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Washington and Lee University

Washington and Lee University
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Vanessa Adams ('04)

Vanessa is pursuing a PhD in economics and conservation at James Cook University in Townsville Australia.

Vanessa graduated from W&L in 2004 with a Bachelor of Science in biology and a Bachelor of Arts in mathematics. Vanessa has used both her biology and mathematics degrees to explore several multidisciplinary careers including research in spatial ecological modelling, actuarial science, and finally settling on applying economics to conservation decision making. During her studies at W&L Vanessa passed the first actuarial exam and began studying for the second. This allowed her to join Mercer's Washington DC office as an actuarial consultant. The actuarial profession allows daily usage of applied mathematics skills and can be a very rewarding career for students graduating with a degree in mathematics. However, after several years working with Mercer, Vanessa decided that she wanted to use her biological degree in a professional capacity and began a PhD in economics and conservation at James Cook University in Townsville Australia. Vanessa's thesis integrates the financial mathematics and statistics that she used as an actuary and her love for natural sciences to design economic models that can be applied to conservation decision making.

Ecology and conservation science are two fields that have been greatly advanced by the application of sophisticated statistical models to understand spatial dynamics such as movements of animal populations. Vanessa's research has relied heavily upon her mathematics background, in particular her linear algebra and statistics courses taken at W&L. Her PhD thesis currently uses statistical models to develop novel approaches to understanding the economics of conserving natural resources. An example of this is a method she developed for evaluating the opportunity costs to fisherman from closing fishing grounds for conservation. To do this she developed statistical models of fish populations targeted by fisherman. These models were then incorporated into a market value model to calculate the net present value of specific fishing grounds. This approach allows researchers to evaluate not only the conservation benefits of closing fishing grounds, such as the recovery of declining fish populations, but the economic costs to local fisherman.

Vanessa's research has been used by government departments and conservation organizations such as the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to inform their conservation strategies to minimize economic impacts and hopefully increase the social acceptability of conservation in local communities. Her research also has the advantage of taking her to interesting destinations such as Fiji and remote portions of Australia such as the Northern Territory. Upon completing her PhD thesis Vanessa hopes to continue her research, examining how conservation organizations can take a business approach to conservation to achieve win-win outcomes for local communities and ecosystems.