“There’s a key difference between econ, and say, physics: While they’re both perceived as hard and boring, few laymen have passionate opinions about physics. Economics is another story. The man in the street can’t draw supply-and-demand diagrams, but when the price of gas goes up, he blames business conspiracies. He knows nothing about comparative advantage, but he’s an avid protectionist. He can’t define marginal productivity, but he’s sure that downsizing is bad for the world. If you tell him that we’re far richer in 2010 than we were in 1990, he’ll roll his eyes.”
Statement of Purpose: My name is Laura, I am a Colombian PhD student of development and environmental economics in the program of Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
I care about people and the environment — I’m also into agriculture. I want to find ways to design and promote sustainable, feasible and morally sound policies that guide the administration of natural resources and the building of cohesive and healthy communities. For that reason, I chose environmental and development economics as my fields of specialization as part of my PhD training in Agricultural and Resource Economics. You can fin a link to my CV here.
Motivation and Professional Goals: I am from Cota, Colombia. Cota is a very small agricultural town just in the outskirts of a massive city: Bogotá. I have been closely exposed to the rural and urban lifestyles of people in my country. My experiences growing up in a part-hysterical, part-desperate and part-peaceful environment of a country with a rather peculiar political history where social injustice and apparently unnecessary poverty are widespread, are the main reason behind my desire to remain in the economics path.
Social development and the sustainable administration of natural resources are among my top academic and personal interests and I hope to make them the center of my research and career. In particular, I would like to explore the synergy between agricultural systems and their ecological context in order to formulate feasible and effective policy instruments that promote the continual maintenance and flourishing of ecosystems and biodiversity.
Also, I recently became interested in the communication part of science—particularly with the recent toxic media coverage and politicization of scientific issues. I spend a lot of time trying to become a good listener and a good communicator. In my free time, I look for tips to become a better and more responsible civic informant and educator. In that spirit, I am also a sporadic correspondent for NCSU’s students newspaper, the Technician, where I have an opinion column regarding topics of agricultural and environmental economics. Examples of opinion pieces I have written can be found here.
Once I finish my university education, I am looking to work in an area that is important, motivating and challenging; an area where I can grow as an integral professional, gain exposure to cutting edge topics in social and environmental sciences, and contribute to policy creation with honest, relevant and science-based intellectual input.
A peculiar objective of mine is to join the recent social movement that integrates urban farming with the ideal of community development. I look up to examples as urban farms in Vancouver and Detroit that also promote the rehabilitation of neighborhoods afflicted by drugs and violence.
Description of Research: In general, the work of environmental economists is to use the tools of capitalism and the power of markets to protect the environment.
Ecosystems provide society with a wide range of services—from reliable flows of clean water to productive soil, carbon sequestration, protection of biodiversity, and maintenance of genetic diversity. Individuals, companies, and communities rely on these services for raw inputs, production processes, food security and climate resilience, among other benefits.
As an environmental economist, I can help guide policy decisions regarding identification of tradeoffs, funding allocation, and how to incentivize human behavior in the context of managing natural resources and in the face of climate change. Using lessons from the theory and valuation methodologies used in environmental economics, I can offer insights on how society develops and transmits environmental value in particular regard of agro-ecosystems and rural development projects.
In a general sense, my research combines the theoretical analysis of certain aspects of human behavior as proposed by the economics discipline with computational tools such as mathematical models and sophisticated statistical techniques to appropriately identify and quantify the economic value to society from environmental goods and services.
Specifically, my research involves the undergoing reconsideration of current laws dictating the location and management of national conservation sites in the coast of South Carolina. I am integrating econometric models of choice with analyses of the land market and trends in property values in various coastal counties of South Carolina to predict changes in land use and simulate possible future landscapes. Coupled with an ecological model of local flood prevention services, my simulations will help conservation agencies and coastal managers design urban growth policies that address economic growth, wetland conservation, and flood control.
In my model of land use change, I explicitly predict the probability that individual parcels of land will be turned from agricultural and forested uses into developed residential uses. I also account for changes to the ecological landscape to predict changes in risks of flood arising from new development of wetlands. I generate various future landscapes in time steps of 5 years and under various possible urban policy scenarios.
In addition to being able to inform coastal managers and ecologists on the costs and benefits of keeping certain patches of land for the purpose of maintaining the functionality of the special wetland habitat, at the end of my research I should have gained useful insight on the prospects of the land market in this very particular region of the South East, and the suitability for implementing environmentally friendly, urban growth policies in this region.
About me: I am organized, disciplined, competitive, playful and not particularly cautious. You could say I have a kinesthetic personality. I love exploring my environment, playing in space with my dimension, finding and testing the edges of my contained universe through physical engagement.
I practice a variety of activities from yoga to weight lifting to dancing. Yet, my mindset is one of a tennis player. I played competitively for a long time and all the training (physical and mental) undergone in and out of the court crippled into every aspect of my life and eventually became the primary driver of the features that define my character.
I recently got into powerlifting and I must say I am finding something philosophically profound and almost spiritual behind wanting to take the time to put maximum effort and engage 100% in the present in order to lift a heavy thing, put it back down, and lift it again–one rep at a time, every time. This practice invites me to be aware of my environment and my lifestyle choices at all times and everyday so that I can perform at my best the next gym session. I find this approach very appealing. I operate like a tennis a player, after all. Powerlifting allows me to explore my edges and reflect upon my behavior and performance, to revisit my perception of the world, my values, my objectives, and, essentially, how I define myself. And I get to go over this deep reflective and meditative exercise every gym session. It is amazing and I invite you to get motivated by tracking my progress here.
I am a promiscuous music listener, from electroswing to electronic tango to funk to rock en español. Really, there’s a time and a place for all of them. My favorite books are books that are intense, interesting, incredible, sweet, fantastic, and sensual. Movies, like books, and like music. Playful directors, funny, confusing, with beautiful forotgraphy and soundtrack. Tarrantino movies; Wes Anderson movies; Bong Joon-ho movies; movies with Ewan Mcgregor; musicals like Hair; animated movies like Les Trippletes de Belleville, Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away; others like Mad Max, The Godfather, Blade Runner, the Matrix, Hell or High Water, Space Odyssey 2000, Brave Heart, Amadeus, The Edukators, Moulin Rouge, Black Swan, Lethal Weapon, The Concert, among many others. I also enjoy listening to podcasts, specially those arranged by Radiolab and StarTalk, and I like to spend time watching TED talks and stand up comedians like Dylan Moran and Eddie Izzard.
I think I am not too crazy; just crazy enough to trust my intuition and thank the universe for its mercy and the miracle of life, every day.