Alumni Profile — Nirav Nikunj Patel

If you can dream it, you can do it.

By Marcella Tortorici ’16

“Choosing to go to UF was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life thus far,” says Nirav Nikunj Patel ’11, M’13. “If I hadn’t gone to UF, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.” That person is a forward-driven scientist with the heart of a philosopher. As an undergraduate, Patel double-majored in geography and philosophy. He then went on to receive a Master of Science degree in geography with a specialization in medical geography.

While the connections between geography and philosophy might not seem obvious at first, for 26-year-old Patel, the two disciplines are natural extensions of one another. “In a broad sense, geography offers an empirical description of the world. It gives you the tools to study the spatial aspects of human existence,” he says. “However, philosophy is the foundation of analytic thinking that allows me to explore geography further.”

Since 2014, Patel has worked full-time at Dito (currently as a director of data science), one of six Google Maps premier partners that resells Google products for businesses. He also is finishing his PhD in Earth Systems and GeoInformation Sciences from George Mason University. As part of his PhD research, he is a science collaborator at NASA Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, where he works in the NASA Advanced Supercomputing Division with the High-End Computing Capability Project. His research interests entail the “impacts of climate change on human population and also understanding how human population distribution is driving certain indices of climate change.”

In October, he entered basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, as part of his enlistment with the United States Air Force for the 129th Rescue Wing, an Air National Guard unit. In his position as a guardsman at the 129th, he plans on supporting the Pararescue mission, which is the only US Department of Defense combat force specifically organized and equipped to conduct full-spectrum personnel recovery. Having developed a sense of conviction from his studies of philosophy, he hopes to pursue life-saving endeavors that reflect his healthcare-mapping research in UF’s Geography program. “Pararescue units in their nature have to go against all odds ensure that the preservation of life is to ensure, and to be able to support that in some capacity is an absolute honor,” he says.

Nirav Patel in his Air National Guard in his dress blues.
Nirav Patel in his Air National Guard in his dress blues.

“I want a lifestyle where I can focus on research all day. I’m not too concerned about making money. I just want to do something where I can challenge myself intellectually and try to do good things for the world.”

Patel’s goal for the coming year is to work as a civil servant at NASA with an emphasis on earth science and aerospace engineering. “I want a lifestyle where I can focus on research all day,” he says. “I’m not too concerned about making money. I just want to do something where I can challenge myself intellectually and try to do good things for the world.”

Patel handles his full plate with a level head, thanks to two influential classes taught by Greg Ray, UF professor of philosophy. The courses, Symbolic Logic and Metaphysics, “really helped me to be the Jedi that I feel I sometimes am when I’m working,” says Patel. “Because of his classes, nothing intimidates me anymore.” He sees the Jedi practice of mental focus embodied in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “It fosters the sense that if you can dream it, you can do it, and that’s exactly the path I am on today.”