So I wrote in my last post about the opportunities you get as a PhD student and how your life is unlikely to ever be so flexible again, so I thought I would use this post to tell you all about one of the opportunities I’m currently making the most of. Right now I’m in Siena, Italy working in my supervisor’s old lab to learn a new technique. The chance to come to Siena for work is amazing although it does fall into the category of “terrifying things I’ve done” as travelling alone to a place I don’t know and don’t speak the language is pretty daunting. That said I’ve successfully, except for one misadventure on the bus, found my way around without a problem and have been taken care of very well by my hosts. I had no problem getting the bus from Pisa airport to Pisa Centrale train station and the train from there to Siena (with a change in Empoli), although I did have the extra help of hand drawn maps by my supervisor (he does worry I think, sending me out alone into the world).
I opted to stay in the city centre rather than near the hospital where I’m working as I wanted the chance to explore the city a little in the evenings (which I’ve done). This means I’ve had to get the bus to and from the lab (which led to the misadventure yesterday morning when a bus I got on changed number and I didn’t realise, but it wasn’t difficult to fix and I survived just fine).
Eating out alone isn’t my favourite thing to do so I’ve had quite a lot of pizza (I’m in Italy!) but last night I went to dinner with some of the people from the lab which was really lovely, they advised me on what to eat and I ended up with the most amazing plate of pasta (it was topped with garlic breadcrumbs and smelt as good as it tasted).
So what’s it like working in a different lab? Well, lab work is lab work so despite being in a different country getting on with my work hasn’t been difficult, at times there was a little bit of a language barrier but that’s easily worked around with plenty of gesturing and pointing. I can successfully work on an Italian computer and keyboard now and I think the greatest achievement of my trip might be working out how to get the @ sign all by myself. Overall being here has shown me (once again) how pitiful my language skills are, even when people here tell me they don’t speak English they can still communicate with me. I really need to start working harder on this.
Today is my last full day, tomorrow I fly back from Florence (and have managed to sneak a half day in Florence into my trip). Overall the experience has been great and I think I’ll feel a lot more confident travelling to places I’ve never been before in future. If you are given the chance to travel in your PhD definitely take it! You will meet new people and see new places and might be lucky enough to get (at least) some of the costs covered.
P.S. the weather has been great (not smug at all..) 🙂