Messages from Students and Researchers of Professor Jim Doran

If you were Professor Doran's student or researcher, and you want to add your message here, please email Edward Tsang

"As one of Jim's last PhD students, I'd like to thank him for making my time at Essex into a unique experience. Jim's enthusiasm, depth of knowledge and clarity of thought combined with an open but critical approach were excellent training for a future in research. These characteristics are evidenced by the many other previous research students of Jim's who crop-up in all areas of AI research in both academia and industry. Jim's ideas and approach are highly successfull replicators :-) I hope I speak for all his previous students by wishing him well for the future."

David Hales

Ex-PhD Student

Dear Jim,

I would like to thank you for giving me such a rewarding experience at Essex. You served as both an inspiration and a role model and I had benefited greatly from your wisdom, insight and patience. I cannot say how much I admire your ability of expressing a unique perspective of fundamental issues while maintaining your objectivity and open-mindedness. I still have a vivid memory of our regular meetings where I desperately exhausted every possible arguments to defend the indefensible. Yet you still generously rewarded both conventional as well as illogical propositions with your usual honest insights. I had then realized the utility of being critical and the importance of making rational challenge to the established beliefs. Sometimes I even went as far as to defy your advice; thought of ridiculous things to do, and planned to do them. Once you had pointed out to me the risk of feeling isolated (at least in the department) for choosing my research topic, but I persisted. It is this confidence and determination of taking the calculated risk and thinking the unthinkable the most valuable gift you have given me.

It has been a privilege to be your student. And I wish you a enjoyable and fulfilling retirement.

Lyndon Lee
ex-PhD student

Dear Prof. Doran,

I would like to wish you a happy and fulfilling retirement. A lot of things have changed at Essex since I left five years ago, but for me this is certainly the biggest change. As my Ph.D. supervisor, you played a significant role in defining my experience at Essex. You played this role in a way that I both admire and respect. I shall always remember your talent for expressing yourself with a stark honesty tempered by genuine sensitivity, consideration, tolerance and compassion. I admire your ability to zone in on the fundamental issues surrounding a particular problem; and to ask just the questions to which I had no prepared answers. I miss the challenge those questions presented. Future postgraduate students will not know what they are missing.

My warmest regards to you and your family,


Christopher Ward
Ex-PhD student
Currently at Department of Mathematics and Computer Science
University of the West Indies (St. Augustine)
Trinidad & Tobago
West Indies

Dear Jim,

Among all your students, I must be at the very bottom of the list as far as accademic achievements are concerned. But what I learnt following you during my research years is invaluable in my life.

There are too many things to say at this special moment in time, but do you still remember our heated debate about whether ghosts exist?

My argument was: 'No, there is no ghost and I was told so since I was a child and I was educated to believe so'. but you taught me to keep an open mind for things that were not proven. This taught me to think actively but not without its side-effects, do you know that since then I have been scared of ghosts in darkness (ha ...).

As one of your loyal student, I just like to say a very big THANK YOU for all your advises, guidance, help, patience and understanding over the years. May your retirement be one of fulfilment and joy whatever you choose to do.

With lots of love

September 2001

Fenglan GAO

Jim is most respective and knowledgeable intellectual to me.

I have not only learnt so much from him in academic, but also enjoyed his sense of humour and sometimes childish cheering.

It is just not easy to list how much you can get from him, from his moral stands, wisdom in life, sharpness to read mind, kindness to people of different backgrounds etc.

He gave me most memorable and fruitful time at Colchester.

I take Jim as my most respectable friend and reliable adviser to my lifetime, whether or not he offers this "service" is another matter.

Jim, I can hear your prompt response: No certainly not, I have enough!

September 2001

Zhe MA
Ex-Senior Research Officer, CADDIES Project

Dear Jim,
I've just learnt that you've retired and wanted to wish you the very very best. I still remember vividly the extraordinary things I learnt studying in your lectures and working on the EOS project under your tutorship. Ever since then I have maintained an interest in anthropology and human behavior, which was focused and made considerably more informed by the discussions we had and the material you encouraged me to read and contemplate. Whilst in the end I made the decision to work in the more conventional field of business intelligence systems, I often regret not spending the extra few years at Essex to continue my studies, and I know if I had, you would have inspired me greatly and would have expanded my sphere of knowledge.

Just the other day I had an invasion of ants in my kitchen. They had managed to find a piece of pizza which for about an hour I had failed to put in the fridge. One ant had obviously encountered that slice of pizza, and the sight I had of the others (thousands of others) following along an invisible trial from my back door to the kitchen remained me of one of the lecture discussions we had about ant behavior. I of course promptly called my friends around from next door to explain to them with this living example the basics of multi-agent systems inspired by ants (before removing the pizza slice and the ants to the outside realm).

In fact both in and outside lectures we had discussions on a range of subjects, from ant behavior to the evolution of societal structures, and beyond. These experiences, unique to the time I spent studying with you, and never even closely encountered in all my career since, I owe to you. They are, and will always be, a very special part of my life.

Thank you!

Best Regards,
Simon Mayers
Ex- MSc Student
Currently working at the Saudi Aramco Oil Company (in Saudi Arabia)

Hi Jim

It's difficult to believe that it has been eight years since I finished working as a Senior Research Officer on the EOS project. Looking back, I remember waiting eagerly, often for days, for our experiments to run to completion; then analysing the results to discover if our hordes of prehistoric agents had opted to roam their world in solitude or formed themselves into fragile hierarchies, which invariably collapsed before reforming. It was a real privillege to spend three years working on such a truly fascinating project. Thanks for that opportunity.

