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Student’s travels and research clarify cost of Pakistanis’ climate change adaptations

 How do people perceive change?

How are people adapting?

What costs and barriers are involved in those changes? 

These questions provide the lens through which Becca Nixon, a Ph.D. student in forestry and natural resources, looks at the world. 

“As the environment is changing, people are encountering many stressors that are driving them to adapt,” explained Nixon. “I want to help support strategies that align with their values and improve their well-being.” 

To achieve her goal, Nixon’s social science research focuses on people whose livelihoods are tied to the Swat and Kabul Rivers in northern Pakistan. 

Nixon studied English education at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. After graduation, her interest in food security and the environment led her to Colorado, where she worked on a diversified organic farm. She then earned dual master’s degrees in sustainable agriculture and community and regional planning at Iowa State University, researching the water management systems of central Asia. 

Influenced by Purdue’s reputation and the work of Zhao Ma, a professor of natural resource social science, Nixon began doctoral studies at Purdue in 2017. Nixon joined Ma’s Human Dimensions Lab, which studies how individuals and organizations make decisions about natural resource management and conservation in the context of social-ecological change. 

Nixon’s research is part of a larger, interdisciplinary collaboration between Purdue and the University of Peshawar in Pakistan, co-led by Linda Lee and Bushra Khan. 

Nixon has been able to travel to Pakistan twice for fieldwork. There, she worked with graduate students from the University of Peshawar to interview and survey farmers, fishers, tourism workers and community leaders to better understand the costs of their adaptation to climate change. 

“I’m so thankful for the opportunities I’ve had at Purdue,” said Nixon. In addition to her travels, Nixon said her highlights include co-teaching, mentoring undergraduates and being part of Purdue’s Ecological Sciences and Engineering (ESE) interdisciplinary graduate program. 

Through ESE, Nixon co-chaired a symposium that brought climate scientist Katherine Heyhoe to Purdue. “It was an incredibly rewarding experience to facilitate an event at that level,” said Nixon. 

This semester, Nixon began a postdoc with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. She plans to remain in academia – “teaching and mentoring students while doing research” – at a land-grant institution.

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