Biologist Silke van Daalen won the UvA thesis prize 2017 for her master’s thesis Comparative estimates of lifetime reproductive output using Markov-chains with reward.
Van Daalen, who is now working on her PhD thesis in Cape Cod, Massachusetts won 4000 euros for her master’s thesis which she wants to spend on a holiday combined with research activities. Van Daalen ‘attended’ the presentation ceremony via Skype. Folia spoke to her on the phone.
Congratulations Silke. So why couldn’t you attend the ceremony?
‘By the time I heard about my nomination, I’d already booked my ticket to the US. The UvA Skyped me at 8 AM Eastern Time to test the connection and then I had to wait behind my computer for another four hours for the ceremony to start. It was a long time but I was glad the UvA could and did accommodate me.’
That is a long time. You must have known you had a good chance to win?
‘No! I never thought I would win. Not for a moment. I only hoped I would win. My research project was very interdisciplinary so I often felt like a bit of an outsider compared myself to people that could focus on their own discipline. But the jury liked it apparently.’
How would you explain your thesis to me if we were talking at a party?
‘I use mathematical models to analyse how many offspring different species make. I calculate averages and factors that can influence the reproduction process such as climate change.’
Is this still the subject of your PhD?
‘Yes, but now I take a more methodological approach. I ask myself questions like, why do trees produce so many seeds while people generally only have one child at a time?’