Spotlight on Fernando Pantoja

We hear from Fernando about life working as a Research Fellow in the Safer Communities project team and the challenges of working with administrative data.

Fernando joined the ADR Scotland Safer Communities research programme in February 2020. Unfortunately, this was just a month before the first lockdown. Therefore not only did he have the same challenge as everyone else to establish a home office, he also had to get to know colleagues through online meetings. However, he was lucky to be part of a very friendly and supportive team, that helped him to adjust to this new way of working. One of his favourite activities is a regular online meeting that the team has every Friday, where they share all their accomplishments and frustrations.

We asked Fernando the following questions to find out more about his role; the challenges he faces and what advice he would give to others starting their journey.

Please tell us more about your job and the projects you are involved in

One of the nice things about this job is that there is no such thing as a typical day. Right now, we are working on three big projects, which means we can spend one day working with the relevant dataset; cleaning data, analysing it and preparing outputs. Then other days we could be doing some literature reviews or preparing and delivering a presentation.

The first project we are working on is about drugs purchased through illegal online markets. For this project, we use data from the National Crime Agency about all packages containing illegal consignments seized by the UK Border Force and destined for Scotland. More specifically, we have explored the spatial distribution of these packages, the law enforcement strategies used to contain the illegal flow of drugs, and the characteristics of these packages and their destination to distinguish between different users.

The second project is about violence and its underlying vulnerabilities. The aim of this project is to analyse the demand for emergency services, due to a violence related incident. In particular, we are investigating whether this demand is driven by people identified as being vulnerable (e.g. suffering from mental health, alcohol and/or drug addiction). Here, we are using linked data from various services including the Scottish Ambulance Service, Emergency Departments, Hospitals, and specialised mental health and drug services.

Lastly, we are currently developing a new project that aims to explore the profile and outcomes of problem drug users that are known to the criminal justice system. Although we are currently waiting for the data, we want to explore how their characteristics and vulnerabilities, including their sociodemographic and illicit drug profile, are related to their criminal career.

One really positive thing about my role, is getting to work across different projects and getting to learn more about Scotland.

What challenges have you had to overcome and do you have any tips for others just starting their Research Fellowships?

Working with administrative data is very challenging, especially when you have not had access to a dataset before.

A former colleague developed a research proposal a few months ago, and after a very long wait, we finally received the datasets. When we began the analysis, we found some issues that were a bit concerning. A big problem for us is that because we did not develop that research proposal, we did not take part in the ‘negotiation process’, and thus, we do not have access to some information (particularly about the inclusion criteria).

I have to say we are very lucky because the eDRIS team has always been extremely helpful not only to solve some practical issues but also to liaise with the data controllers when they are unable to answer our queries. Huge thanks to the electronic Data Research and Innovation Service (eDRIS).

Due to the challenge of working with administrative data, it is best to be clear and upfront about anything you don't know. In my experience, most people are willing to help, and if they do not know the answer to a specific question, I am sure they will tell you who does.

However, I have also learned that we have to be patient. Although most people are friendly and do want to help you, some of them are extremely busy (particularly in the current situation), so it is important to learn how to manage your own time (so you can do other things while you wait for an answer). 

Tell us some facts we didn't know about you!

I am from a city called Toluca, which is about an hour’s drive west of Mexico City. I spent the first 21 years of my life there, until I finished my Undergrad studies (with a gap when I did a year abroad in High School). Since then, I have been a bit busy travelling (with the excuse of studying and working). I have had the opportunity to live in the USA, New Zealand, Sweden, Iran and now Scotland (I have been here for over 4 years). If you are needing help with your work, I can usually be persuaded by a tasty coffee or caramel & cheesecake!! I love both and cannot resist either of these things!!  

On a good Karaoke night, I will probably try to steal the mic to sing more than one Queen song (Don’t stop me now). I cannot stand Raggaeton songs, like Despacito, as most of the songs have lyrics which are very offensive.

This article was published on 03 Feb 2021

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