Thoughts on my first year (almost) as a Marie-Curie PhD student

The first “year” of my PhD is almost finished. I started this adventure in October 2018, and in these first 9 months a lots of things have changed. Actually, I feel good. Very good. Honestly, I couldn’t have wished for something better than this. And I want to write down what has changed and why I feel the way I feel.

The very beginning

I want to start this brief “story” when I was still in Italy, after having had my master’s degree dissertation, trying to figure out what I would have done next. In that moment, my application for the European Joint Doctorate in Molecular Animal Nutrition (aka MANNA) has been already accepted and I’ve been already interviewed for the positions I have chosen. I was quite confident to get the position. I have always worked hard to reach my objectives; I have always aimed for the best possible, but you’re never 100% sure that you will be chosen, you constantly think that maybe out there is someone better than you who deserves the position more than you. This PhD position was my first choice, I had other options available, but the reality was that the MANNA Project was the only one I really cared and the only one I wanted to be in.

Finally, after a long wait, on the 25th of July this email arrived in my mailbox:

Of course, I accepted. From that moment my life changed. The remaining 2 months before starting the PhD were simply used to do bureaucracy and to prepare myself for the beginning of the project.

The real beginning

The MANNA started on the 1st October as I said before. I was determined and ready to demonstrate my value. The first meeting took place on the shores of Loch Lomond (near Glasgow, Scotland — photo below).

All the participants (PhD students and Supervisors) were reunited in this isolated location and we spent the first 10 days knowing each other and listening to various lectures with the aim to level our knowledge. It was a very nice way to start (you can read the full story here).

Moving to Germany

After this first general meeting, it was time to reach our primary University; in my case the Institute of Animal Science of the University of Bonn, Germany. The first impression was very positive. Now, I can absolutely confirm that everyone is very friendly and keen to help, but most importantly very well prepared. Working here is very stimulating, and I can always count on some extra support if I need it.

This first year has flown. I’ve really enjoyed working here and I’m really looking forward to my last period here and to come back on my third year to complete my research programme.

My research Project

I LOVE IT. Is it enough for the paragraph?

I’m working on dairy cows, my greatest passion. Moreover, I have access to a very complete database with plenty of information from a dairy farm comprising more than 2,000 cows that I can freely use. This is amazing because during my 3-years project I will be able to answer to different biological questions depending on which cows I will consider and hopefully, we will discover something new. During this first period here in Bonn, I learnt how to use new biostatistics programmes, I got in touch with Machine Learning techniques, I got new insights into the physiology of the cows and most importantly I grew up both as a person and as a researcher. I’m learning a tons of things, that it would take days to write them down, so… Trust me!

Being a Newsletter editor

Apart from my research project, I’m involved in the dissemination of the MANNA. This means that I also work in the field of communication, and it’s a lot harder than I thought. When I started this part of the job I couldn’t imagine how many things have to be considered. Luckily, I was very well supported, and I learnt (and I’m still learning) a lot. This part was totally new for me, and it stimulated me so much that I decided also to pursue this aspect; if fact, during this summer I’ll participate in a summer school focussed on news reporting and communication in London: I can’t wait to take part in it and improve my skills.

Travelling. Lots of travelling

European Project + multiple Countries involved = lots of flights and trains

Since the beginning of the MANNA, I took more or less 20 flights. I moved quite a lot. Of course, this is a very positive point, because I got in touch with different Institutes, Universities and centres of research. On the other hand, sometimes the journeys are quite long and stressful (particularly when I have to pass the UK airport boarding — they always have to check me for 30/40 minutes). Overall, I deeply enjoy travelling and I think that this is the main strength of the MANNA: connecting people. This is the most important thing. Cooperation in science is the key, as I said in one of my previous articles. Personally, I travelled two times in Scotland for some courses; I went in Italy to give a lecture (story here); I went in the Netherlands for a congress and so on. In the near future, I’ll go in Switzerland for another congress, Austria to meet partners of my project, Italy for the MANNA Summer School, UK for the summer school in Journalism and more to come. As you can see I will not get bored at all!

My final thoughts

What to say… I think it’s pretty clear that I’m really enjoying this PhD programme and I can’t wait to continue. This Project is giving me a lot of possibilities to growth and particularly it gives me the chance to be in touch (and also to collaborate) with the Marie-Curie Alumni Association, which is an amazing organization that I really encourage you to discover. Working with the communication working of the association is helping me to get in touch with researchers coming from all over the World and permits me to better understand how important is to be connected and how much work is behind everything (also in the little things).

In general, the job I have is very demanding since I’m active on several fronts, but I would not change that for the world. As you have seen, I’m enjoying EVERY single day of my PhD so far, working weekends included!

You can do anything as long as you have the passion, the drive, the focus, and the support.

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