SAMSI Postdoctoral Profile: Daniel Taylor-Rodriguez

Daniel and Natalia near a mountain range

Daniel and his wife, Natalia.

Daniel Taylor-Rodriguez is a new postdoctoral fellow at SAMSI and is participating in the Ecology program this year. He came from the University of Florida. His wife, Natalia, is still in Gainesville currently working on her Ph.D. in animal science.

Daniel grew up in the bustling metropolis of Bogota, Colombia. When he was 10, his father, who was working for IBM, was temporally transferred to White Plains, New York, so Daniel and his family moved there. After year and a half, Daniel’s family moved back to Colombia to Barranquilla on the coast. Daniel entered a bilingual school to continue his skills in English. Later, his family moved back to Bogota and he continued at a school that offered an International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Tony Cleaver, an inspiring IB economics teacher, strongly influenced Daniel’s decision to pursue a degree in economics.

Daniel studied economics at the Universidad Los Andes from 1998-2003, “I especially enjoyed the econometric courses; to me it made more sense to let data speak by itself,” commented Daniel. He then went on to get a specialization (similar to a professional Master’s degree in the United States) in statistics. At the same time, he started working as a consultant under his game theory professor Luis Jorge Ferro. In particular, they developed optimal incentive and penalty mechanisms in contracts for large-scale highway concession projects required by the National Concessions Institute of Colombia.

About a year later, a group of his friends from National University of Colombia who were wildlife veterinarians were starting up a wildlife conservation organization called Fundación Vida Silvestre Neotropical (FVSN). They invited Daniel to come work with them and he decided to help them out. Their first project was to help cattle ranchers identify what management practices reduced the risk of predation from panthers (pumas) using various quantification protocols. “I really enjoyed being in the field, talking to people, collecting data and making a meaningful contribution”, said Daniel. These findings informed local governments in the implementation of programs to mitigate predation risk in livestock ranches.

Although he continued to participate in FVSN as an honorary member, Daniel went to work as a quantitative risk analyst at Bancolombia, Colombia’s largest banking institution. There he developed models to quantify credit risk components. He also built in-house models to forecast macroeconomic series affecting risk behavior of client portfolio. Through Bancolombia he applied to a Fulbright Scholarship, which he was awarded to pursue a Master’s degree in statistics at the University of Florida, at the end of which he would have to return.

group of seven people from University of Florida

Daniel (lower right) along with former SAMSI postdoc Kenny Lopiano (lower row, center) at the University of Florida

While at the University of Florida, he studied under George Casella, who made him aware of the wonderful opportunity he would miss if he left without doctoral training. Daniel made arrangements with the bank’s directives to stay for the PhD; however, a semester before concluding his Master’s, a new CEO was appointed to the bank bringing along his own team. Due to the new conditions Daniel was requested to return to Colombia. Intent on pursuing his doctoral studies, he turned down this request. Fortunately enough the new bank’s directives reconsidered and decided that it was not their place to truncate Daniel’s academic aspirations. They terminated his contractual obligations with the bank, but left the doors open for him to come back if he ever wished to do so.

Daniel in the Gators stadium

Daniel at a Gators game.

He stayed at University of Florida to receive his Ph.D., but eager to learn more about ecology, he enrolled in the interdisciplinary ecology program with concentration in statistics. Daniel truly appreciates the strong bonds and collaborative approach to research that George Casella fostered within his working group. After Dr. Casella’s passing he received the continued and insightful supervision of Professors Linda Young and Nikolay Bliznyuk.

In the course of his studies, he contributed to projects with researchers in the Animal Sciences, Ophthalmology, and Horticulture Departments at UF, and took part in the NSF funded program IGERT Quantitative Spatial Ecology, Evolution, and Environment (QSE3). In his collaborations he worked jointly with scientists from diverse backgrounds to develop interdisciplinary solutions to important applied problems.

Daniel’s doctoral research focused on developing Bayesian procedures for variable selection with good frequentist properties, and adapting these methodologies to models widely used in population ecology. The Jaguar Corridor Initiative, a large-scale conservation effort lead by Panthera foundation, inspired Daniel’s work. Panthera is a nonprofit organization that helps large felines through scientific research and global conservation. The corridors established by Panthera across South and Central America, aim to ensure an active pathway that preserves the link between the last two jaguar populations in the world. A preliminary but crucial step in building the corridor in Colombian territory is to produce accurate density maps for jaguars and their prey, which can be obtained using models that account for imperfect detection. Surveys conducted to fit these models collect information about a large number of predictors. However, there is need to improve the methods used to identify the relevant predictors and to assess uncertainty in the model parameter estimates due to selection.

At SAMSI Daniel will study questions associated with the dynamics of infectious diseases, and will expand his work on population ecology, modeling the joint behavior of species sharing the same ecosystem. His two years at SAMSI will give him the opportunity to meet and collaborate with researchers from different backgrounds and to engage in new and exciting projects.

Daniel at a marathon

Daniel enjoys running.

Daniel also enjoys running, mountain biking, watching movies and, of course, spending time with Natalia.

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