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Meet Aparna Bamzai-Dodson, the Assistant Regional Administrator of the North Central Climate Adaptation Science Center, a co-production expert, and an ‘open-world’ video gamer.

Open world video games are not linear step-by-step adventures with a pre-defined ending. Instead, players develop their own dynamic characters and make decisions that reverberate throughout the virtual world and develop the narrative. 

Aparna Bamzai-Dodson enjoys playing video games and has honed her playing style. In general, she makes choices in games that reflect the same social consciousness as her real-life choices. She describes a recent sub-plot in which she attempted to save a virtual young girl who needed help, side-tracking her from the main plotline, and inadvertently unleashing a devastating plague on the entire virtual continent. Trying to do the right thing isn’t always a simple choice.

“The sophistication of the games these days really makes you feel like you’re in a book or a movie, and part of the characters,” says Aparna. “Especially when we deal with climate change on a daily basis, sometimes you need that escape … something that just takes away from the weightiness of what we’re dealing with in our day jobs.”


What might a video game of her career look like? 

A cartoon Aparna at the start of an 8-bit video-game style map, which leads through science icons and universities.
Aparna Bamzai-Dodson's Career Journey
A woman with dark hair and a black and white shirt smiles for her picture while standing in a park.
Aparna Bamzai-Dodson

Choose Your Character

"Choose your character" screen for Aparna level 1 (Consultant). She is wearing a purple sweater, jeans, and glasses.

Character: Aparna Bamzai-Dodson


Aparna is on a quest to integrate climate science with societal needs. In her own words, she is service-oriented, a process-thinker, and a human geographer. 

She’s an introvert and unlike many other climate and environmental scientist characters, she likes being indoors. She has well-honed collaborative skills, and “gifs” are her personal love language. 

While other characters may excel in one or two specific attributes, Aparna’s strength is as a “Jill of All Trades.” A dynamic, passionate, and adaptable character, Aparna is intentional in developing a broad skillset that can adapt to varied challenges. She knows the best moments to enhance or dampen certain skills, and how to coordinate with the skills of her teammates to create well-balanced groups optimized to solve problems.

Navigating the Quests of Academia and Science

Aparna began her career with a degree in statistics working in business consulting, a job she quickly realized had “a bit too much competitiveness” for her cooperative nature. But through working face-to-face with clients – seeking to understand their needs and to evaluate whether those needs were met – she learned valuable skills that have translated seamlessly into her current work with the North Central CASC, where she engages with various stakeholders, each with distinct goals, to create usable climate science that meets the satisfaction of everyone involved.

Aparna completed a master’s degree in the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, where she delved into the science of shifting trends in global precipitation and gained deep knowledge and skills in environmental science. She chose the program because it was very applied, and she planned a return to environmental consulting after graduating. But she was encouraged to think more about science and began a PhD at U.C. Berkeley. 

A few years in, taking courses in atmospheric physics and climate dynamics, Aparna realized that she missed connecting with people outside of the academic research world. She didn’t wish to accumulate more academic achievements just for the sake of it, she wanted to apply her knowledge and skills: “I over-corrected, I swung too far along the science scale and lost that application of science to people,” she says. 

Aparna left the program, returned home and “cobbled together some short-term consulting projects.” 

Aparna Levels Up (Long Version)

“I over-corrected, I swung too far along the science scale and lost that application of science to people,” she says. 

Aparna took a job at the University of Oklahoma’s South Central CASC. The job appealed to her so much that she accepted the offer without ever having set foot in Oklahoma. Quickly, Aparna’s new mentor Dr. Renee McPherson, University Director for the South Central CASC, recognized one of her exceptional skills was simplifying complex concepts. Aparna was not used to being praised for this; in fact, she had heard more than once, “well, what you’re saying is correct, but you’re not using the right words. You don’t sound like a scientist.” 

What had been made out to be a weakness in one context was a strength in her new space. This skill is critical for Aparna’s current job bringing actionable climate science to a broader audience – and making it accessible – and for tackling issues of climate equity.

