Flavia reflects on moving to Waterford in a pandemic to start as a researcher on the Horizon 2020 Marie Sklodowska-Curie European Training Network funded ORBITAL (Ocular Research By Integrated Training And Learning) European Training Network programme
By Flavia Messina, an early stage PhD researcher on the H2020 Orbital Project.
If I could go back in time, before I accepted the PhD position in Ireland, I never would have imagined that I would find myself in the midst of a pandemic.
Every now and then I stop to think and wonder if I would have accepted this opportunity knowing everything I would have to go through during this pandemic and the answer is often “no, I wouldn’t”.
Don’t take it as something negative, this is just the reality. You must then be wondering if I regret it. But it will surprise you again, the answer is still “no, I don’t”.
This is because the PhD has become not only a great job opportunity for me, but also a great opportunity for my personal growth. I am finding myself strong, capable of overcoming obstacles that I never thought I could face before and, at the end of the day, I always smile.
I smile because doing something that I love makes me stop thinking about the strange times we are all in; I smile because I consider myself lucky to be able to work and travel when most people cannot, and this allows me to meet people from all over the world and to still obtain personal enrichment.
Indeed, being part of The Marie Curie Network for me represented a great possibility to travel all over the world and to grow the network around me. Of course, this still happens but on a smaller scale, and probably this is the thing I regret the most. However, the secondments are still ongoing and with them I can still sense that beautiful part of the project that makes me feel at the centre of the European Community.
In fact, at the moment I am writing to you from Waterford Institute of Technology. Indeed, I should say: I am writing to you from Waterford Institute of Technology in lockdown. But it doesn’t really matter because I can be more focused at work and I am enjoying very much the opportunity to be here.
Even though my secondment institute and host institute (UCD) are in the same country, I am fascinated by seeing how different Dublin is from this quiet city on the east coast. Here, I can better feel the connection with the nature and people seem really warm and welcoming.
But, most of all, I’m building many chemistry skills that, as a biologist, I certainly didn’t have before and I need to thank Orbital for that.
Another thing that helped me a lot during this time was being selected to enter a competition for a scientific award.
Every year, in October, the institute I work for, Conway Institute, organizes a full day of poster sessions. This year, of all the entrants, only four were selected to compete for the Allergan Innovation Award. And I was among the four of them. Actually, I was the most junior figure to have been selected and that made me really proud. It is not a huge spoiler but I didn’t win the competition. However, it was a big push in finding self-confidence again, and it was something I really needed after all of this.
I never had the opportunity to speak during a scientific event (except for my bachelor and master’s degree) and certainly I didn’t expect to do that virtually. I was surprised to find the same feelings you usually have in front of a public even in front of my computer screen. I have been more than happy, and more than scare too, to present my project in front of Enterprise Ireland and Allergan. And, even if I didn’t win the bursar, I think I performed really well and for me representing well my supervisors and ORBITAL was the most important part. I am more than glad that my first speech has been so though and challenging. I think I learned a lot.
We still have so much more to figure out with COVID, so I don’t know where the future of my own research will go, but I am hopeful I’ll get to travel again, meet the other researchers and consortium members, and keep researching ways to fight ocular degeneration.