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When Mallory Ladd was studying for her Ph.D., researching the chemistry of permafrost soils in the Arctic, she started to worry that this interesting and important work would disappear into some journal read only by other polar scientists. She wanted to make more of an impact, to be closer to the leaders who use scientific data and analysis to make decisions. So two years ago, she took a position with CNA. Though she was originally reluctant to leave the Arctic, she’s never looked back. “This was the dream job I never knew existed,” Ladd says.

The most recent evidence of her impact came in a letter from the top admiral in the Pentagon, the Chief of Naval Operations. She’d been working on a project that began with a request from Congress for the Navy to scientifically estimate how many oceanographic survey ships it needed to meet the demand for requirements like mapping the ocean floor. The Navy turned to its federally funded research and development center, CNA, to independently assess that need.

Ladd worked with the staff of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command to assemble hundreds of thousands of data points to estimate the supply and demand for these very busy ships. The analyst says she felt at home with scientists on the staff. “It was fun to be able to nerd out with them about acoustics, physical oceanography, and environmental mapping.”

Using a linear regression analysis, she was able to synthesize all of that data into projections estimating the future demand for the survey ships across multiple scenarios. The impact of this work could not have been clearer. The letter by the Chief of Naval Operations to Congress indicated the number of survey ships the Navy needed, explaining that the request was based on research by CNA — her research.

Other projects have fulfilled both her desire for impact and her passion for Arctic research — though the subject matter has shifted. CNA has sent her to Norway with the Marines to evaluate how they might improve cold-weather operations and work more seamlessly with Arctic allies and partners. In Adak, Alaska, she observed and evaluated the U.S. Navy’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit One as they employed new unmanned underwater capabilities in the cold-water environment. And she joined the first aircraft carrier deployment to the Gulf of Alaska in more than a decade. Every trip to the Arctic is uniquely challenging. “The only way I was able to keep up with the Marines when we were cross-country skiing in Norway was that they each had a 50-pound pack on their backs, while I was only carrying my notebook and pencil.”

Back at CNA headquarters, Ladd leads the organization’s Arctic Community of Interest, where colleagues with this common bond can share insights. “Looking back on my decision to leave academic research, I thought at the time that I had to choose between making an impact and pursuing my interests,” she says. “At CNA, I have found I can have both.”