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PhD inspired by the endangered ecosystems of Colombia

Juan Afanador

Juan Afanador came to Aberdeen from Colombia, where he had been teaching and researching the management of critical ecosystems such as the Páramo.

With a background in Economics and Mathematics, Juan came to see how this highly complex work required going beyond basic computational skills, which is what attracted him to study computing science at Aberdeen.

He is now graduating with a PhD in Computing Science. 

Juan says: “Colombia is a mega-diverse country, and as such the livelihoods of many of the people in the region - not just Colombia, but the territories within the northern ramifications of the Andes - critically depend on the functioning of endemic environmental conditions. In particular, most of the water used by the inhabitants of Bogota and Quito come from the Páramo, a neo-tropical high montane ecosystem unique to a handful of Andean countries.

“I realised that computer literacy was not enough to guarantee the adequate handling of the problems into which I was researching, especially since Colombia is characterised by the great diversity and complexity of its socio-ecological systems.

“The work of Professor Nir Oren (Head of the Computing Science) and Dr Murilo Baptista (Reader in the Department of Physics) on complex networks and multi-agent systems seemed to address these interests and concerns.”

At Aberdeen, Juan soon adapted to the new academic environment, with its emphasis on collaborative research.

“I have gained a greater capacity of outward introspection, that is, my more conceptual efforts are now better situated for others to be able to use them. I learned to cope with the intricacy of collaborative research, becoming more attentive to what fellow researchers have to say. I can also say that now I am a fairly decent coder,” he adds.

In particular, Juan attributes his success to the close working relationship he formed with his PhD supervisors, Professor Oren and Dr Baptista.

“They were always supportive of my rather imaginative ways to approach scientific work. Our discussions were frank and deep, not much was left unspoken. I will always be indebted to them for their openness and patience.”

Juan has secured a position as a Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, where he is continuing his research on the endangered ecosystems of Colombia, through the application of the computational approaches he has learned during his time at the University of Aberdeen.


Author: Joanne Milne

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