Crafting powerful ocean science data stories: A Spotlight Interview with Yun Sun | UNSSC

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Yun San joined the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2020 as a Junior Professional Officer and is currently working in the Ocean Sciences Division of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. Her main responsibility is to deliver a program called “Eat Harmful Algae” (HAB). When microalgae grow out of control, it can cause very harmful effects, such as killing large fish and contaminating safe food, altering ecosystems that humans consider harmful. The UN program aims to help member states build capacity to understand, manage and mitigate such harmful effects.
In this spotlight interview, Yoon shares her learning journey at UNSSC with Itziar Arispe, Evaluation Education Specialist.

Ezier: Why did you need to pursue the UN Data Analytics Professional Certificate?

Yoon: I think there were two main reasons. My main motivation was my desire to work with data. I majored in Geographic Information System and Remote Sensing. Therefore, I process special data for data extraction and special analysis. I am always amazed at how much insight we can gain from data through data analysis. And this particular information is very special. It has its own processing tools and methods. So accordingly I wanted to learn more about data analysis.

The second reason is that in my daily work we have an international database of algae occurrences from all over the world. I want to empower myself with the ability to better manage the data and deliver my work better.

There are many similar information courses online, but I think UNSSC’s is the most systematic. It provides an overview of the various components of data analysis. And also, above all, it is focused on the UN situation because we all work for the UN. We really want to see how other organizations interact with data. We want to learn from the experience of others.

Izyar: What were the most memorable parts of this educational experience?

Yoon: I think the whole learning experience was wonderful and filled with many good moments. I really liked all the teachers because they have experience and knowledge not only in their field but also in their teaching. For each webinar, it’s a daunting task to explain in two hours, but they make it very interactive, understandable and engaging. Online webinars have their limitations. People can easily get tired and lose focus. But I felt that I could concentrate throughout the process. I felt the same spirit from other participants. Everyone was very engaged.

My favorite part of the course was the diversity session, which gave us the opportunity to work with our colleagues from different UN members, and we worked on the same topic and contributed our experiences from our organization’s perspective. It’s a very rare opportunity. It builds a community of action for us. Because in day-to-day work, it can be difficult for me to talk to colleagues from other UN agencies in a different profession.

Izyar: Regarding ‘practice on the job’, what practical experience can you please share?

Yoon: I chose data visualization and storytelling because it’s a topic of conversation and I know practice makes perfect. The case study I chose was unpaid domestic care work around the world. When the teacher showed us tools like Flourish, Tableau and Power BI, everything seemed so simple. But when I was actually working on it, I faced many challenges.

It’s not just about the software’s parameter setting, but also how to choose the most appropriate graph or chart to effectively present your data. Fortunately, the teacher provided me with customized learning materials that helped me approach the exercises step by step and use my own thinking more.

I really learned a lot about how to make graphs and charts. The number one principle is to put the reader first. Second, it is to make the legend very clear. You don’t want readers to spend time trying to figure out where they are, what the chart represents, or what a particular color represents. Third, avoid information overload while highlighting key information. Use some technique to highlight the information you want to emphasize the most. Finally, consider potential readers with disabilities. Some people can be color-blind, so don’t just rely on color. You can also place text below the charts to help explain them. These are called reachable graphs. Going forward, I will constantly remind myself to design accessible graphs and charts.

Itziar: How do you intend to use the skills you have gained from this course in your work?

Yoon: In addition to making powerful visuals and data stories, what I wanted to explore was predictive analytics using machine learning platforms. UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission has an international database of excellent data on algal phenomena. It can be a great training data set. I really want to see how predictive analytics can help us provide more insight. One focus of our program is predicting harmful bed events. Therefore, these methods are perfectly suited to our needs.



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