After completing an MPhil in Computer Speech and Language Processing, Gaafar Saleh went on to pursue a PhD in Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. But while that may sound the most up-to-the-minute of research interests, Gaafar’s Darwin experience took place in the 1990s.

“That research group were pioneers,” he says now. “It’s lovely now to see the resurgence of AI. The fundamentals haven’t changed – what’s changed is the availability of computing power.”

After finishing his PhD, Gaafar worked in commercial research and development, before establishing a career in investment banking. He is currently the Head of Quantitative Strategy at global financial services firm Finalto.

Born in Chester to Sudanese parents, Gaafar had an international childhood, before studying as an undergraduate at Birmingham University. He then selected Darwin for its diverse postgraduate population.

“I liked the fact that it had so many different students from all walks of life, all researching different things. It was a very rich environment, intellectually and culturally.”

Gaafar threw himself into Darwin life, getting involved in sport, the May Ball committee and the Drama Society.

“I remember we performed A Day in the Life and I did the lighting and effects. I had to know the whole script to make sure the effects synched up with what people were saying.”

Serving as DCSA President in 1993-94, Gaafar recalls the Porters’ Lodge as a particular success of his leadership.

“The Porters’ Lodge wasn’t always staffed, so we got student volunteers to staff it on Sundays, sorting the post and being in attendance. I’m very proud of that, because it meant that there was always someone for people to talk to.”

He also put in place a system of shared responsibility for the punts, asking students to pay a £10 deposit for the upkeep of the boathouse, in exchange for which they could use them whenever they chose.

“It allowed everyone to access the punts out of hours, and meant that we were all collectively responsible for them.”

Other highlights of Gaafar’s Darwin memories include the Formal Halls and, more sensationally, the contribution of Archbishop Desmond Tutu to the Darwin College Lecture Series.

“It just doesn’t feel like I was at Cambridge 30 years ago,” he says. “And that’s a testament to the environment of Darwin and the magic of Cambridge.”




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