Nikola Sander bio photo

Nikola Sander

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 working at the Vienna Institute of Demography, which is part of the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital. I completed my undergraduate studies in Geography in Germany and did my PhD at the University of Queensland in Australia. My PhD research looked at internal migration behaviour of retirees in Australia and how patterns might change upon retirement of the Baby Boomer generation. In autumn 2010, I finished my PhD and moved to Vienna, Austria. Take a look at my CV to find out more.

What I do

My research focus lies at the nexus of population geography and spatial demography, with an emphasis 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. I’m also interested in the impacts of internal and international migration on the size and characteristics of population at the local and regional levels. 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.

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.

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. I try to 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 twp interactive data visualisations that I developed together with my colleagues in Vienna and code experts at Null2: The Global Flow of People and Internal Migration in Germany.

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.

For data cleaning and analysis I use a mix of Excel, Stata and a little R. I’ve only just started to get my head around iPython (via Anaconda) and the iPython Notebook. I really like how clean and readable the python code is compared to R.

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 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 Sublime Text 3 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.

  • since 2010: research scholar at the Vienna Institute of Demography, Austria

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

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

Download my CV