Entering a room full of people who already know each other is not the easiest social encounter; you don’t know anybody and nobody knows you. You can sense all eyes on you and, therefore, feel acutely self-conscious. It is even worse being a newcomer not just to a party, but a workplace.
When I first accepted the position at the University of Bonn in the framework of the MSCA SOCRATES ETN project, more than a year ago (how time has flown, I have come a long way since then), this issue had not even crossed my mind in my enthusiasm to get started. First, I thought about it some weeks after I signed my acceptance letter when, still as a master’s student in the University of Turin, I went to Bonn for the project’s third network wide event. I suddenly realized I would start the project being the outsider, and I was afraid of feeling left out.
The second unpleasant thing I noticed is that I would be a computational chemist surrounded by experimental chemists and chemical engineers; people with different backgrounds and life experience. The talks presented by my colleagues only drove home this point even further. From the first moment, however, everybody tried to include and integrate me into the social events, especially my would-be friend and colleague Roberto (ESR09), the other computational chemist in the program.
In June I finally started the PhD; in a new place, in a new environment. From the first moment, I was given a lot of work. If you think “computational chemistry” it’s a small field, and somehow we are doing the same sort of research over and over, you couldn’t be more wrong. Everything was different for me: the methods, the timetables. Concerning even the theoretical background required to work on these projects, I wondered how to connect what I already know with my new project, how I could use my expertise in the new field.
In only three months from my starting date, it would have been the Midterm Evaluation and I was quite stressed about it. It was the first time I would be presenting my work in English and I panicked. I didn’t know if I would be able to do that, and I wasn’t sure if what I had done in the previous months would be good enough.
But something completely unexpected happened: everything went fine. People really liked my presentation and my work even if was little compared to what others presented due the different time-lines different people had. I gradually started to realize I wasn’t alone, my work wasn’t something unrelated to other people.
Now I’ve finished my first secondment at KU Leuven in the SOLVOMET group. In this opportunity, I confronted myself with an assignment in an experimental group and I now understand better how to connect the dots and build bridges for effective cross talk. I started collaborating with other people in my project (like Giacomo, ESR08) and I really feel I’ve found my place in these joint efforts.
PhD can be really difficult, and very different from a master’s program; nevertheless, I’m delighted to have found not one but two groups of people who will help and stand by me during this path: the Kirchner group and the ETN SOCRATES team!
I thought I would start the project being the outsider, and I was afraid to feel left out. One year later, I can say with confidence and delight that I couldn’t have been farther away from the reality of the situation.
About the author:
Gwydyon Marchelli studied Chemistry at the University of Turin where he learned how to model the behavior of condensed matter. In June 2018 he started his PhD at the Mulliken Center (University of Bonn) under the guidance of prof. Kirchner. He now focuses on modeling the interactions between metals and ligands with different computational tools.