For our next sustainability themed student profile, we meet Kanders Churchill Scholar Aneesha Manocha. Aneesha’s interests primarily revolve around decarbonising the energy sector to reach worldwide net-zero emissions – a challenge she has approached through modelling and policy efforts. Aneesha joined Churchill to conduct an MPhil in Public Policy prior to undertaking her PhD, which will be focused on macro-energy systems modelling to plan decarbonisation pathways.

Aneesha grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in the United States and completed her undergraduate degree at Princeton University, where she majored in Electrical & Computer Engineering. Her interest in clean energy transition was first sparked when she attended a conference on decarbonisation pathways as an intern at the U.S. Department of Energy in 2019.

I was driven by the interdisciplinary complexity of deploying a net-zero energy supply. Every problem involved technological, economic, regulatory, and policy barriers, but discussions on low-carbon futures gave me a sense of hope. I found my lifelong interests in seeking solutions to energy systems’ multidisciplinary challenges.

Whilst at Princeton, Aneesha joined Professor Jesse Jenkins’ ZERO lab to focus on macro-energy system (MES) modelling. This experience completely changed her trajectory to focus on both the technical and policy aspects of the energy transition. Professor Stephen Pacala, Professor Davy Knittle, and Dr. Juan Rubio were also critical in shifting her interests to think critically about what a just energy transition means and the role that policy has in combatting environmental injustices. Aneesha was also keen to create a community where students could convene to learn about decarbonisation pathways and became the President of the Princeton University Energy Association (PUEA), successfully directing their virtual conference in 2020.

From Princeton to Cambridge

Aneesha was drawn to apply for the Kanders Churchill Scholarship because of its science policy focus and aim of bringing STEM undergraduate students into the public policy sector to improve communication between engineers and policymakers. After conversing with decision makers, modelling federal energy policy in the U.S., and taking courses on environmental ethics and economics, it became clear to Aneesha that effective policy and regulation were crucial bottlenecks in planning equitable low-carbon futures,.

Communicating science to policymakers is critical, yet there is a lack of needed conversations between stakeholders, community members, scientists, and policymakers. I want to help bridge gaps and create interdisciplinary communities through the MPhil in Public Policy to better understand political and legal theory, communities’ role in shaping impactful policies, and effective delivery of key model insights to policymakers.

Whilst at Cambridge, Aneesha aims to pursue interdisciplinary research pathways between different disciplines solving the climate crisis and think critically about creating policies that target environmental injustices for her independent research project. She feels incredibly fortunate and honoured to have received the Scholarship and is clear about the positive impact the opportunity has provided, even at this early stage.

Although I’ve only been here for two months, I have met some of the most brilliant, considerate, and hardworking individuals here at Cambridge. Meeting the other scholars has been an incredible experience and has already developed into lifelong friendships and new ways of learning about important fields and perspective I’ve never been exposed to before.

Since arriving at Churchill College, Aneesha has really enjoyed conversing with the other Churchill Scholars, the Master’s in Public Policy cohort, and the broader Churchill MCR community. She has also spent her spare time on sports and has joined the Churchill College Boat Club and the Cambridge University Powerlifting Club.

After completing her MPhil, Aneesha will pursue a PhD in the Energy & Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley, focusing on macro-energy systems modelling to plan decarbonisation pathways with a granular understanding of how political, economic, and development theory can impact model results. She hopes that juxtaposing her engineering background with the formal study of public policy will enable her to incorporate political theory and prioritise historical environmental injustices in energy systems modelling methods.

The Churchill Scholarship

This year the Churchill Scholarship selected 16 US students from STEM backgrounds to pursue STEM-related master’s programmes and 2 students from STEM background to pursue public policy master’s programmes (specifically called Kanders Churchill Scholarship). These scholarships are fully funded, 9–12-month programmes (specifically 9 months for the Master’s in Public Policy).

Find out more about the Churchill Scholarship