Q & A With Dr. Nives Dolsak

How did you decide to become a professor?

Nives Dolsak
Nives Dolsak

I decided to become a professor when I was an undergraduate student. Since my sophomore year, I was a teaching assistant first for micro economics and then for business statistics. Those years combining the learning and teaching were intellectually most invigorating. I knew I wanted a profession that would enable me to keep doing both.

What do you like most about your work?

The best part of a professor’s life is to have the freedom to ask questions she finds important, the skills to answer them, and the opportunity to share the findings, especially when she can do it among engaging colleagues and genuinely curious students.

If you could have any amount of funding to conduct research, what would you do, and why?

I study why some individuals, organizations, and communities are willing to incur costs to protect their local, regional, or global environment while others are not. I find that two types of factors importantly impact decisions regarding the use of natural resources: (i) information and (ii) fairness of cost burden.

First, it is important to understand that different environmental problems require different type of information and that the information requirements change over time. While information on the extent of the problem, its causes, and available solutions is crucial at the early stages of a policy process, development of the solution and its continued implementation  requires different types of information. Similarly, while some environmental problems require that the information is provided to regulatory agencies, others may require provision of the information to the civil society, business partners, or consumers. My research group would examine what types of information matters, who needs to receive it, how it impacts the decision making, and how to effectively and credibly deliver it.

Second, it is important to acknowledge that the burden of environmental protection is frequently not spread equally across individuals, organizations, or communities. For example, instead of pointing a finger at coal mining communities for vetoing a climate change policy, we need to acknowledge that any climate change policy would impact their economic situation and find effective and acceptable ways to compensate them. While we have adopted buy-back programs to compensate fishers for closing fisheries, we are less willing and able to find similar solutions for other environmental problems. My research group would examine how cost-burden sharing could build support for environmental protection and sustainable natural resource use, how much society is willing to pay to compensate those with higher costs, and what effective and politically acceptable approaches we can use to compensate those with high costs of behavioral changes.

How would you describe SMEA students?

SMEA students care deeply about marine and coastal environments. They frequently have experience with natural resource management in a selected geographic area and know that successful solutions require multi-disciplinary approaches. They are genuinely curious and eager to learn.

What advice would you give to students who are considering studying at SMEA?

Many of you have a good grasp (in some instances expert knowledge) of the topic that brought you to our school: coastal management, endangered species, pollution, sustainable development, and many other issues. Do learn more about the topic you are passionate about. Increase your knowledge within the academic discipline you studied at the undergraduate level. Learn that more demanding type of the analysis you did not have the confidence to learn before.  But, do not forget that you came to our school to learn new ways of seeing the problems and their solutions. Study approaches, methods, issues that never interested you; a more effective solution may just lay in an academic discipline you never bothered to read or in an environmental case that seemed to be completely unrelated to what you cared about.

What is your favorite form of marine life, and why?

It is definitely salmon. Not only because it is delicious. Not only because watching them swim to their spawning grounds fills us with awe of the large cycle of life we are a part of. But also because it tells us in no uncertain terms how well we are (or are not) caring for our environment. It tells us that what we do on the land impacts the health of the ocean. It tells us that how we develop our land, build our homes, grow our food, wash our cars, illuminate our houses, and do many other things on the land and near the waters ultimately impacts the ocean.  And, it tells us that we will have to coordinate all of those activities and work together on devising solutions if we want to keep the ecosystems and the cultures that depend on it.