My Job: UHERO Research Economist

Photos: Courtesy of Kim Burnett

Name: Kimberly Burnett

Job: Research economist with University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization

Experience: Seven years as an economist

Goals: Using economics to help conservation groups, policymakers and organizations address environmental challenges in Hawaii and beyond. Burnett’s post-doctoral research focused on Hawaii’s invasive species and potential invaders – think brown tree snake, coqui frog and miconia – and how best to allocate limited money for control and management.

“If we want to understand the benefit of spending a dollar on one threat versus another, we need to know how quickly each threat grows and spreads,” Burnett says. “My research is highly interdisciplinary and requires an understanding of not only the economics of conservation and management, but the biology, ecology, hydrology, geology, etc., behind the ecosystem of interest.”

Burnett was part of a UH team investigating the economic and ecological consequences of the invasive miconia plant in Tahiti. From left are Ryan Smith, Donna Lee, Burnett, Jean-Yves Meyer, Ross Sutherland and Tom Giambelluca.

Best Days: “The most satisfying part of my job is when I am able to make an economic argument for environmental protection that resonates not only with the conservation community, but with policymakers and other important players in our economy.”

Salary: Burnett’s job lies somewhere between a professor and an environmental consultant. While salaries can start at around $50,000 to $60,000 and average between $70,000 and $80,000, they are based on winning competitive federal, state, private or foundation funding. Burnett is a state employee, but UHERO supports its staff of administrators, graduate students, undergraduate interns and post-doctoral candidates largely through outside research awards.

Tough Days: Burnett says she’s fortunate to have been awarded more than a dozen competitive grants since joining UHERO in 2008, but she has applied for many more that she didn’t get. “Our bright staff and graduate students are the heart and soul of Project Environment, and when the grants are not awarded, our research program has to be redirected or reduced. Receiving those rejection letters is always disappointing, but I never give up.”


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Hawaii Business,February