Interview with Sofie Ten Bosch

“What I enjoy most are the discussions with everyone and the variety of topics to work on where I can go into detail and see the impact of the different innovations our lab is working on.  I really like that.”

Sofie is a research assistant with the Energy Geostructures Research Group here at LMS.  We started by asking her to tell us a little bit about herself.

I am Sofie, 26 years old, and I come from the Netherlands.  I studied in Delft, a city where I also grew up.  I studied civil engineering, both my Bachelor’s and my Master’s at Delft, and after I finished my Master’s, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do next.  After doing some research into options around Europe, I came in contact with Professor Laloui, who gave me the opportunity to come here as a scientific assistant in the lab.

So, I arrived during COVID and after a 10-day quarantine, I started here in the lab, and yeah, I’ve been happy working here ever since.

What does a typical day or week look like for you?

That’s a really good question because, for me, every day looks quite different as I have many different projects going on.  But one thing that I really try to keep every day is I come to the office, and I have a cup of tea, just 30 minutes for me to sit down and see what projects I have, which ones are my main priority today, and what meetings do I have coming up?  If I can, I try to have one morning for one project and the afternoon for another.  Usually, it doesn’t work that way, and I end up doing everything for four projects on the same day.  Currently, I mostly do modeling, so most of my work is sitting behind my desk and I work there.

Tell us about some of the projects you are working on.

I have been working on various projects.  I started working here to explore our soil dynamics testing capability in the lab to see if it would be worth investing more in this and it’s potential.  That was just the first month if I remember correctly.  Currently, I’m working on three or four projects simultaneously, several topics, which is also something I really like.  I’m working on the Metro Project exploring high-speed rail in the Swiss Alps, which started recently.  I am also involved in the lab’s Biogeos project and bio-cementation, mostly numerical modeling at the moment, and then in energy geo-structures and thermal energy recovery in the built environment where we are collaborating with Amberg Engineering.

So your expertise is modeling.  Many your colleagues spend time in the lab here in LMS.  How do you find that relationship and interaction with your peers?

Well, I did some experimental testing in the lab for Biogeos, so I know a bit about how it feels, and I’ve also had a lot of help from others, and that’s what I really appreciate.  But what I really like about working here is that you can always ask others for help or have a discussion.  Like “How do you see this?” and I think that goes for both experimental work and modeling.  So it’s different types of work, but I also still find many similarities.

What’s the one thing you enjoy the most in doing your research?

What I enjoy most are the discussions with everyone.  I also enjoy the variety of topics to work on where I can go into detail and see the impact of the different innovations our lab is working on.  I really like that.

 And in comparison, what’s been the most challenging part of your research?

I think the most challenging part at the moment is time management, balancing which project needs the most attention right now and how to implement that.

Where does your research find an application?

Well, for the project with Amber Engineering it’s quite clear.  We assess this specific optimization with a ventilation system, which we hope Amberg Engineering can use in their future projects.  For the project on the topic of bio-cementation that we have in the lab where we try to improve soil characteristics through calcite precipitation in the soil, I am working on modeling this improvement and we can then use these models to predict how to best treat the soil.  So how to improve these characteristics depending on the project needs would be an overall application.

What excites you most about doing your research or being a researcher?

That every day is different, and I cannot predict what I will be doing three weeks from now.  On the one hand, it’s very challenging.  On the other, I like that because you are doing something completely new in many projects.  Maybe you run into different problems, or there are other things to work on, which gives this aspect that I really like.

Why did you choose to pursue civil engineering compared to other subjects?

For me, it’s not that I’ve always dreamed of becoming a civil engineer, but I really liked the courses that were listed in the program.  I always liked physics and mathematics and then having the application of the topics.  Using this knowledge for something.  So that’s why civil engineering really fits with me, I think.  I also liked the international aspect of the topic; you’ll often encounter collaborations between international students.

Why did you choose LMS?

I had finished my Master’s, and I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do.  Then I came into contact with LMS through the topic of Biogeos.  I found information on the lab and what I really like is that the topics are not just mainstream geotechnics, but they touch on innovation and how we can still have innovation in the construction sector, which is not the most innovative sector out there.  So this was something that really inspired me, and when I got the opportunity to come here as a scientific assistant, I was very happy.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

Like many people, I find this the most difficult question out of all of them because I don’t really have a goal in mind.  For instance, I’ve chosen to study civil engineering because that was what I felt at that moment. I didn’t really see myself as a civil engineer in 10 years; and that is still how I make my choices.  I pick at the moment what feels right for me.  But let’s say in five years, I really like working with innovation in this sector, so I would like to find a job somewhere in this field but I’m keeping it a bit vague because I don’t know exactly what I want to do.  Maybe I’ll stay in Switzerland because I like it here, I’ll have to see.  But you never know how life will go.

What’s the one piece of advice that you’d offer students that are thinking of becoming a researcher?

I would say just go for it if you feel that after finishing your Master’s degree, you don’t feel attracted by going into industry, and you think of going for research.  Maybe talk to someone you know who is doing research, so you can ask some questions. That’s what I also did, I asked people what they like about doing research and what it takes as a person to be a researcher, and then if you still feel good about it, just go for it.

What makes LMS an excellent place to work and study?

We have many colleagues who specialize in many different topics.  So I think together you have many different ideas and always someone willing to help you think about a project.  Or, if you are stuck, you can always find someone to chat to.

You grew up in the Netherlands.  Did you have any concerns about living in Switzerland, and what would you tell graduate students from the Netherlands or other European countries what they should expect when moving to Switzerland?

In a way, the differences between Switzerland and the Netherlands are not that big.  Of course I would say the biggest difference for me is that the Netherlands is entirely flat, and when I came here I really liked the mountains.  Since I was a kid, we always went on vacation to the mountains, so I felt very comfortable coming here and it gives me the feeling of freedom.  There are so many things you can do around here.  You can go hiking, you can go skiing or snowboarding.  There are so many activities, so if you really enjoy that then Switzerland is a great place, of course.

In terms of geotechnical engineering coming from the Netherlands, there is quite a difference here because in the Netherlands, everything is clay soil, peat soil, quite weak soil layers. Coming here, there are rocks but I think that only adds more fascinating knowledge.  Now I am also learning more about the landscape here, so I can only see it as a positive.

Finally, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I really enjoy playing field hockey at the hockey club here in Lausanne. I have always played field hockey in the Netherlands, and when I came here I was really happy to find a team.  We are a team with people from all over the world, so it’s great to train during the week and then play some games in Switzerland.

Sofie, thank you very much.

Thank you.