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I don’t like the word “typical”

Ana Slavec, consulting statistician at InnoRenew CoE

  • Where were you living in childhood and where do you live now?

I grew up in the centre of Izola, Slovenia, then I lived in Ljubljana for ten years for study and later also work. A few years ago, love brought me back to the Slovenian coast, to Koper’s hinterlands. As a city girl, I didn’t find this too tempting at the beginning but never say never.

  • What have you studied and what were the motives for your decision?

For a long time, I thought I would study history or law, but I was worried about job opportunities. Then I got a brochure where various professions were presented, including the statistician. “How dull,” a classmate commented. But I was thrilled that I finally found a field where I could combine mathematical skills and my interest in social sciences. There is no undergraduate programme of statistics in Slovenia, so I decided for the programme of Sociology – Social Informatics at the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Ljubljana, which was the closest to what I wanted to do. At the time of enrolment, I was not even thinking about a doctorate. In the third year, though, I started working for a professor of statistics who offered me the position of a younger researcher and so I enrolled for doctoral studies.

  • How would you describe your work to someone outside your field?

As a consulting statistician, I offer support to other researchers in collecting, analysing, interpreting and presenting data. As a researcher myself, I deal with data collection methods where I try to determine how to plan a study so that the data will be of the highest quality and useful. In my doctoral thesis, for instance, I was researching improvements of survey questions wording using language resources. I am applying this knowledge also at the InnoRenew CoE when we are using questionnaires in some studies.

  • What does your typical working day look like?

As a methodologist, I don’t like the word “typical”, and I usually advise against using it in questionnaires. As a researcher, I definitely don’t have a typical day, except that I am writing every day – whether it’s a project proposal, an article or an e-mail.

  • What makes you excited about your work?

I am excited about the internationality and interdisciplinarity of working at the InnoRenew CoE. A few times, I was tempted to move abroad to work in an international environment but, somehow, I didn’t want to leave Slovenia. InnoRenew allows me to work in such an environment but still live in our beautiful country. As a statistician, I am also excited by the fact that my colleagues are researchers in various fields of science. The American statistician John Tukey once said that the best thing about being a statistician is that you get to play in everyone’s backyard. Here, I have quite a few different backyards to play in.

  • And what is the biggest challenge at your work?

Working in a fast-growing organisation is dynamic and stressful. We are working on several ongoing projects, and, at the same time, we are applying for calls for funds that will allow the organisation to function in the long run. Almost every month, we get a new co-worker, and, eventually, it becomes slightly tiresome to introduce yourself again and again to new employees. A few of them also left, and it is, of course, even harder to say goodbye to those you bonded with and are leaving.

  • Which scientist or scientific achievement are you fascinated by and why?

Florence Nightingale, who lived in the 19th century and was the founder of modern hospital care and a pioneer in the field of graphical presentation of data. Not only due to her last name (Slavec in Slovenian translates to nightingale), I also appreciate her efforts to present data in a way that is understandable to those who are not accustomed to reading statistical reports. Her reporting from the Crimean War, where she volunteered, helped raise awareness about the link between hygienic conditions and the mortality rate. She is, of course, more famous for her work in nursing than in statistics. I was excited to see her portrait in the office of the Dean of the Faculty of Heath Sciences at the University of Primorska when I was there for a meeting. I hope that the results of our research work in the field of ergonomic furniture will also contribute to improving people’s health.

  • Tell us about the work of art (books, music, movies, theatre, dance, visual arts) that has a special place in your life.

As a predominantly visual person, I like visual arts. When I travel, I like to visit museums of modern art where I admire the works of surrealistic authors. I am also a big fan of the seventh art, and I tend to follow contemporary film production. Lately, the movies that impressed me the most were those made by the Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos.

  • What have you read, listened to, or watched lately?

Lately, I have been mainly reading travel blogs about the Italian region of Apulia where I went on honeymoon, and I have been listening to a lot of Italian music, which I always loved. More than a reader and listener, I am a viewer – Netflix is part of my daily routine. Recently, I did not watch any TV show that I would recommend, except, perhaps, the British comedy drama Sex Education. I’m looking forward to autumn when new episodes of my current two favourite series, Better Call Saul and BoJack Horseman, are scheduled.

  • Which place on the Slovene coast do you like the most?

There are several places, but it is more important when than where. The best time on the Slovenian coast is the end of May and first half of June, before the main tourist season, when the sea is clean and not too warm and jellyfish are nowhere to be seen. Pure grace! My favourite corner in this period is about a quarter of a kilometre swimming away from the Delfin beach in Izola, in parallel with the breakwater of Izola’s marina, to the point where you see the cliffs on the west and the old town with the Alps in the background to the northeast. June is also the time when Izola hosts my favourite two events, the Kino Otok Film Festival and the Feast of Olive Oil, Wine and Fish.

  • What makes you enthusiastic?

As part of my research on the behaviour of respondents in filling survey questionnaires, I have also read some literature on motivation and enthusiasm. The Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defined flow according to two dimensions: assessing your abilities and difficulty of the task. The state of enthusiasm is achieved when we feel highly capable of carrying out the task, but, at the same time, the task still represents a challenge. Answering these questions, for instance, also made me to go into a state of flow.

  • Characterize your life’s guidance or an important realization (or epiphany) you have experienced.

The fact that the only constant in life is change.

  • What does the charm of wood mean to you?

The mention of wood always reminds me of my grandfather, who, still today, at the age of 88, enters his woodworking workshop every morning. Since I work at the InnoRenew CoE, I’ve been discovering the charm of wood also from a scientific perspective, and I am fascinated by its complexity. Just like we humans are determined by genetic factors and the environment, so is wood and two pieces of wood are never the same. This makes it challenging to research and why wood science requires such an interdisciplinary approach.