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25.04.2015 17:53

#NewProfessor: Ecologist and hobby magician Jordi Bascompte

Ecologist Jordi Bascompte has joined the Faculty of Science at the beginning of this year. In his research the new full professor focuses on species interactions and mutual dependences among species and investigates the web of life for common patterns. Bascompte holds an ERC’s Advanced Grant for building a theory for how biodiversity evolved and persists. He is married and a father of a 3 year old girl and is a great fan of Ridley Scott’s movie Blade Runner. Bascompte is fascinated by dual thinking, art, philosophy and used to perform magic tricks in his spare time.

Ecologist Jordi Bascompte investigates the web of life and is fascinated by dual thinking, structuralism and art.

"Life works because it is out of physical equilibrium" - Prof. Jordi Bascompte

Why did you choose to pursue science?

Jordi Bascompte: When I was twelve years old there was this documentary about nature in the Spanish TV and I was so fascinated that I started bird watching and entering notes in a field notebook. In high school I had an ecology teacher who taught me about the Spanish ecologist Ramon Margalef, from him I learnt the beauty and power of theory. For me theory has a similar beauty like modern art.

What do you like best about your work?

Jordi Bascompte: Clearly the creativity and the ability to discover hidden patterns. We are unravelling how nature works.

Did you experience any dry spells or obstacles in your career? How did you overcome them?

Jordi Bascompte: Nothing that is really worth mentioning. When you have the flexibility to overcome things, then there are no significant obstacles. For instance, as PhD I had no fellowship because my ratings were just average. I earned my living by translating books and teaching which gave me the necessary independence to do the research I wanted. This could be seen as a drawback, but most likely helped broadening my horizon and looking into  different fields.

Who has given you the most support during your career? And what about in your personal life?

Jordi Bascompte: My ecology teacher at college was not only an encouraging person. When I was a PhD student without a fellowship he sponsored me which allowed me to spend a short visit to the Imperial College in in England. Also the director of my former Institute---the Doñana Biological Station---was very supportive. He believed in excellence, something not so well rooted in the Spanish scientific system. Clearly my family and my wife are emotionally supporting my career.

Did you have role models who have influenced your career? Who?

Jordi Bascompte: The above mentioned Ramon Margalef, who introduced me to the beauty and simplicity of theory, the nobelprize winner Ilya Prigogine, who showed that complexity can arise spontaneously in far-from equilibrium systems, and the developmental biologists Pere Alberch, who beautifully advocated a structuralism approach to evolution have strongly influenced and inspired me a lot. You see their traces in my work. 

How do you maintain your work-life balance?

Jordi Bascompte: Maintaining a work-life balance is clearly a big challenge and I cannot claim that I am particularly good at it! At evenings and during the weekends I avoid working, am struggling to to get disconnected from email, and almost cut entirely my traveling. This helps carving quality time with my family. The challenge now is becoming more efficient with a limited amount of time, and even finding extra time for playing sports or even getting back to practicing magic tricks. 

What advice do you give to young researchers considering an academic career?  

Jordi Bascompte: Be creative, be independent, and do not be afraid of making mistakes. As the nobel prize winner in economics Kenneth Arrow once said, if you are not wrong two thirds of your time you are not doing well. 

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