Nikola Sander bio photo

Nikola Sander

G'day and welcome to my blog. I'm a population geographer & spatial demographer at the Vienna Institute of Demography.

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Who I am

I’m Nikola Sander, a population geographer/spatial demographer doing research at the Vienna Institute of Demography, which is part of the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital.

I received my Diplom (Master’s equivalent) in Geography from the Eberhard-Karls University in Tübingen, Germany. In 2003, I did an exchange semester at Flinders University, Australia, and what was originally planned as a 6-month stay turned into an 8-year long adventure. I returned only briefly to Germany in 2005 to complete my studies. In 2006, I started my PhD at Martin Bell’s Queensland Centre for Population Research at the University of Queensland, focusing on internal migration of retirees. After completing my PhD studies in 2010, I decided to move to Austria to start a research career. The friendly people, the awesome flora and fauna and the supportive research environment made those 8 years really enjoyable. So many happy memories.

What I do

My research focus lies at the nexus of population geography and spatial demography, with an emphasis on past, present and future migration. This includes patterns and trends in international migration flows around the world as well as inter-regional migration flows within countries. I’m also interested in population projections and the impact of migration on the size and characteristics of population at the local and regional levels, such as urban growth and rural population decline. In my research projects, I mainly draw on quantitative models of spatial processes and visual exploratory data analysis.

I also strive towards communicating my research effectively and have a growing passion for data visualisation. I believe that working in academia should not be limited to making important discoveries. It is equally important for the wider community, including policy makers, to understand our work and benefit from it. Migration is a topic where effective and transparent dissemination of research findings is especially relevant. Data visualisation can make complex data accessible, useful, and even fun!

I share my research via ResearchGate, Figshare, Github and Google Scholar. You can also explore the results of our research on internal and international migration flows in two interactive data visualisations that I developed together with my colleagues in Vienna and coders at Null2: The Global Flow of People and Internal Migration in Germany.

Please take a look at my CV for further details.

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 don’t know yet, because it’s a complex phenomenon and the data are very sketchy. Being a researcher allows me to generate creative, innovative project ideas and realise them with a team. The only downside to working in academia is that permanent positions are rare and funding for innovative projects is difficult to obtain. Let’s see what 2015 has to offer.

The geeky stuff

My favourite tool for writing scientific papers is Markdown, which allows me to focus on the content rather than the formatting. I appreciate the clean code and efficient formatting that make Markdown such an attractive option for writing papers. Until mid-2014, I used TeXstudio and Writelatex for writing papers, but I find the LaTeX code a little too elaborately decorated for writing simple text documents. Most papers have more than one author, who are often not familiar with LaTex. Using Writelatex to collaborate with non-LaTeX users is not really a good option. Thank god there’s Pandoc! Writing papers in Markdown and then converting them to MS Word or LaTeX-style PDF makes collaboration so much easier. I wrote a blog post on how to create papers with Markdown and Pandoc if you would like to give it a try.

For data cleaning and analysis I use a mix of Excel, Stata and a little R (hopefully a little more R in the future).

I hope I’ll be able to improve my knowledge of d3.js, my favorite data visualisation library, in the future.

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

Since 2013, I create my conference slides in HTML5 and push them to Github, which is great for collaborative research and visualisation projects. You can view my (interactive) slides there. Thanks to Johannes and Andi from Null2 for their help in recent months!

Famous last words

This blog is about sharing ideas, opinions and research with other people in academia and beyond. Don’t hesitate to comment on my posts, send me a Tweet, or write me an email for further information or to discuss potential future collaborations.