ASU–Conservation International postdoc spotlight: Krista Kemppinen

Krista KemppinenThe Arizona State University–Conservation International partnership supported two postdoctoral researchers from 2017–2019 who were jointly advised by a CI scientist and an ASU faculty member to advance cutting-edge conservation research. One of the researchers, Krista Kemppinen, answered a few questions for us in a new Q&A: Question: Why was the opportunity to work with ASU and CI interesting to you? Answer: Prior to joining ASU, I had primarily conducted fundamental research — like conducting fieldwork atop volcanos to investigating sub-surface chemical processes. I earned a PhD from the University of Cambridge and focused on climate simulations. I had also had the opportunity to work with organizations outside of academia, from a sustainability-focused nonprofit in India to a now thriving tech start-up in the U.K. What I learned through the various roles I held was that, while I enjoy pursuing fundamental research, I get a thrill out of finding practical solutions to real-world problems. I also like helping people and understanding what makes relationships between stakeholders effective and inclusive. A fellowship with the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes and Conservation International was appealing to me as the focus was applied conservation and development research. I was also sold on the opportunity to work with renowned research peers and other important partners. Q: What projects did you work on? A: Together with colleagues at Oregon State University, we (ASU and CI) conducted a study quantifying the potential contribution that reforestation interventions globally could make to biodiversity conservation. We also worked with ASU graduate students on an assessment of the linkages between freshwater ecosystem services and development objectives, and ways to improve accounting of these linkages in decision-making processes. Another program of work I am actively involved in at ASU is decision science for conservation investments and conservation interventions. Although CI is not directly involved in this research, we design concepts and tools so that environmental non-profits, as well as private and public sector organisations, can achieve better, and more efficient, sustainability outcomes. Q: What are some unique aspects of your position that you enjoyed? A: I enjoyed my visits to CI, and working with the talented individuals at the Betty and Gordon Moore Center for Science and Oceans, where my CI advisor, Dave Hole, leads the Global Synthesis Team. I also enjoy the whirlwind weeks that working at a de facto boundary organisation like CBO can bring: from ad-hoc meetings with potential partners or donors, to writing quick communications to help deliver and develop an ambitious program of work. Because CBO is so interdisciplinary, I, furthermore, have the opportunity to think about a range of topics, from the triple bottom line to policies addressing plastic pollution. Q: What are some things that you learned? A: I learned that The Betty and Gordon Moore Center for Science and Oceans is not so different from ASU. The conservation solutions they develop are based on the same rigorous science. However, there are areas where CI and ASU complement each other, and the sheer size of ASU means it has a vast amount of brainpower and capacity. The priorities of the staff at CI are also different (peer-reviewed publications are great but less essential) and they travel...a lot. No time for 1-hour long meetings. The best time to get someone from CI on a call is when they are stuck at an airport. It was also important for me to learn a little bit about how CI’s field programs work. The good thing about being based in Arizona is that there are a lot of long and remote hiking trails. Perfect setting for bombarding your unsuspecting CI visitor with questions. Q: How would you like to see the partnership evolve? A: CBO’s director, and my PI at ASU, Leah Gerber did an excellent job laying the foundation of the partnership between ASU and CI and pushing it to the institutional level, with help from you [Amy Scoville-Weaver] of course! What I hope will happen next is more joint projects and a continuation of the Professors of Practice program. Q: What are your plans for the future? A: I still enjoy problem-solving and am more passionate than ever about making this planet we call home more habitable for humans and all other species. To achieve that we need to continue to raise awareness about environmental issues, understand the power (and pitfalls) of social media, and create new incentives for effective global cooperation on sustainability issues. We also need enhanced engagement by not just governments but corporations as well. As someone who is now well-versed in the science of the environment, and cares deeply about building a society that is more equal and inclusive, I intend to help create, or broker, those incentives. The ASU-Conservation International partnership was established in September 2016. This collaboration seeks to make measurable advances in conservation while training the next generation of conservation leaders. Learn more about the partnership online or contact Amy Scoville-Weaver at [email protected].