Conquering Topographies and Unravelling Demographies

I knew that after not being able to travel for the past two years due to the pandemic, I wanted to maximize my three months in Switzerland. As a result, I was determined to travel somewhere new every weekend and I am glad to say that after several weekends of early mornings (and a few missed trains), I was able to achieve my goal!

During the week, I worked with Prof. Mathias Lerch in the Urban Demography lab (URBDEMO), developing a methodology to establish a universal criterion to determine groups of census units which can accurately describe demographic data in the functional urban areas of developing countries. This task was made rather difficult by the differing definitions of “urban” from country to country as well as the fact that lower income nations typically have a poorer quality of census data compared to their developed counterparts. My favourite part of this process was looking at all the maps my script outputted after many iterations of developing a methodology.

“Match scores” between functional urban areas (green outline) and census polygons (black outline) in Java Island, Indonesia. Red indicates stronger confidence in an urban area being described by census units.

I chose this lab because it perfectly combined my two interests – geography and statistics. While URBDEMO was a relatively small lab (the number of members fluctuated around 3-5 while I was working there), it gave me the opportunity to become really close with my professor and lab mates. Moreover, my professor was almost always available to answer questions or to even grab a quick coffee! The lab environment was very relaxed, and I was given a lot of free rein to do independent exploratory analysis in attempts to find an effective methodology. At the end of the three months, I was very happy with the work I was able to contribute to the lab and hope my methodology can help them further their studies in urban migration and population trends.

During the weekend, I would be out and about either exploring Europe or going on a hike. One of the conveniences of living in Lausanne is its proximity to Geneva airport which has a bunch of affordable flights to all corners of Europe. I was able to travel to seven different countries during my time there where I was able to experience different landscapes, cultures, and foods. If I wasn’t travelling to a new country, I would be hiking somewhere in the Alps, using the extensive CFF network. The Swiss Alps are a truly breathtaking landscape and with mountains such as the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc and Tour d’Aï only a few hours away by train, I highly recommend making the most out of the Swiss topography.

Above the clouds… – Tour d’Aï hike

Above all, I would say that one of my favourite parts this internship was meeting people. Every week was a new trip and opportunity to meet someone new. Most of the other ERIP interns were as eager as I was to travel and explore Europe and finding people to travel with was incredibly easy. Many friendships were made through sharing memorable adventures and experiences together whether it being taking a night train to Budapest, exploring the canals of Amsterdam, going on a kayak tour in the Adriatic, or trying a Bouchon in Lyon.

Foosball at Luigia’s, Lausanne

My short but jam-packed internship at EPFL will be an unforgettable experience. Lausanne – I’ll be back soon!

Andrew Ding, University of Waterloo
Urban Demography Lab