Rebecca Buchanan '95

Quantitative Ecology and Resource Management (aka QERM) at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle


I graduated from Bryn Mawr in 1995 with no clear idea about what to do with my math degree; I did not want to go to grad school in pure math and had no interest in finance or business. I thought education would be a good career, so got a M.S. in mathematics education from Syracuse University and taught in the math department at West Chester University (West Chester, PA) for two years. By that time I had decided that I really did not want to teach after all, and looked around for something else to do. I wanted to get back into doing math, not just teaching low level algebra and geometry. I also wanted to apply my quantitative skills to a good cause, so looked for a grad program that combined math with environmental issues/ecology. What I found was the interdisciplinary graduate program Quantitative Ecology and Resource Management (aka QERM) at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle. I am now in my fourth year of a Ph.D. program in QERM, and I highly recommend it.

As far as I know, QERM is a unique program in that it offers opportunities to use both statistics and applied math to study ecological systems and resource management issues; other grad programs seem to focus on one method or the other. Although its name may indicate that a lot of science knowledge is required, QERM is really very quantitative, and math majors are usually better prepared for QERM than biology majors. That said, it helps to have taken a biology/ecology class or two at the college level since the only required courses in QERM are quantitative. The math skills required are calculus, probability and statistics, differential equations, linear algebra, and some computer programming. However, as long as your basic linear algebra and calculus skills are good (at the level of Calc II) and you are a strong analytical thinker, you should do fine in QERM. QERM offers both a master's and a doctorate. Both are research-based, and how long they take depends the student. Most students are funded via research assistantships; some get teaching assistantships. Student research areas vary, but include novel methods of estimating salmon run sizes and population sizes of salmon, whales, and elk; studying population dynamics of sharks; developing and analyzing new environmental sampling methods; analyzing precipitation data; modeling shoot growth in Douglas fir; and estimating tree crown density as part of estimating fuel supplies for forest fires. I am developing mark-recapture models for adult salmon migrating up the Columbia and Snake rivers past the hydroelectric dams. My models use two types of tags (radio tags and PIT tags) and focus on survival but include other processes as well.

There is a high demand in natural resource management fields for QERM graduates or anybody with strong quantitative skills. At UW, "natural resource management" typically means fisheries or forestry, but every natural resource has to be managed, so graduates may work in other fields. Many graduates go on to work for a regulatory agency such as NOAA, EPA, or a state Fish and Wildlife Department; some do environmental consulting, and some teach at the university level. Every graduate who has looked for a job in this field has found one. I highly recommend this field (and graduate program) for math students who want to develop both their analytical skills and quantitative tools to study natural systems and/or resource management issues.

For more information about QERM, visit their website at

I would be happy to discuss QERM with any student who is interested. UW also has a strong program in biostatistics for students interested in combining statistics with human health; their website is at

/. For more information about me, see my website at