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Master's student Silke van Daalen (MSc Biological Sciences) is the winner of this year's UvA Thesis Prize. She won the award for her study of the analysis of demographic patterns in populations of human and non-human organisms. She received the prize, worth €3,000, at the annual UvA University Day.

In her thesis, Silke van Daalen describes the amount of variation between individuals in lifetime reproductive output (the succesful passing on of genes to a next generation) and how this variation can be explained. Her thesis, with the title Comparative estimates of lifetime reproductive output, using Markov-chains with reward, was awarded with a grade of 9.5 by her supervisor Hal Caswell. This positive evaluation was seconded by the jury of the UvA Thesis Prize, chaired by André Nollkaemper, dean of the Faculty of Law.

Challenging topic

Supervisor Hal Caswell of the Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED): 'Silke produced an outstanding thesis on a challenging  topic. Her Master's project has made significant contributions to population biology, theoretical ecology, and human demography. Interdisciplinary research like hers is a challenge because it has to integrate concepts, methods, and terminology from each discipline.' 

'Scientists are famous for making it hard for outsiders to understand what they are doing.  As a student, Silke was fearless about these barriers, and by crossing them, she produced a thesis that gave new perspectives on population models, human fertility patterns, and evolutionary demography. She has presented and published her results in journals and conferences in human demography and ecology.'

Development of new theory

Van Daalen will continue her research as a PhD candidate at IBED. Her PhD research will focus on the development of a new theory to address a long-standing problem in population biology: how deterministic factors and random fluctuations interact to create life history patterns.