Dr Christa de Kock driven to creatively address problems

“I am driven to creatively address problems,” says Dr Christa de Kock. “When it came to choosing a career, I felt my choice would always be between engineering or architecture. The former because engineering has a problem-solving angle and I love Mathematics. Architecture was in the running, because I am a fairly creative person.”

She continues: “The deciding factor, however, was my apprehension that engineering’s hard approach might not leave much space for creativity. I therefore opted for architecture at the University of the Free State. After a few months, I realised that I missed Mathematics too much as well as the concrete world of problem solving. In a very unusual move, I swopped not only degree programme, but also university and started my first year BEng (Industrial Engineering) at Maties in August 2011. I felt that Industrial Engineering would be the discipline which would allow me the most opportunity to be creative. I graduated in 2015 and carried on with a master’s degree in 2016.

“I did not get out of the starting blocks easily with my master’s because I had to finance my own studies from that year on. In order to provide for myself, I took up a post as a graduate teaching assistant at the SU Business School, as well as a teaching assistant for two final-year modules at Industrial Engineering. This kept me so busy that I could not really give much attention to my postgraduate studies. Fortunately, this proved to be a blessing in disguise.

“In that time the Syrian refugee crisis featured very prominently in the news. This grabbed my attention and concern. Through the course of 2016, whilst working at the SU Business School, I followed the news very closely, reading, watching and following the refugee crisis. At last I had found a topic that I was passionate about and I decided to use my engineering skills in addressing this challenge.  A year later, at the end of 2017, I handed in my master’s thesis.

“In 2018, I had the opportunity to upgrade to a PhD and was offered a post as a junior lecturer at the Department of Industrial Engineering. Although my first year of master’s was not productive, the year that I worked at the Business School meant a lot for my career. In my capacity as a graduate teaching assistant I served as the link between students and lecturers and I gained a lot of experience. This stood me in good stead when I joined the Department of Industrial Engineering and to coordinate the department-wide module Project Management.

“The topic of my PhD thesis is A framework for modelling conflict-induced forced migration according to an agent-based approach. The big dilemma with the refugee crisis is that there is a significant lack of data. Even the records kept of inhabitants in refugee camps are not always accurate. Furthermore, there are many undocumented refugees, as well as those who choose to move within the borders of their country, the internally displaced people. It is extremely difficult to predict the scale and movement dynamics of these individuals.

“For my PhD research, I proposed a framework which any modeller may use to develop their own model regarding a certain conflict situation in specific area or country. The framework, in essence, assists in modelling the actual conflict scenario, the population of people considered, and, very importantly, the decision-making process of the forced displaced people based on personal characteristics. This is a current approach, for it is only during the past twenty years that the art of modelling and quantitative analysis extended to the field of forced migration. In my opinion, it is definitely a step in the right direction towards addressing this global crisis.”

After a few indecisive moments in her life, Dr De Kock now has no doubts about the road forward regarding her career. She concludes: “I most definitely want to stay in academia. This is unquestionably the place I want to be!”

Title: A framework for modelling conflict-induced forced migration according to an agent-based approach.

Summary: In view of the serious shortcomings of existing models of displacement in instances of conflict and the lack of reliable data related to the associated movement patterns of forcibly displaced individuals, a generic framework was proposed for the design of effective agent-based simulation models of conflict-induced migration. The output of such a model is the high-level emergent behaviour resulting from localised, low-level decision-making processes of individuals fleeing conflict-affected areas. The practical value of the framework was demonstrated by applying the framework successfully in the design of an agent-based simulation model of migration patterns induced by the current conflict in Syria.

Photograph: Dr Christa de Kock.

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