Made in NRS: Lilin Zhang

Lilin Zhang has received the Best PhD Student Paper in the SPIE 2023 Conference on Remote Sensing for Agriculture, Ecosystems, and Hydrology as he approaches the finish line of his PhD journey. At this edition of Made in NRS, we interview Lilin to learn more about his experience at the conference, his PhD project, and his life in the Netherlands. While he enjoys running through the Dutch natural landscape, he has gone through what he calls another tough “marathon”: his PhD journey.

What is your background, Lilin?

My background is in Remote Sensing. I studied a Bachelor’s in Remote Sensing and a Master’s in Geo-Information Systems. Now I am doing my PhD in topics such as applications of remote sensing in hydrology and agriculture.

What is your focus within these topics?

Until now, I have focused on evapotranspiration and its role in terrestrial water balance. Dr Michael Marshall and Dr Anton Vrieling are my co-promoter. They have great expertise in this topic. In the late future, I will explore the role of evapotranspiration in energy balance and carbon balance, particularly for agricultural applications. Prof. Andy Nelson is my promoter, and he is a senior expert in this field.

You have recently won the award of Best PhD Student Paper in the SPIE 2023 Conference on Remote Sensing for Agriculture, Ecosystems, and Hydrology. How was your experience at the conference?

I went to the conference in September. This edition was celebrated in Amsterdam, and I joined the complete process. During the conference, I was able to network with other people all over the world. It was a good journey that I really enjoyed.

How was your feeling when you received the award for the Best PhD Student Paper?

It was a big surprise for me. I could’ve never imagined winning this award, because I didn’t have experience in conferences. It was my first time joining a conference to give an oral presentation.

Additionally, my research is not a popular topic with lots of attention. The committee giving me this award indeed surprised me, and I am happy to receive this recognition from scientists with similar backgrounds.

What are the reasons behind the success of your paper?

I think the primary reason is that this work is supervised by a really nice supervision team. All members, including Dr. Michael Marshall, Dr. Anton Vrieling, and Prof. Andy Nelson added a lot of input into it, which made my work solid. Moreover, I also want to express gratitude to Mrs. Myriam Fahner and all committee members of the ITC Foundation. Without their help, I wouldn’t have joined this conference and achieved this award.

The other reason may be related to the good reputation of Faculty ITC. ITC fellows have published numerous high-level papers in my research field which achieved worldwide impact. Therefore, though it is my first time, I present my work with the pride of belonging to ITC. 

How did you find out about ITC? And how was the process of moving to the Netherlands?

The ITC Faculty has a good reputation in the field of remote sensing in China. After reading papers from ITC researchers, I tried to connect with them. They ended up being my supervisors, Dr. Michael Marshall and Dr. Anton Vrieling.

I did not experience a big change moving from China as I’ve always been surrounded by Chinese people. I used to enjoy good food with Xin and Haili every week. After their graduation in this summer, I play football instead with Rui and Weiqin every weekend.

Lilin has found a great group of friends in Enschede, the Netherlands

Moreover, I also enjoy running alone, and the Netherlands is an excellent country to do so. Around twice or three times per week, I run along the countryside for 10 km in one hour. I enjoy life here.

What are your plans for the future when your PhD is over?

I would like to search for jobs in China. A postdoc position in Europe or the United States is also a good option.

Anyways I would like to continue my research after finishing my PhD. I have spent around eight years in this field. Here is my ResearchGate profile: If anyone has an interest in doing something together, feel free to contact me.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

To be honest, when I received the invitation to this interview, my first idea was to reject it, because I didn't think I deserve it. I have not finished my PhD on time and there are more excellent PhD students at the NRS department with great stories to share.

For everyone reading my story, I want to tell you that a PhD is a marathon, so the right thing is to do your research at your best-fit pace. Although suffering may be the only companion at some time, such as disappointing results and paper rejection, it could happen to everyone. Don’t be too nervous and keep moving. If you didn’t go through all kinds of hardships and difficulties, how can you feel the value of PhD in your life? All the best to every PhD candidate.