Bawa is an evolutionary ecologist, conservation biologist and a distinguished professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He is the founder of Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2015. In 2012, Bawa received the first Gunnerus Sustainability Award, the world's major international award for work on sustainability. Elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in 2019, Bawa is the author of more than 180 academic papers, 10 books, monographs or special issues of journals. He is the editor-in-chief of Conservation and Society, associate editor of Ecology and Society, a member of the editorial board of Journal of Sustainable Forestry and has been an associate editor of Conservation Biology. 

He is an alumnus of Panjab University and University of Washington.