Travel: Sevilla, Spain

I have been to Spain so many times I can’t even count. I’ve been on short visits, I did my first backpacking trip in Spain, I have studied there (twice) and been on other longer visits. This year Christmas was different for me as I spent it in Finland (which is where I live). This year Christmas in Finland had us enjoy the same weather as it did at midsummer so not really the ideal, as Finland should have four strongly different seasons. But enough about that. Spain so often offers the amazing blue sky that I love so much. Sure it rains and is cold (because contrary to some beliefs it DOES get cold in Spain, even in the south) but somehow the sunny weather makes it enjoyable. I’m still not able to name my favorite place from Spain. Do you guys have any favorites or perhaps some must-see places from Spain in mind?

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Interviewing Stefan

I would always recommend university students to take advantage of the international exchanges available. It is great for your CV but also it is such an amazing experience to grow and learn about the world and yourself. I went on exchange in Barcelona, Spain and still it is brought up in job interviews and work environments. On my exchange I met Stefan from Belgium. I remember already back then listening to him telling about his studies left me in ave but now I’m even more amazed. Read about his incredible responsibility and the enthusiasm he has for his work!

What is your job title?

Radiation Protection Expert

Where do you work?

Currently, I’m working for Controlatom, which is a Belgian company specialized in health physics, dosimetry and medical physics. I’m part of the health physicists’ team, but radiation protection experts is a term that better describes what we do. The dosimetry departments supplies all the people who are potentially exposed to ionizing radiation with a dosimeter: basically a device that can measure the radiation dose people get when working with radioactive sources or devices that emit x-rays. The medical physicists perform quality control on all the imaging devices in hospitals: this is to be sure there’s an ideal balance between the dose a patient gets and the quality of the image. Our main office is in Vilvoorde (near Brussels), but most of the time, experts are visiting companies and hospitals.

How did you get in to the line of work?

I always had an interest in science and more specifically in biomedical sciences (I want to know how the human body functions), and in nuclear physics (I also want to know on an atomic level how nature works). During my Master in Biomedical Engineering, I followed a specialization in radiation physics, which was sort of a combination of the two.

Did you feel lucky landing your job?

Yes, after a couple of months of applying with several interviews and some disappointments my eye fell on a job vacancy from Controlatom. I applied, had an interview 2 weeks later and one week later a phone call from Koen (my boss) that I got the job, which was a big relief.  Especially since I was really tired of doing these very boring temporary jobs in the meantime.

What qualifications are needed?

A theoretical background in sciences and nuclear physics is necessary, but since every expert is a consultant for different companies, communication skills are also an essential part of the job. Specifically it’s important to be able to ‘translate’ scientific terms, theories to a more ‘common’ language that is understandable for people in the field.

Are you striven by the work you do or your paycheck?

More by the work I do, but obviously the paycheck is also important. Since I’m happy with my job right now, I wouldn’t give up my job for a higher paycheck if that would mean I would lose the freedom and variety I have now.

Does your work match your expectations?

Yes, I’m happy to do it. It’s a combination of multiple scientific disciplines, social interaction is important, I also learned how to read and understand national and international laws about our field of work. The fact that I get along well with my colleagues is also a big plus. I even go skiing every year with some of them: in an apres-ski bar in Austria, you really get to know people:). Also, there is a lot of expertise within Controlatom, so I know we’re doing this on a high level and that there are still a lot of things I can learn from my colleagues.

Describe a basic day at work. Does it vary day by day?

It starts at home, reading the files of the companies I have to visit that day. Since every company or hospital is different, there’s a lot of variation. During these site visits I have different tasks to perform and the most important one is to asses the actual protection of the people working there and to be sure that people are working in a safe way with the radioactive sources or x-ray devices present in the facility. This is done by performing measurements and also talking to the people, looking how they work. Another part is to check that the legal requirements, like licenses, work procedures, risk assessments, etc. are all in order.

Most of the time there are as well some site specific problems I have to solve, for example they can ask for a training in radiation protection, shielding studies for their sources or studies for the design and shielding of CT-scanners or radiotherapy rooms.

I also spend one day per week at the Megaports project in Antwerp. These are radiation portals planted in the whole port of Antwerp to detect radioactive cargo coming in and out of Belgium. We have to train, advise, guide the operators handling the daily alarms and perform quality controls on their work.

What is the most exciting thing about your work and why?

Helping people to work in a safe way with radioactive sources and devices, help them understand what is really is, so they can assess the danger and especially see or feel that what you’ve done, actually helped.

What do you get asked about your job by friends and family?

Lots of questions based on the perception of the word radioactive, like is this job dangerous? Answer: no if you know what you’re doing:).

Or do you work in a nuclear power plant? Again no: some of us give basic radiation safety trainings to people about to do some construction, welding jobs in a nuclear power plant, but that’s basically the only connection there is between our company and nuclear power plants.

What is the best part of your job?

The freedom and variation. As I explained above, there’s lot of variation and I also have the luxury to be free to make my own schedule. There’s only one condition: at the end of the year, all the companies who hire me as an expert (and my boss of course) have to be satisfied.

Do you have bad days or moments? Why?

I guess, like for lots of other people, the administrative part of the job can sometimes be a burden. It’s also possible that I give advice or ask for some improvements, but people don’t listen or don’t react to it. And since I spend lots of time on the road and I live in Belgium, traffic can be really terrible.

Do you have any advice for people considering your line of work?

Be aware that fundamental research isn’t part of the job, so if that is really important for you, I wouldn’t recommend this line of work.

