As I reach the ten-month Ph.D. mark, I feel that time in Halle moves a bit funny. It feels like it is moving slowly and fast at the same time. This contradictory feeling perhaps comes from the contrast between the tree leaves on my way to work and my research field. They are slowly turning orange as autumn approaches, contrasting sharply with the fast-changing research on skyrmions. As I try to make sense of how time progress here, I am learning many unexpected things. I even developed an unexpected project (more about that coming soon in another blog). However, the most important and surprising lesson is not all about skyrmions. It is instead the importance of talking to people.
As an undergrad student, I have always followed the standard recipe to learn a new thing, attend classes, and spend hours alone struggling with books or papers. For some time, it felt that the rest of my academic career would be like this. However, in the Ph.D., as we get closer and closer to the edge of knowledge about some topics, we cannot find things in books anymore. Therefore, we have to spend hours going through the scientific literature to understand a “simple” thing. We must learn the current state-of-the-art of the research field and the next steps we should take in our research project. I realize that we can learn a lot and fast by simply talking to people. I recently seriously thought about this while attending several conferences, such as the NeuroSpin summer school organized by our ESR3 Marco (excellent job, Marco!). I cannot emphasize how much I have learned by talking with Ph.D. students and Professors. Things that I have been struggling to understand for months become apparent, and research directions that I have not even considered become a new path. I guess I have always underestimated how a simple conversation over a coffee can shape everything. Of course, I always expected that discussions would be meaningful. Still, I have also underestimated the tremendous impact they can have on our research. During the pandemic, virtual meetings were useful; however, they cannot replace eye-to-eye discussions. I come back from conferences with many new ideas shaping my work. Talking to people… what an enjoyable way to learn. This is a lesson that I will carry for life.
In the spirit of talking with very smart people, it has also been a great pleasure sharing an office ESR 11 Vishesh and recently arrived ESR 12, Arturo. They are visiting my group for their secondments. Hopefully, I can continue learning from them, especially during our informal lunches.
What I like about the SPEAR network is that we are not only building a scientific network but also friendships and a support network. I have been preparing talks and posters with helpful criticism from Vishesh and ESR 9 Sergio, who have become dear close friends. Additionally, I received their support in the audience of my very first international talk, shown in the picture taken by them (with spoilers for my next blog).