At the time I could not have imagined a more perfect job. I had just completed a BA in Archaeology and an MSc in computing and was intent on starting a career in IT. However, I still harboured a secret desire to be an archaeologist and the job allowed me to maintain that illusion for three more years. Thanks for providing me with opportunity and time to procrastinate that little bit longer.

Finally, I should also like to thank you for another reason. It was as a direct result of my trip from Newcastle to Colchester to be interviewed by you and Paul, back in 1990, that I met up with my future wife Siaron (pronounced Sharon). A friend of a friend, she lived near Peterborough at the time and kindly offered to put me up for the night, ostensibly to break my journey and allow me to arrive bright and early in Colchester for the interview. Well, we are still together and expecting our first child in October. Thanks for that too.

Hope you have a great day. All the best for the future.

Mike Palmer
September 2001

Jim provided me with thoughtful and intelligent supervision for my PhD. He really changed the way I looked at problems, giving me new insights that I would not have had alone. His presence helped to motive me, so that I came through the difficult times to completion.

I will always be grateful to Jim for giving me the opportunity to take a PhD. My PhD has changed the way I look at the world and given me much greater self-confidence. Without this I would not have achieved what I have.

Mark Woodroffe

ex-PhD student
Currently at Open University

My academic career was created and shaped by Jim. He changed the way in which I analyse problems (not limited to academic research). He taught me how to make an argument -- and see how easy it can be knocked down in one go. Rigorous training by Jim gave me confidence (sure, being proved wrong is no big deal). He has also helped me to improve my English (which has now reached a fix point).

Very few students were not influenced by Jim's enthusiam and rigor in research. Being intelligent, sharp, fair, serious, caring and humourous, he was respected and admired by every student that I know. He was able to guide a student when he/she was totally lost, subdue a student when he/she was over-confident, encourage a student when he/she felt depressed, help a student without necessarily saying or admitting that he did.

Once my teacher, Jim will always be regarded as my teacher (that's the Chinese attitude). I continued to seek advice from Jim after my PhD. This will not be changed by his retirement. I cannot find words to express how grateful I am to him.

Edward Tsang
Ex-PhD Student, 1984-87

I have always had so much respect and admiration.

I am sure he has left so much positive and constructive impact on the mind and in the heart of most of his students. He was an excellent teacher and and a brilliant researcher. I wish him all the best and I am sure in the many, many coming years he will continue to have such a great impact. 

Best regards  

Nadim Obeid (

Dear Jim,

Gee, times fly eh? I still could recall your data structure lectures when I was an undergraduate at Essex during the mid-70's. Somewhere in my boxes of momentos from Essex, I am sure lie your lecture notes! THANKS! The lessons I learned from you and the great team of teachers at Essex at that time have helped shape my thinking of computer science forever. Words cannot express how grateful I am and how much I admired the group's dynamics and enthusiasm in search of knowledge.

So Jim, on this wonderful occassion, I wish you well. I am sure you will continue to contribute in many ways. If you ever come this way, look me up and we will have another meeting of the minds. I would love to continue the discussion on original intentionality and show you my robot programmed with "our" theory of cognitive mapping.

albert yeap

Ex-PhD student
Currently a professor at Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand

Jim Doran is a tall man.

When I was an undergraduate, we used to discuss things like the physical aspects of those cruel lecturers who would make us do assignments instead of just giving us grades without our doing any work, and naturally Jim's tallness was one of our regular topics. The burning question was, why did he seem to hunch his shoulders the whole time? Was it from having to duck when walking through doors? Or was it something his genes contrived to made him look even taller?

One day, his daughters visited the department and aha! They had the same kind of permanent shrug that Jim had! So, it wasn't anything to do with a fear of banging his head on a door jamb, it was just the way he was built! Having noticed this, I excitedly informed my friends over lunch in the Hexagon. Although they were interested initially, suddenly they started to look away, with pained expressions on their faces. Not one to let a mere thing like audience disinterest worry me (a trait that served me well in my years as a lecturer), I continued the story to the end. Then I followed the eye line of one of my friends and found Jim standing behind me, grinning. Augh! Years later, when I was a PhD student, the topic of embarrassing occurrences arose. Naturally, I launched into my Tall Jim anecdote, and just as I was explaining how everyone had started to look away, everyone I was talking to started to look away. I finished the anecdote, followed the eye line of one of the people at the table, and once again found Jim standing behind me, grinning. Augh! Augh!

Whenever I tell the anecdote now, I make sure Jim isn't standing behind me... Of course, when I was an undergraduate, then a postgraduate, then a lecturer, Jim cropped up in the conversation many other times. Mainly, we'd be talking about how good a teacher he was, how clear his lectures were, how good his notes, how interesting his assignments. We'd be discussing the papers he'd recommended to us, the people he'd introduced us to, all the while taking an approach to research that seemed perfectly natural to us but that only later did we realise he'd actually instilled. We'd have been floundering without him. Jim never seemed to stand behind me in the Hexagon when we were talking about any of this. He didn't, therefore, ever hear anything that would have embarrassed him rather than embarrassing me! However, he deserves to hear it now.

Jim, the impact you've had on AI is well known. The study of Planning in the UK would be a pale shadow of what it is today if it weren't for your efforts. But the effect you've had on generations of students is even more significant. You were what everyone thought a lecturer should be, and what all your PhD students aspired to be: intelligent, lucid, knowledgeable, helpful, dogged, patient, supportive, approachable, and above all, kind. You stand head and shoulders above the rest of us.

Jim Doran is a tall man.


Richard Bartle
ex-PhD student,
Creator of the legendary MUD2 (Multi-User Dungeon) game.