If you’re into (nuclear, medical) sciences and everything what you’ve read above, looks appealing to you, this can be a job for you:)

Thank you Stefan! 

Travel: Singapore – Three favorites

Vacation over! I left Singapore’s over +30⁰c weather and entered Finland’s -20⁰c brisk winter. My thoughts understandably wonder back to my trip. I was asked to name three of my favorite things about Singapore. I have actively avoided listing any favorites from any of my travels. I find it impossible to name a favorite country, city or experience. Now I am going to give it a go. In a way I don’t find too limiting or exclusive.

I Green

Vertical gardens, parks on the 30th floors (so, I didn’t count but they are way up there), parks, huge trees by the streets… However much Singapore builds, the city keeps nature strongly a part of the street views, and even looking up at the skyscrapers there are walls of green and trees up on the highest of the high floors. Singapore’s Botanic Gardens was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015. Also Singapore got something in the Guinness World Records, check the first picture below.

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II Food & Drink

Yummy! What else can I say. The diversity in food is great and even the simplest dishes are so tasty. All the Asian cuisines are presented and the numerous food courts offer plenty of choice in rank and therefore price. The fruits are delicious. My favorite is Rambutan, but sadly is was not in season. The fresh fruit juices are one of my favorites too, this time I had Aloe Vera drink that was served with a spoon so I could enjoy the big bits of Aloe. In the little stalls that sell fruit juices also sell coffee, I love the iced milk coffee. The tastes take me back to the travels I have had around Asia. Good memories.

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He is preparing us tea in a traditional Singaporean way, I was told. It is tea with milk and sugar. If nothing else the way of serving it was very flashy.

III Versatility

I had to think about this third one for a bit. Not because I couldn’t think of more things I like about Singapore but because it was hard to think about a word for it. In Singapore all of the different aspects of Asia and also the whole world come together. It is international in food, people and culture. People representing different religion can be seen walking on the same streets and staff in stores are from several different backgrounds. Thinking back on the the time I went to an international school there in the 90’s, I was in an environment with kids from all over the world. Also the new and the old buildings sit there in total harmony. As well as the previously mentioned buildings with the greenery. It is also a city of an extensive selection for activities, outside of shopping that is. With shopping, you can find a watch for two dollars or 190,000 dollars. So again, versatility. One thing Singapore doesn’t really offer… A beach with clear water… But one fact I would like to know is, how many swimming pools the city houses!

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Interviewing Tom

Australia is one of the most memorable trips I’ve had. It was a long trip all in all so there is much that happened. I saw many places and met many people. I have friends from different contexts, depending on where I was living or what I was doing. As many travelers know staying in a hostel dorm is an easy way to meet people. I met Tom in the hostel I was staying in Melbourne. He’s from the UK and even thought I knew what he does for work the term joiner was a new one for me.

What is your job title?
Joiner.

Where do you work?
Shemara Refit Llp, Eastleigh, Southampton, England.

How did you get in to the line of work?
I was offered an apprenticeship in joinery from a family friend when I finished school.

Did you feel lucky landing your job?
Yes (current job).

What qualifications are needed?
Carpentry, joinery, or boat building

Are you striven by the work you do or your paycheck?
The work I do mainly, when extra hours are required then its the money.

Does your work match your expectations?
Yes

Describe a basic day at work. Does it vary day by day?
Yes.

What is the most exciting thing about your work and why?
Seeing the end product.

What do you get asked about your job by friends and family?
How is the project going?

What is the best part of your job?
The standard of work, also a good team.

Do you have bad days or moments? Why?
Yes, if something is challenging. Also if we don’t have the first choice of materials.

Do you have any advice for people considering your line of work?
Preserver, always look out for yourself and others around you.

Thank you Tom!

Travel: Chinese New Year, Singapore

Before Christmas Singapore had a little set back when decorating for the holiday. A big Christmas tree caught fire due to some electrical malfunction. It wasn’t replaced. According to the taxi driver who told us this, the occurrence made the city officials more cautious. He said they are taking extra precaution now that they are preparing for Chinese New Year. Understandably so. We got to see the Christmas decorations but also the Chinese New Year decorations. It was over night that some were changed. These pictures are from Chinatown, I think they will be lit later on. Hopefully with electrical lights, not fire…

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The New Year will be the year of the Monkey. There are quite a number of monkeys loose around town in Singapore. In the little picture (yep the bad quality one) there is a monkey hanging from the tree.

Travel: The Southern Ridges, Singapore

Opposed to the weather forecast we had a beautifully sunny day today. We headed to the Southern Ridges, something new I haven’t seen here yet. There is a trail that connects two parks but it’s not a typical trail but a magnificent exhibition of architecture! As it was sunny it was also quite a bit warmer but as the trail is partly in shade it was great as the blue skies provided us with a breathtaking view!

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We started  at the Marang Trail end and continued until Alexandra Arch from where we walked to the Labrador Park MRT stop to catch the metro. The walk didn’t take long but was nice to stop along the way to admire the views!

Travel: Little India, Singapore

Taking the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit), also know as the metro, from Orchard Road (the shopping hub and main street) to Little India might feel like you traveled more than a few metro stops. The high buildings in the background might give you away though. Little India gives you a little taste off India, in a cleaner way I was told as I haven’t been to India myself, yet. You see beautiful Indian clothing on women and you can buy tasty foods and drinks to eat on the street. Also the shopping is a far cry away from the upscale shops at Orchard Road. All in all one of the best experiences in Singapore.

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Walking the streets in Asia is full of colors and smells. One very distinct smell is the fruit durian. It is an experience in itself. It has a high enough status to even have its own sign in public places, as it is banned at places.

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