Aparna returned to a PhD program, despite thinking she never would. The Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability department at the University of Oklahoma appealed to Aparna because of how trans-disciplinary it was – with researchers focusing on human geography, physical geography, and everything in between. A supportive mentor and a trans-disciplinary department gave her the opportunity to carve out a dissertation topic that focused on some biophysical science while addressing social science research questions and using mixed methods. Aparna was deliberate about choosing an academic committee who understood her goals of having an “applied” dissertation, to continue working at her job with the CASC network, and to not pursue an academic career after graduating. 

Aparna completed her dissertation called “Engaging with Stakeholders to Produce Actionable Science: Moving from Theory to Practice” and won the University of Oklahoma’s 2022 Provost’s Ph.D. Dissertation Award within the Social Sciences, Education, and the Professions.

Level 2 Aparna: Doctorate (Long Version)

Current Quest: Working at the North Central CASC

"Choose your character" screen for level 3 Aparna (Superhero). She is wearing a blue superhero outfit with a red cape.

Aparna’s career journey in climate science has not been a straightforward path, but the skills she gained along the way all help her in her current position as the Assistant Regional Administrator of the North Central CASC. 

In this position, Aparna handles a variety of tasks: discussing partners’ upcoming plans and challenges, developing regional science plans and priorities for project solicitations, helping with funded projects, mentoring staff, post-docs, and students, and researching the human dimensions of the scientific co-production process. 

In all aspects of her job, Aparna consistently combats a few misconceptions about involving communities in the scientific process (“co-production”): “What I try to help people understand is that what we need is intentional engagement and not more engagement.” 

A major misconception is that if non-scientists are involved in designing science, then the results from that science will be biased. She points out that scientific methodology is already replete with choices made by people (scientists), so including stakeholder input is just one more choice that can be cited in the same way that the instruments being used in data collection or the locations where data is collected are disclosed. It’s another thing to be transparent about before the project begins. 

Just like Aparna’s work learning her client’s needs as a business consultant, she gathers information about the needs, preferences, and behaviors of partners engaging in the scientific process and evaluates the positive and negative societal outcomes of co-production. In the end, the goal is to improve the usability and equitability of research products. 

Aparna even likes the “boring parts” of her job, like filling out forms and answering emails. Part of that is because she is an immigrant and a naturalized citizen of the U.S.: “It’s going to sound cheesy,” she says, “I really care about the fact that I’m a government employee and the work I do is meant to serve the general public. And it’s very meaningful for me that the boring parts of the job are really important to being a good steward of taxpayer money and to making sure that we’re doing the best we can for our public resources.”

Superhero Aparna carries a table of people through the air and sets them next to other people, forming new connections.

Side Quests: Being Intentional to Gain Experience and Skills

Aparna urges early-career professionals to take an intentional approach to their professional development.

In gaming, “skill trees” visually represent a character’s abilities as branches of a tree and can be used to strategically customize and strengthen a character. Advancing down specific branches of the tree can help unlock more advanced and specialized skills. In a professional setting, Aparna suggests starting with known strengths, then making intentional choices to gain experiences that align with and enhance them.

She also stresses the importance of finding the right people, who can help you identify and realize personal strengths. Akin to “getting buffed” in games, the actions of other characters can increase your strength and abilities. The people you’re working with should boost you up, not tear you down.  

Overall, she emphasizes that careers, like open-world games, are full of twists and turns, but each twist and each turn can always present opportunities to “level up” (to improve skills and gain new ones) and to “gain XP” (experience points). 

Aparna Reaches for the Stars (Long Version)

An Endless Quest

Though Aparna finds solace in gaming as an escape from thinking about climate change, which can get heavy, it’s hard to ignore the parallels between her fondness for “open-world games” and her career approach.

Her career journey and character reflect the process-based thinking that is needed to achieve effective, useable, climate science that engages communities, and to play the very video games she likes best: collaborative games where the decisions made within the game guide where it ultimately goes.

In both realities, Aparna relishes an interactive environment where her collaborative choices help shape the world around her. 

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