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Nikola Sander

Migration researcher at the Vienna Institute of Demography.

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Who I am

I’m Nikola Sander, a population geographer/demographer working at the Vienna Institute of Demography, which is part of the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital. I did my undergraduate degree in Germany and a PhD at the University of Queensland in Australia. In autumn 2010, I finished my PhD and moved to Vienna, Austria.

What I do

I do research on past, present and future internal and international migration. This includes patterns and trends in migration flows around the world, interregional migration flows and how they differ across countries, and the migration-development nexus.

I’m working on better ways for communicating research effectively and have a growing passion for data visualisation, crowdsourcing and open data/open access. If you would like to collaborate, drop me an email ( or send me a Tweet.

Why I do it

I work in academia because I enjoy finding things out. I’m curious about where and why people migrate around the world and what the consequences are. There are lots of things about migration that we still need to find out, because it’s a complex phenomenon and the data are very sketchy.

I think it’s fair to say that the scientific community hasn’t put a lot of effort into effectively communicating their findings, making it difficult for the wider public to distinguish biased media reporting from numerical evidence. To enable scientists to develop better communication strategies, it’s essential to make results and underlying data openly available. The Impact of Social Sciences Blog at the London School of Economics has some great advice on how to share academic work.

To share my research and to make it freely accessible on the web, I use Impactstory, ResearchGate, Figshare, Github and Google Scholar. I created interactive data visualisations together with my colleagues in Vienna and Berlin so that everyone can explore the global flow of people and interregional migration in Germany.

The geeky details

My favourite writing tool for scientific papers are TeXstudio and Writelatex. Colllaborating with non-LaTeX users has become a bit easier with the new Adobe Reader that allows annotations and track changes in the PDF file. My favorite tool for writing blog posts (and more and more often sections of papers) is MarkdownPad 2.

For data wrangling & analysis I use a mix of the good old Excel, Stata and a little bit of R. I’ve started to use iPython (via Anaconda) and the iPython Notebook. I really like how clean and readable the python code is compared to R. The Notebook makes collaborating and presenting code so easy!

I’m excited to get d3.js, my favorite data visualisation tool, embedded within the iPython Notebook. Agustín Bartó wrote a blog post on how to do this.

I create my circular migration plots using Circos, which (unfortunately) is written in Perl. Any volunteers to translate the code to Python?? For working with SVGs and graphics, I use Adobe Illustrator.

When it comes to writing and sharing code, I use Notepad++ to write HTML5 and JavaScript (beginner level). I push my conference slides and webpages to Github using Git in the console and started to use Github more extensively for collaborative research and visualisation projects. Thanks to Johannes and Andi from Null2 for their help in recent months!

My migrant file

I’m one of about 232 million migrants in the world, having lived outside my country of birth since 2003. Born and raised in Germany, I did my PhD at the University of Queensland in Australia. In late 2010, I moved from Australia to Austria to join the Vienna Institute of Demography.

  • 2006-11: PhD in Geography, The University of Queensland, Australia.

  • 2008: International Max Planck Research School for Demography, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany

  • 2007: Young Scientists Summer Program, World Population Program, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Austria

  • 1999-2005: Diplom in Geography (MSc equivalent), Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, Germany.

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