Dr. Sean Anderson receives Dean's Convocation Medal

June 01, 2015

As one of SFU's most outstanding graduate students from the Faculty of Science, Dr. Sean Anderson is being being recognized with the award of the Dean of Graduate Studies Convocation Medal. On behalf of SFU, we congratulate Dr. Anderson on his outstanding achievements. 

The intersection of  large datasets, statistical modelling, visualization, and conservation biology has proven to be a sweet spot for Dr. Sean Anderson. He completed his doctorate in biology in just four years. In that time, he published three software packages and 16 peer-reviewed papers on top of five papers published from his Master's research.

One of his most important projects led to a paper published in Science, the most prestigious journal in the world. The paper, Paleontological baselines for evaluating extinction risk in the modern oceans, uses 23 million years of fossil data to show what extinction in our oceans would look like in a world without humans.

Dr. Anderson's thesis illuminated how variability and extreme events influence the ecology and conservation of populations. A “black swan” is an extreme and improbable event that has massive influence. As part of his thesis, Sean developed a statistical technique to measure the prevalence and likelihood of ecological black-swan events and applied the method to thousands of population time series. He found that extreme events occur with surprising frequency and that they are primarily catastrophic crashes (rather than increases) that are usually driven by external events such as weather and disease. At a time when global climate is becoming increasingly variable and extreme, his work provides rich and valuable insights into the future of life on earth.

During his PhD, Dr. Anderson was also a Canadian Fulbright Scholar at the University of Washington and received funding from an NSERC doctoral scholarship and a Garfield Weston Foundation / BC Packers Ltd. Fellowship.

Previously, his Masters work received the Canadian Governor General’s Gold Medal at Dalhousie University. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at SFU’s School of Resource and Environmental Management and this fall he will be returning to the University of Washington and the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center to hold a highly prestigious David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship.

Dr. Nicholas Dulvy and Dr. Andrew Cooper, his PhD advisors, are grateful for his exceptional level of departmental service. Dr. Anderson conducted large and well-attended workshops on the R statistical software for the Earth to Ocean Group and the Department of Biological Sciences, and co-developed and taught a graduate-level course on data manipulation and visualization.

Dr. Dulvy says, “Sean transformed the quantitative aptitude of graduate students in our large research group; what they learned has proved immensely useful to them in their subsequent research.”

Dr. Anderson says, in conclusion, “I’m grateful to my PhD committee for their helpful guidance and for giving me the freedom to work on a broad set of topics beyond my thesis — the Earth to Ocean Group provided a wonderfully collaborative research environment. Overall, I seek to better understand the ecological risks associated with human activities. I’m excited to join the Smith Fellows program working on forecasting extreme events and catastrophes in our oceans.”

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