About Laura

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Laura en la reserva natural de Iguaque. Camino a la Laguna Sagrada.

“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.”

Bryan Caplan

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 partly-hysterical, partly-desperate and partky-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 design of unconventional land  management policies that protect and restore  a local ecosystems in coastal counties of South Carolina. With my research, I want to set up a race between alternative land use regulations and compare their performance to see how good they are, in relative terms, at minimizing future expected damages from floods.

In this project, I am integrating spatially explicit micro-econometric models of choice with hedonic 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 guide coastal managers, conservation agencies, and other civic groups design smart, cost-effective, and forward looking land use 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 undeveloped/agricultural uses into developed/residential uses. I 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 the end, I would like to answer important policy questions like which policies are better at minimizing expected flood damages or how does the spatial distribution of damages look under each policy scenario.

About me: I am organized, disciplined, competitive, playful and though my tendency is to not be particularly cautious, I am consciously working towards becoming a rigorous person in all that I do.

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 physical and mental training 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. In one sentence, I am a person who plays one shot at the time and for whom the most important point in a match is THIS ONE.

I am into powerlifting. I must say I  find 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 set, every training session. This practice invites me to be aware of my environment and my lifestyle choices everyday and at all times so that I can perform at my best on a given weekend and I can slowly slowly become the strongest version of myself. I find this approach very appealing. Powerlifting allows me to explore my edges and reflect upon my behavior and performance, to be a hash critic of myself and 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 photography 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 StarTalk, Radio Ambulante, Revisionist History, Radiolab and PlanetMoney, 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.

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11 thoughts on “About Laura

    1. Estoy de acuerdo.
      La naturaleza no es ni buena ni mala, ni justa ni injusta, ni cruel ni compasiva.
      Es terrible, majestuosa, caprichosa, fragil, resiliente. Es indiferente a la moralidad.
      Pero cabe en la naturaleza humana el culpar al leon por actos tipicos de la vibora.
      Y sencillamente, un leon no puede haber envenado a su presa.
      Hay cosas ciertas.

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      1. No es la naturaleza humana la que juzga de esa manera. Baste con ver la relacion que han tenido los cazadores-recolectores (estadio en el cual la humanidad ha pasado casi la totalidad de su existencia) con animales como el Leon y la Vibora. Esos son juicios innecesarios, daňinos, construidos sobre preceptos equivocados, que se originan la mayor de las veces en la ignorancia y el desconocimiento.
        Por lo demas, no es la naturaleza humana la que escribe, eres tu. Son entonces tus palabras, tus juicios, donde el uso del acto de “envenenar” que haces le otorga una categoria moral que no tiene. Una lectura entrelineas que no se queda en la descripcion amoral de las “cosas ciertas”. Hay un juicio de valor implicito en tu sentencia, que no se pone en linea con lo que acabas de argumentar. Casi parece una apologia al leon, el cual no se parece a una maligna vibora venenosa… no te parece?

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      2. Buena lectura de las “entre-lineas”. Yo diría que, en efecto, la declaración es puramente una apología al león.
        El leon es un instrumento que me permite abstraerme de las complejidades de la naturaleza humana, sobre las que no tengo credeciales para hablar con confianza, y asi poder concentrarme en una observación particular que me confunde, aterra y a veces entristece:
        Si yo fuera un león, no podría usar veneno. Porqué se me juzga de venenosa?
        Me parece que con frecuencia sucumbe la lógica a la imaginación, al desesperado deseo por justicia, y a la necesidad de consistencia y propósito. Somos rápidos en escojer bandos y doctrinas morales que dan juicio dudoso y dictan sentencias con facilidad. Somos rapidos en encontrar chivos expiatorios y lavarnos las manos. Y ha pasado que el león paga como si fuera un ser endiablado.
        La frase es para mí. Para recordar lo fácil que es cometer el error de tomar las situaciones personalmente y apropiar el error a un detalle del carácter de otros. Es también para recordar que si otros caen en ese error, es mejor perdonar que pelear. Las posturas emocionales no se cuestionan con lógica. Mejor invocar algo de compasión por el ser humano.

