Dream or Reality?

Hello everybody! My name is Aristeidis Tsagkaris – but I think that is easier for you to call me Aris– and I come from Greece. I was recruited about a month ago as an Early Stage Researcher (ESR) on FoodSmartphone Project. Additionally, during my stay in Prague I will have my Ph.D. under the supervision of Professor Jana Hajslova in the University of Chemistry and Technology (UCT). My research topic is “Enzyme strip assays with smartphone readout for acetylcholine esterase (AChE) inhibitors”. I know that from the title you cannot fully understand which the aim of my study is. However, if I have to briefly describe it then we are trying to start a new era where pesticides will be mostly measured by the contribution of consumers and less from laborious, expensive and sophisticated analytical procedures. I will not give you any other feedback on that because you can find it in my following blogs during the project. Today, I will focus on the recruitment procedure and my first month as an ESR.

To begin with, let’s return back on Monday, 27th of March 2017. This day was the deadline to apply for the ESR 6 position in UCT, Prague. I have prepared my motivation letter and CV and I was ready to send my application e-mail. I was thinking about my chances on the position and how much I want it. A MSCA fellowship is a dream for every researcher. I took a deep breath and I sent my application.

So, the dream was started. I passed through the first short skype interview and the assessment committee was positive for me. However, they mentioned that if I want to be eligible for the job I must finish with my Master’s degree before June. Consequently, the most stressed period until today in my life had started. On the one hand, I had to finish and defense my master thesis. On the other hand, I had to be ready for the second full skype interview (about an hour). Hence, I was working as crazy. The outcome was to pass also the second skype interview and be invited in Prague for the final round. At this stage, we were two candidates. In fact, I was thinking that a chance like this emerge once in a lifetime so I booked the first flight tickets to Prague and arrived for the final interview. After 4 days of waiting for the final result, I was chosen for the position. Eventually, it is real, I am an ESR of the FoodSmartphone project!

And how is this reality like??

I arrived at Prague on 13/6/2017. My contract started two days later (15/6/2017). I started to meet with my new colleagues and discover UCT. In this point, I have to admit that everybody at the lab or at the administration services of the UCT are really friendly and also professional. Additionally, the building of UCT retains an old style that I really like it. Concerning the facilities, our laboratories are equipped with the latest instrumentation permitting the researchers to work under optimum conditions.

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The entrance of UCT

I also want to share with you my impression about Prague. The capital of the Czech Republic is a unique place. The architecture of the city is really impressive and occurs everywhere and not only in the Old Town. Actually, I have the feeling that I live in a “medieval castle”.  When I finish lab-work, I am trying to explore different places in Prague. Exercising in the Stromovka  Park or drinking a Czech beer-I am sure that are the best beers in the world- by the Vltava river are maybe the best ways to relax from everyday stress.  Moreover, it is worthy to visit the castle of Prague. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it consists of a large-scale composition of palaces and ecclesiastical buildings.

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Enjoying a Czech beer on the Dancing House, Prague
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City view from Prague castle

However, I am facing a few difficulties in my everyday life. The reason is the language barrier, as many Czech people that you meet in everyday activities like going to the supermarket speaks only Czech. The highlight of this situation was the day that I visited the foreign police in order to declare my permanent address in the Czech Republic. The officers did not speak any English, so if you except to achieve your goal there you should speak Czech. In this way, I went there with a Czech colleague from UCT and we managed it. Among my plans during my stay in the Czech Republic is to learn the language in order to feel a more active part of this society.

My first trip within the FoodSmartphone project was for a summer school. This was the first ever “Smartphone-based Assay Development” summer school and took place in Wageningen, The Netherlands, June 26-30, 2017. Actually, I am feeling excited about my participation. The summer school was a unique chance both to meet the other ESRs (except one, because of VISA issues) and also to create worldwide connections. 32 PhD students and researchers with 21 different nationalities participated in this course. This was the first time that I could communicate with so many people with different cultural and scientific background. Moreover, the summer school helped me to improve in my communication skills as English are not my mother language. I really want to thank Prof. M. Nielen and all speakers for coordinating in such an interesting way the course and I suggest them to repeat it in the future. Concerning ESRs, I feel that we had a good understanding and also a nice time (Vincent has already described our activities, two weeks ago). In any case, I hope to achieve our individual and common goals within the project.

I was also really lucky to find some time and visit the capital of The Netherlands, Amsterdam. I was there with Klaudia and Javier, who are also ESRs. We had few hours until our flights but we fortunately walked the city center of Amsterdam. My impression for the place was really good. There were everywhere people cycling. The same situation was also in Wageningen, where during the morning there was “bikes traffic”. This was strange for me as both in Greece and in the Czech Republic people don’t use bikes that much. I will definitely try to visit again Amsterdam in order to enjoy without any hurry the place.

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Photo in front of the famous canals of Amsterdam (bikes everywhere)

My return in Prague is connected with lot of study. I am reviewing the literature and trying to find who to progress my project. This part is very important because it is necessary to understand which the status on the field is and also which are the gaps that you need to feel with your research. In the meanwhile, I also have some training on the lab, because you should not stay for a long time away from lab practices. My aim is to have some preliminary results in order to present them in the upcoming “Recent Advances in Food Analysis” (RAFA 2017). The RAFA 2017 symposium will be hosted by UCT, November 7-10 2017, and I advise all you to attend it in order to obtain an overview on recent and emerging food science issues.

 

That it was for today. Thank you for reading my first blog and see you soon!

Best Regards,

Aris

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