A new professor shares her experience of a life-changing leadership expedition

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Anindita Samsu, Institute of Earth Sciences

Prof. Anindita Samsu embarked on a global program for women and non-binary people in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, math and medicine).

This 12-month leadership program aims to foster inclusiveness, innovation and ecological and social sustainability. Prof. Samsu renewed her commitment to act for the climate and embody her own style of leadership.

Anindita Samsu was motivated from the very first time she heard about the Homeward Bound initiative. The program’s mission is to build a global network of women and non-binary leaderscapable of addressing the world’s pressing challenges. Homeward Bound’s ambition is to increase their influence, in the belief that gender balance in leadership will serve everyone. The program also values new ways of leading: more collaborative, more inclusive and more focused on the concept of a “global home”.

It took Anindita five years to sign up for the program, which she entered in 2022 after a competitive selection process. Back from this unique experience, she explains to us how she changed and strengthened her vision as a researcher, team leader and teacher.

The participants of Homeward Bound followed sessions on leadership, visibility, and strategy, well-being and Antartic science. The program  consist in 24 workshops during one year. For Anindita, one of the most interesting components the LSI (Life Styles Inventory). “Conceived as a diagnostic tool for understanding our thinking styles and how our colleagues view us, it revealed insights on our effectiveness as leaders and the barriers that we place on ourselves.” (photo: A. Samsu).

What have you learned about your leadership style?

This experience helped me validate my approach. I realised that even though my way of leading is rather unconventional, it does not make it less valid or effective in academia. I am convinced that each person with their unique background, skillset and life experience can contribute to the success of an institution like UNIL. 

I would consider my leadership style as consultative, adaptive, and gentle. This does not mean that I go along with what everyone wants, but I like to sit back and listen, taking stock of what is being said (directly and indirectly), before contributing my opinion or making a decision. With my research group, I can lead from the front, middle, or behind – depending on my familiarity with the topic or where I feel I can contribute most meaningfully. I am certainly not confrontational, but I try to persuade others with reasoning or enthusiasm, and I can stand my ground when challenged. I just feel that I can work most constructively with someone when we have mutual respect and trust.

“I think it’s important to promote and welcome diversity in leadership styles”.

Anindita Samsu
Anindita Samsu was part of the 7th cohort of Homeward Bound. The program provides an immersive environment for participants to reflect on sustainable solutions for the future. It ended with a 19-day voyage to the southernmost continent, with the awe-inspiring backdrop of a region profoundly impacted by climate change, a destination that was the subject of intense debate among participants (photo: A. Samsu).

Will this experience change your professional life?

As a young professor, I face new challenges and I am constantly learning. The voyage has endowed me with a clearer vision and strategy to implement in my research: which projects to conduct, how to choose a team and interact with it. 

I trust that as long as I have in view the most important outcomes, I will make the right decision. I feel more confident in the way I work and the way I want to take my team along for the ride. It’s important for me to make sure that my group and I are working towards shared and overlapping goals, and that we support and elevate each other. I am quite excited to move forwards and carry this conviction through.

“I am confident that being supportive is an effective way to interact with my team and collaborators.”

Anindita Samsu
One of Prof. Samsu’s most enduring memories is a serene moment on the ship’s deck. She was standing outside by herself, looking at the islands and icebergs while the sea was calm. She felt secure and at peace, even though she was on this little vessel in the middle of the ocean surrounded by harsh wilderness, far from the nearest civilisation and hospital. This awe-inspiring moment reaffirmed the choices she wants to make as a leader and a human being to contribute to a safe and sustainable future for everyone (photo: A. Samsu).

Has this experience changed your commitment and your vision?

The program provides a dynamic and supportive environment to reflect on, discuss, and collaborate on how we can contribute as STEMM leaders towards a sustainable future – all against the backdrop of Antarctica, where the impacts of climate change are strongly felt despite its remote location.

The final event is a voyage to Antarctica,  where the impacts of climate change are strongly felt despite its remote location. The trip provided a exceptional setting for discussion and collaboration. Given the carbon footprint of an expedition to Antarctica, however, we have constantly reflect about our impact on climate and wildlife, and how to make this program more sustainable in the future. 

At the end of the day, we all took so much from this experience. We changed the way we viewed a lot of things, regarding our activities at work but also our personal lives. We have a new commitment to helping promote, facilitate and lead initiatives that benefit society and the environment. I also hope that by sharing what we learned, we will move others to act.

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