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  1. Sigo sin comprender tu postura. Y si, es verdad que leo entre lineas, tengo una afficion poderosa por escudriňar en las implicaciones ideologicas, eticas y filosoficas de las ideas (cientificas). Creo que ahi es donde radica el meollo de todo y donde deberia estar la discusion fundamental.
    Me parece que hay contradicciones fundamentales en lo que dices, o intentas decir… Por ejemplo, la frase no es para ti. Es publica y esta a disposicion de quien quiera leerla, e interpretarla. Entonces la frase es para definirte a ti en un ambito publico (el ciber-espacio). Pero lo hace de manera contraria a lo que al parecer intentas decir, segun tu ultimo comentario… porque tu apologia al leon envilece a la vibora. Siguen pagando justos por pecadores, en tu apologia al leon. Por eso sigo manteniendo lo que escribi en mi primer comentario, que es neutro, sin juicios ni prejuicios. Y que respeta tanto al leon como a la vibora en su propia naturaleza. Compararlos en un sentido – digamos – ecologico no tiene sentido. Mas aun, es un acto humano (vil) que eventualmente justifica atrocidades, como por ejemplo el no respetar el derecho a la vida que todos (absolutamente todos) los seres vivos tienen. Justificado en la presunta naturaleza maligna (venenosa) de la vibora. Que actua como tal como resultado de su compleja y milenaria evolucion. Una respuesta al medio, por lo demas magnifica.
    Todo esto, si es que estas deacuerdo conmigo en que el hombre no tiene tuicion etica sobre la vida animal (aquella que le otorga la biblia, por ejemplo…)

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    1. Luis,
      La idea no es una idea científica. En este caso, no puedes entender la idea sin entender al autor.
      No es tan complicado como lo haces ver.
      Hace muchos años leí unos libros de Maurice Druon, Los Reyes Malditos. Es una novela histórica que narra los dramas entre los grandes reinados Europeos como entre los siglos XIV-XVI. Una de las grandes rivalidades era la relación entre la corona francesa y la inglesa. Era típico entre ingleses descabezar a sus enemigos. Entre los franceses, se envenenaba a quienes amenazaban el Estatus Quo. Un día hubo una muerte importante y se la atribuyó a la corona inglesa, cuyo símbolo era el león. En realidad, había sido un noble francés quien había artificiado tal muerte y lo había hecho usando veneno. Al final de la historia se descubre la verdad y la historia concluye con una descripción práctica del asunto: un león es un león, no una víbora venenosa.
      Cuando leí esos libros esa frase y esa situación me llamó la atención y pareció tocar áreas de tensión en mi realidad adolescente. La simplicidad me trajo alivio y me ayudó a facilitar la definición de mi propio carácter… Algo que, como los adolescentes normales, yo buscaba con ansiedad.
      Esa es la historia de la frase y de mi relación con ella.

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      1. Mi comentario es bastante sencillo y facil de entender. Tal vez dificil de aceptar… de hecho es solo una linea (la primera entrada). El resto son solo explicaciones sobre algo que se explica en si mismo… mi punto es que tu sentencia no puede ser tomada superficialmente, pues tiene implicaciones eticas y filosoficas profundas. Aun cuando no sea una sentencia cientifica como dices.
        Se agradece la explicacion “personal”, que añade un sabor diferente a la discusion (especialmente discusiones por escrito, que a veces parecen tan aridas…). Aunque un pie de linea indicando la fuente ayudaria a evitar interpretaciones que se alejen de tu intencion orginal. Puesto donde esta, en una pagina con tu perfil (trabajando en ciencias, y buscando “morally sound policies that guide the administration of natural resources”) la verdad es que es dificil imaginar que se trata de simbolos y de sus usos (y mal usos) humanos y no de un juicio – bastante categorico – sobre los animales que menciona.

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      2. Es un buen consejo Luis.
        Muchas gracias.
        Como decias antes, no es un ambito privado, es un ambito publico. Y al fin de cuentas, es la portada del libro… sobre la que siempre juzgamos.

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      3. ops… realmente nunca fue mi intencion aconsejarte… no podria hacerlo… mas bien solo discutir algo interesante. Me la pase bien, fue un gusto intercambiar ideas contigo. Suerte en todo y ojala podamos continuar en algun otro momento…

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