Understanding the world with visual analytics - as a researcher on the quest for a better future
For researcher Milena Vuckovic, communication between data and people is at the heart of her work. To this end, she is developing visual analytics tools at VRVis to help make informed decisions for a green future.
Milena Vuckovic is a researcher in the Visual Analytics research group at VRVis. As an expert for multidimensional environmental data, she works with intelligent methods for data exploration that rely on prompt visual feedback on intricate relationships among individual data assets. Vuckovic’s research work helps people comprehend complex climate data faster and better: through insightful visualizations that allow a deeper understanding and more detailed assessment of environmental challenges such as the development of heat islands in urban areas or extreme weather events such as heatwaves, drought, or heavy rain.
The interdisciplinary scientist is a versatile person
Milena Vuckovic is a true-blooded researcher. Her passion for discovery goes a long way back and continues to follow her to this day – though Visual Computing was not where she started. Her first career was in architecture, where she physically designed and built our environment.
Today she focuses on data analysis and the studying of the intricate dynamic processes within our environment. It may seem a bit unconventional having a background in architecture and ending up focusing on data analysis and visualization techniques, but for Vuckovic, it was only natural to turn to those systems that rely on visual communication, given that the architecture is all about a visual expression of form and function. This is why she finds visual analytics workflows so intuitive – they serve as a perfect visual channel for deeper understanding of our ever-changing world. Overall, her diverse background gives her the capacity to combine the best out of both worlds in her daily work.
Scientific publications are the heart of every researcher’s work
For Milena Vuckovic, the process of scientific writing is quite demanding and multilayered. It usually begins with thorough background research on the existing body of knowledge concerning a topic of investigation, where one must identify open challenges and draw parallels before even thinking about writing that opening sentence. This groundwork will essentially bloom into a convincing research statement that will put her entire scientific contribution into perspective. Only then does the hard work come! She is now faced with finding the most sensible way of expressing her thoughts on the research process, outcomes, and conclusions in the most unbiased way. There is no room for personal praise, just a pure down-to-earth reflection of the good and the bad. She is well aware of the fact that an essential part of every scientific experiment is uncertainty, and thus, scientists must be ready to face the unpleasant reality of things simply not working out. However, with enough diligence her final manuscript is drafted and ready to go through a peer review process. Often this is where another cycle of hard work kicks off, as the work needs to be reshaped following a mountain of comments and suggestions from fellow scientists. Researchers may agree with some and challenge the other - it is all part of the process. However, they should always have in mind that this step is meant to improve the work, make it sound and reliable, so that others can build on one’s achievements and help advance the field. An essential part of successful top-level-research are the colleagues, as without their support and joint effort not a single publication would come to life. And what a shame that would be!
Visual Analytics is a helpful decision-support tool for climate-sensitive planning
When we think about innovative applications in the environmental domain, Visual Computing approaches hold the promise of a new paradigm shift. Indeed, such approaches are conceptualized with an aim to transcend the limits of conventional methods for analyzing and visualizing data and to advance the limited human capacity for synthesizing data into critical insights.
One commendable approach relates to Visual Analytics that allows an interactive visualization-based dialogue with the data at hand. This is instrumental in Vuckovic’s work when dealing with complex time-series climate data that require multiple detail-oriented perspectives to account for the whole spectrum of internal events and features. For instance, she can go beyond observing a general natural progression of a phenomenon and rather uncover rare occurrences and hidden time-sensitive tendencies that would otherwise remain unidentified. This can thus help her in identifying the most critical localities (cities and regions) for which appropriate climate-sensitive planning would be considered a matter of urgency. Of course, when further combined with numerical simulation capacities (especially thermodynamic and hydrodynamic modeling), such approaches may become a powerful decision-support tool on disaster and risk mitigation, bringing us closer to a more sustainable future.
Collaboration and diversity in science
The importance of collaboration with work colleagues and fellow scientists in Vuckovic’s daily work activities cannot be stressed enough. VRVis has a big team of 70 people from more than 10 nations and various backgrounds such as mathematics, physics, and IT.
The beauty of this is that some of our colleagues have different educational backgrounds, which brings a breath of fresh air to the creative process and encourages everyone to apply concepts and utilize skills not in one’s own mental toolset.
The research community
Everything comes down to being a part of an inspirational research community. This is oftentimes wrongly reflected on the external affiliations only. A productive discussion regarding the ongoing project proposals or simply brainstorming on new research ideas and directions assures a fruitful synthesis and a consideration of diverse approaches and perspectives.
However, being a part of a research group is truly fulfilling. Vuckovic is part of the VRVis Visual Analytics group, where she values the sense of belonging, which goes beyond simply sharing a common space, as well as the daily support, a rewarding exchange of opinions (often with a valuable critical reflection), or just that simple casual chitchat over a cup of coffee to boost one’s spirits.