Saswati Saha – A week in the life of a researcher!!!
Why this blog? Okay just to be clear, to give you glimpses of a life as a researcher. It wouldn’t come across as a surprise if the title makes you think of this as just another bland depiction of a researcher’s life. But hey, try giving it a shot. Not all researchers necessarily are geekish.
Before starting with my life in Bremen I would like to share how I landed in Bremen?
Let’s start with how I ended up in Bremen
Why have I opted for PHD? Well, I have always been enthusiastic about working in applied statistics. But, I was not happy with what I was doing back there in my country as a Risk Analyst for the last 2 years precisely because there was very less scope of doing new things or exploring new boundaries. That is when I started to think about pursuing higher studies. I was looking for PHD opportunities in applied statistics when all of a sudden a friend of mine informed me about vacancies available at IDEAS for PHD. I immediately sat down to figure out the remaining details and honestly, after going through their website I was like WOW! Trust me, I had been researching on PHD vacancies for quite some time back then and nothing constructive came up as compared to this one. It seemed like an opportunity too perfectly tuned to my taste to let it simply pass by.
IDEAS is a European training network for early stage researchers working on statistical methods for early drug development. They have planned to train 14 researchers in medical statistics by providing a tailored program that includes specific training on quantitative methods for early drug development and generic skills for statisticians. I went through their project descriptions and really liked it. Since I am not from medical background I had very little idea about drug development and thus some of the topics were not so comprehensible to me. I had applied for one of the projects based out of Bremen. Fortunately I got selected for their interview and cleared it.
I was happy to get through but on the other hand I was unsure about how good this opportunity will be because I was the first student from my University (India) to join Bremen for a PhD. There were a series of but’s and if’s on my mind – For someone like me who is coming from a different continent and is a complete stranger to a European Nation, this was a big step. I knew I had to leave my family, my friends and everything I have known as my own ever since childhood. For the sake of my career I have to move to a place where I am nothing but an outsider. I was really anxious about how well I would be accepted in a completely new place. But the prospect of going abroad for higher studies (and visiting different European cities) kept the excitement levels up too. To me it seemed like a different challenge altogether. I did some background check, asked people around and finally decided to join University of Bremen and be a part of IDEAS PHD program. Maybe, it was a gamble, or may be a calculated risk of going to a new place, knowing new people, but now I feel that I took the right decision at the right moment.
Fortunately IDEAS had arranged a kick-off meeting in Vienna which brought together for the first time all the partner supervisors of IDEAS and researchers who were selected for the different PHD positions. I was glad to meet the other researchers and supervisors and was impressed with the diversity in the selection of IDEAS. The selected set of Early Stage Researchers (quoting IDEAS) comprised candidates from Russia, China, Argentina, Mozambique, Germany, Greece, Spain, Italy, Poland and India. It was an international meet and each researcher was introduced to their individual projects and was briefed regarding Drug Development and Clinical Statistics. This was a great opportunity for me as I got in touch with my peers and interacted with them before joining the program officially. The Kick-off meeting was in fact a huge ice breaker for me!
A quick sneak-peek about my life in Bremen:
I’ll try to give you an idea about how a usual week works for me. Monday mornings are tight as I have to attend catch up meetings with my guide and the rest of the team members. General agendas, birthdays and new announcements are generally discussed here and if you are lucky enough you get delicacies for some birthday celebrations on these meetings. I try chalking out a routine for the week’s work and keep updating it most often. I hardly adhere to it (LOL) but this actually helps me stay focused, least to say.
I initially stayed in the Guesthouse of the University of Bremen and had to fight a lot to get hold of a decent apartment. The first few evenings, in the beginning, went in to simply do apartment hunting. One of the few major difficulties I have faced here is in terms of language. I’ll tell you the biggest lesson I have learnt here. If you are staying in Germany you must learn German no matter how good you are in English. The sooner you learn the better it is. All my phone calls for fixing an appointment used to start with “Do you speak English?” Almost half of the times the attempt went in vain because I didn’t know German. I’m anxiously waiting for the German Course to start at the University.
Also, one of the major drawbacks here is, all your official letters will be in German. But you can always ask your colleagues to help you out with these letters. The members of KKSB (Competence for Clinical Centre, Bremen where I am doing my PHD) are very nice and hospitable. Me and Arsenio, my colleague who is also a part of IDEAS have really bonded well with two of our German colleagues. They have been extremely supportive and kind enough to help us out every now and then.
Initially it was quiet difficult for me to start with my topic of PHD. Since I was not in touch with core statistical concepts for the past 2 years I took some time to bring myself up to speed and start over my research work. Here I got lucky! I got a guide who is very liberal and gives you sufficient space to research independently. We have biweekly meetings to discuss our progress and these meetings are very helpful in keeping my thoughts aligned. Also if I have any query I can drop by his office anytime if he is around.
Staying motivated with your research work is not easy. You face a lot of hurdles. No matter how much you struggle you are stuck with something and a small hiccup can completely screw your entire peace of mind. In moments like this it’s difficult to stay focused. Sometimes I get frustrated of working for long hours. At moments like this I either switch to news or Quora or start making my travel plans. Oh by the way, I am an explorer and I love to travel above everything. Making future travel plans always helps me stay more focused with my studies. Also since I am new to Bremen I am still exploring the place and whenever I get bored I start exploring new places in Bremen. Recently, I was really amazed to see the collection of items available in the flea market, at such decent rates. I don’t necessarily buy stuffs from there, every time I pass by, but I like to look around and check out the variety of antiques, rarity and collectables available there.
Just like other renowned universities, University of Bremen also has amazing Sports facilities. You can really keep yourself active by choosing from the wide range of activities such as Athletics and Recreational Services. The International office of the University offers support and advices to international researchers during their stay at the University of Bremen. They organize different types of events and excursions to help you get to know Bremen and other nearby places. These events are a great way to learn more about life and culture in Bremen and Germany, and also provide the opportunity to meet fellow researchers at the University. I had been a part of their excursion to the Universum, which is a science museum in Bremen. Universum turns science into adventure and visitors can experiment and realize how obstacles affect a man-made waterway or experience a tornado as if it were for real. This excursion was really enjoyable.
Some weeks are spent entirely in attending conferences. One good part of being a part of Academia is that you get to visit new places and meet new people via conferences. Last week I went to DAGStat conference at Gottingen and it was a great experience for me. You get to know about what domain other people are working on. Since it was a conference with varied applications of Statistics I too learnt about applications of Statistics in other fields outside Clinical Trials. And of course, the benefit of taking a quick look in and around places just makes these conferences even more fun! As I had mentioned earlier, I love to travel beyond everything on this planet!
I have been here for around over 3 months now and I would say that being so far away from home hasn’t been that difficult, either. Of course it’s not going to be the same and with the everyday challenges that I have mentioned above there are times when it gets tough. But I also know that these are momentary. One thing that I would like to share my thoughts on is the work-life balance that I get to maintain here. You do not have strict timeline to adhere to or any deadlines to commit to. You get to devise your own time management plans. This flexibility I believe is essential because you have sufficient peace of mind to sit down with a particular academic problem and finish it off taking your own time.
The Wesser and its dock, which makes the city more beautiful
A glimpse of Dusk in winter in Bremen
The Fallturm, drop tower at the Centre of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity at the University of Bremen
A glimpse of flea market at Bremen
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