12/05/2017

Passionate about big data & circular economy

In the Belgian village of Lichtaart, the only straw-bale house in the village is waking up. I get out of bed at 6.30 in the morning. I eat my breakfast, make sandwiches and get my children dressed. At 7.45, I take Maxime and Arnaud to pre-school childcare. Oh, and I mustn’t forget about my cousin, Yolien (she just finished an internship at our HR department, red.). I pick her up at an improvised carpark for carpoolers. On the way, we like to sing together as we head out towards the rising sun. But more about that later.

A thing about data

Once I arrive at VITO, where I work as a researcher in the Advance team, which forms part of the Materials unit, I dive straight into the data with a clear head. Our task is to promote the idea of a circular economy. My thing is data and more specifically, datafication: generating evidence based insights in the dynamics of circular economy strategies.  In data science, both data management, data processing and communication are implied. We collect, manage and correct data to analyse them subsequently with the aim of obtaining valuable information and insights. Ultimately, we visualise that data by means of infographics, for example. My primary area of activity involves writing code using a wide variety of calculation programs.

Chaos in Italy

10.30. A teleconference with contacts in Finland and Italy. Together with other consortia members, we manage the European Reference Model on Municipal Solid Waste Management, which we use in the name of the European Environment Agency to provide each member state with land specific projections, which obtain insight into whether or not the European goals are achieved. My role within those teleconferences is as the “technical person” whose task is to resolve problems with the code or model structure. In meetings too, patience is a great virtue to have. Our Finnish colleagues do not find it easy to speak openly and freely. And our Italian co-workers? Well, they haven’t actually come online yet. We wait for a quarter of an hour and everything falls into place. Our Italian partners seem to live in a perpetual flurry of activity. They take part in teleconferences while in their cars, while we are politely sitting here in an office waiting for them to join us.

Data for lunch

It's time for the lunchtime discussion in our team. Today, it’s my turn. What will I be talking about? Well, datafication, of course! At VITO, we are working on a clear strategy on the subject of Data Science at the moment. Our world is evolving into a world governed by the “internet of things”, in which every device will generate data. During my lunchtime talk, I explain what knowledge and tools VITO has at its disposal in order to process that data. I also provide tips on how to structure data simply in Excel and to create a database as flexible as possible. Admittedly, the subject matter doesn't exactly make for an entirely relaxing lunchtime talk, but at least my talk takes place in a convivial atmosphere, and with some delicious sandwiches.

Team discussion

After lunch, another team discussion has been scheduled. Operating to a clear schedule helps both us and our client to progress. It can often be difficult to estimate in advance how long a data project will take and what the scope of the project will be, however as the project progresses, the precise timing becomes clearer. It’s good to keep our finger on the pulse! 

Gekko

I get back into the car with Yolien. To sing. Because not long from now, at 19.30, I will be taking part in rehearsal of the 'Gekko choir' in Lichtaart. Made up of 60 members, the choir sings pop hits, well-known Disney tunes and songs from musicals, with multiple voices. I am a first soprano and so it’s important that I am always pitch-perfect. Am I a bit of a perfectionist? Yes, but I’m allowed to be, as we only perform together once every year. Everything I do, I do with the environment in mind: I live in a straw-bale house, I eat vegetarian food, I even cycled to VITO in the past and I hope to do so again in the future. Six years ago, I decided to apply for a job at VITO, as in my view, sustainability is the future. By working here, I learn something new every day.

JOIN OUR MISSION TOWARDS A CIRCULAR ECONOMY

VITO is looking for new colleagues to join us on our mission to towards a circular economy. Visit our job page to view all our current vacancies > www.vito.be/en/join-us.

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF...

  • Kristel Boonen, Business Developer Sustainable Energy - EnergyVille
  • Sharma Richa, Postdoctoral researcher Rural Development and Environmental Management
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