On 4 June 2003 José Campos dos Santos from Brazil became the 100th research student of ITC to be awarded a PhD. On 6 February 1990, Dr Joseph Akinyede from Nigeria was the first. Looking back over the past 13 years, ITC’s acting research coordinator Prof. Martin Hale gives the long and short of changes in the Institute’s PhD studies and emphasises the importance of a more project- oriented approach for a more effective contribution to the world’s environmental problems.
Martin Hale: “When we first started PhD research in an organised and structured programme, the opportunities were largely driven by the expertise of individual senior staff members. Either they had identified problems elsewhere in the world, or the input came from individual students. Increasingly we are organising our research programme under clear themes or spearheads. The research programme has been developed to fit ITC’s knowledge field. It is problemand output-oriented, inter- and multidisciplinary in character, and is embedded in the national and European scientific network. Our PhD students execute work packages that are components of research projects we are carrying out within the programme spearheads. In that sense we are becoming more focused, having a large number of PhD students contributing to the solution of related problems rather than dealing with a variety of more isolated problems.”
One of the spearheads in the ITC research programme is geo-information science and earth observation for a better understanding of global change. The research of the 100th PhD student, as well as the career of the first PhD graduate, has ground in common with this major issue. The 100th PhD graduate, José Santos dos Campos, swam and canoed in the Amazon river in his youth and grew up in an area of enormous biodiversity. He has witnessed an immense change in the ecosystem. That is why, in spite of an ICT background, he chose ITC for his PhD study. His thesis comprises his investigation into the development and implementation of a new database architecture that can meet the specific demands of biosciences*. Two years of biological survey in the Amazon and the contacts with various organisations and institutions for the study and conservation of the area are at the heart of his research.
His initial ignorance in the field of biosciences needed some rectification - not least in order to set at ease the minds of the biologists in the area, who do not believe that computers can contribute to solving the problem of environmental change. Only through simulations and models can computers and bioscientific data yield information useful for conservation and protective measures. The development of this particular information system is also important because there are institutions in the Amazon area that possess data collected over the past 100 years. These data are of great value and need to be consolidated and shared. Also the shortage of money for scientific purposes in the area has put enormous pressure on scientists to do more with less money. In future the system, with only limited means, should be able to present a good overview of the environmental situation in the Amazon. The data will be made available to all parties concerned with environmental change. According to Martin Hale, geo-information science is a rapidly developing area at the moment. One reason for this is the fact that more satelliteborne sensors are being put into orbit. This will result in an increasing amount of data for ITC to work on.