"In 2019, Edgar began as a PhD student in the Ecohydrology Research Group at the University of South Florida. At the time I was starting my undergraduate research journey and hadn’t had lots of opportunities to interact with graduate students working on groundwater focused ecohydrology. Over the next few years Edgar served as a sounding board for my research and graduate school journey, a supervisor as I worked on a groundwater well inventory analysis for his research, and overall a great addition to the Geosciences at USF! When the opportunity arose to complete a researcher spotlight for this blogpost I automatically knew who I wanted to know more about!" - Eric Kastelic H3S Member
Journey to Hydrology Focused PhD
Edgar Guerrón Orejuela is a PhD Candidate in the Geology program at the University of South Florida located on the Tampa Campus. He holds a Bachelors in Biology from the University of Vienna and a Masters of Geographic Information Systems and Science from Paris Lodron Universität Salzburg.
Edgar’s hydrology journey began when he became a research assistant with the Fresh-Water Ecology Lab at Universidad San Francisco de Quito studying population ecology in the Amazon Basin in Ecuador. His role focused on entomology but over time the group began investigating population movement on a landscape scale as the insects he studied relied on water as larvae, the adult phase transitioned to live on land, and moved to other basins before reproducing.
Prior to starting his PhD at USF, Edgar worked in habitat management and natural resource regulation. Both these positions further exposed Edgar to the impacts of hydrology ranging from natural salmon streams in Alaska to phosphate mines in Florida. While working in Alaska he saw first hand how invasive plants were altering ecosystems critical to salmon species as their root mats began to alter not only fish habitats but the overall hydrology of the system.
Edgar’s research sits at the intersection of physical, ecological and social sciences. He strives to further understand the influence of hydrological processes on natural systems and how human activity affects salmon streams in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula Lowlands. His research uses geology, hydrology, GIS, and social science methods to gather and analyze data with one of his main goals being to communicate local science to governments, nonprofits, and the community. He works directly with stakeholders to best help them understand local systems and where to best further direct studies. His most recent publication used remote sensing data to create a tool to aid stakeholders best direct efforts regarding recharge in a data scarce region. When asked how he explains his research to his family or youth groups he said: “I study how water, people, and nature interact with each other. My work tries to communicate the importance of both people and nature in the decision making process as most of the time we make decisions based on what is important to people without taking into account water import to nature.”
Reflections and Advice
Communication serves as a focal point not only in Edgar’s research but in his everyday life and future goals. When reflecting on the most challenging and rewarding aspects of his research it ended up being the same, being able to approach physical science from a non-traditional point of view and communicate it so that private citizens, scientists, and other stakeholders can universally understand it. A big part of this is that his research is targeted to answer questions the community he works in finds relevant to their everyday lives.
As a PhD Candidate Edgar shared a few pieces of advice for those in or considering graduate school. First being, take the time to develop coding and data analysis skills in programs such as Python or R. Second, ask advisors, program staff, and other grad students about resources provided by your institution and be sure to use them. A final piece of advice is “Don’t look at your graduate degree as a goal, think of it as a means to further yourself otherwise you’ll get very frustrated as your long term goals shift and the timeline keeps moving. Having something as important, if not more important than your degree to focus on outside of work is key to success.” For Edgar, currently his greater focus outside of work is raising two kids (hopefully future hydrologists) with his wife!