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Home » A Day In The Life » Gillian Vallejo, Ecological Modeller

Gillian Vallejo, Ecological Modeller

June 28, 2016

Gillian Vallejo

What does your day typically consist of?

It is hard to define a typical day for me as my role is so diverse and I am involved in such a wide range of different types of projects. I generally start the day with a cup of tea over which I think about my priorities for the day and get any little admin jobs that I have to do out of the way. From then on, it may be a very technical day during which I will spend the day analysing data and producing figures and text to feed into reports, it could be a more research-focussed day during which I will be helping to disseminate or synthesise aspects of our work in the form of conference talks and peer-reviewed publications or investigating new methodology that we could be incorporating into our work, or it could be day during which I will focus on management tasks, ensuring the smooth-running of the flow of data through our systems and maintaining communication among the Ecology and Hydrology data team and the other individuals and teams that we are working with.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

My favourite part of my role is problem solving, which comes in many different forms in my position. It could be fixing bugs in code that I have written to carry out statistical analysis, it could be reading papers and reports to understand how other people deal with issues that we might come up against when analysing data and learning how to implement those for ourselves, it could be helping to optimise methods for streamlining the progress of data through our data management procedures or it could be making sure that the data team have the resource in place to carry out the tasks that we need to in a timely manner.

How did you get into the role in the first place?

I joined Natural Power over five years ago as a part-time data entry assistant while writing up papers from my PhD thesis. My original long-term plan was to go back to academia, but as I got to know the company, I realised that I really liked the team of people that I was working with and that there was scope to progress in the field of data management and analysis within the Ecology and Hydrology team. I was very interested in what happened to all of the ecological data once it had been entered and, using the statistical training gained during my PhD and by studying hard, I quickly became involved in analysing bits and pieces for different projects. I learned to use ArcGIS on the job and made the move from data entry to fulfilling the majority of the E&H GIS workload, whilst another member of staff joined us to fulfil the data entry requirements. Following the arrival of Laura Givens, currently E&H’s main GIS technician, I was able to focus all my time on data analysis and building up the Ecology and Hydrology data team further to the point at which we are today.

What is your degree and /or professional qualification?

I have a degree in Biology from the University of Southampton and a PhD in bumblebee conservation from the University of Stirling.

What is the most interesting type of work you have done and why?

The work that I have most enjoyed to date has involved simulating hypothetical datasets in order to assess the performance of various proposed survey methodologies and/or metrics for evaluating potential impacts of renewable energy developments on key species. There is something wonderful about creating your own little world where you set the rules, and then letting the system project forward through time and observing the emergent properties that appear.

What is your biggest achievement at work?

My biggest achievement has been developing the analysis methodology that we used to analyse bird and marine mammal data collected at the Robin Rigg offshore wind farm. This is a wonderful dataset, representing many species over a large time span including the pre-construction, construction and operational wind farm phases. However, it is also a very complex dataset, combining many properties which, even when each is considered alone, can be enough to give a statistician a headache! Through the course of the project and in collaboration with Highland Statistics, I have developed a methodology which is able to deal with all of these issues and has also provided us with a toolkit for dealing with such tricky datasets in future. We are currently preparing a publication presenting our findings from this project, which we are planning to submit to a peer-reviewed journal over the coming weeks.

Any hidden talents?

Despite not being able to cook or bake for toffee, I can make the most amazing chocolate truffles using a recipe passed down to me from my mother. I love to make them at Christmas with a view to giving them as Christmas gifts, but unfortunately most of them tend to get eaten before they leave the house!

I can build a diverse array of incredibly intricate bumblebee nest boxes, mainly using plant pots, plastic tubing and duct tape.

What is your favourite hobby?

I have always loved music and like to sing and dance. Over the years music has been part of my life in various forms, but since I have become a mother it tends to involve nursery rhymes, hand puppets, sensory pompoms and shakers made from yoghurt pots and dried peas!

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