News - February 22, 2018

‘Data are like separate notes on a sheet of paper’

Lucie Vermeulen read through her thesis one more time last week just to be sure. She did not want to be surprised by a question on the big day and stand there lost for words. In between, she reflected on her seventh proposition, which refers to her great passion.

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Lucie Vermeulen obtained her PhD on 16 February 2018 for research on the spread of the parasite Cryptosporidium in rivers around the world.

Proposition: Research should be approached like music, recognizing that a symphony is more than the sum of the parts.

Cryptosporidium is a parasite that lives in the excrement of humans and animals and is found in rivers around the world. Unfortunately I didn’t get to travel for my research; I turned the existing datasets into a model that can predict the spread of the parasite and thus say something about water quality now and in the future.

Over the past four years I’ve spent a lot of time working on my own. Doing research is fun but music has been important to me all my life. I spent five years in the student orchestra De Ontzetting. That is actually the nicest thing I’ve done in Wageningen. I played the trumpet and was even the chair for a year. Now I sing in La Bomba, a group of women vocalists. We knew one another through De Ontzetting and the orchestra’s logo is a bomb, hence the new group’s name.

When you play music in a group, everyone knows their part but that doesn’t necessarily make it cohesive. You have the combined sound, the harmony, the intonation and role of the notes in the piece. All those elements together turn the notes into music. Doing science works in the same way. You come up with a research design and collect data and measurements. But you still don’t have anything. Your data are like a score, separate notes on a sheet of paper. It’s only when you start to uncover relationships in the jumble of data that the whole becomes more than the sum of the parts.’