start with a different advisor who unfortunately passed away after my first year. And so that really prompted me to pivot my research and think about do I stay at BU? Do I stay doing a Ph.D.? And it just forced me to think about some of those hard questions—how to move forward.
Aika: Looking back in your career, what advice would you give to your 18-year-old Yasmin heading to her freshman year of college?
Yasmin: I definitely would tell myself not to be so serious about everything, because I think I’ve changed directions. I’ve changed interests like at least upwards of five times since then. And so I would probably tell myself not to be so hard on myself and that everything will work out as it should.