Navigating the Waters of Research Stays

Michele Ponzelli (ESR12)



The life of a young researcher is often peppered with travel. From short stays of a few days for conferences to periods of exchange and collaboration. It happens that researchers stay abroad for months, if not years.

You leave to discover, to learn, and also to change.

Before you leave, it happens that in the evening, after dinner, you sit down and think about what it will be like.

Months before, you begin to create expectations about the research group you will visit or be part of, how many things you might learn, and how many people will cross your path. You imagine yourself dressed in white coats wandering around the labs. You fantasize about what new tools you will use and what new methodologies you will put into practice to expand your knowledge and enrich your research.

And of course, there is also the tedious and often underestimated part of the experience abroad, but at the same time, the most time and energy-consuming. Searching for accommodation, filling out residence paperwork, checking that your sim works, digitizing your lab notes, applying for health coverage, choosing the proper clothing, and keeping it to a minimum. All of this, often, in a new language.

Research and life experiences abroad are a key-value to your growth. Leaving for a destination (where you have never been before) allows you to reset everything and set up new thoughts and consequently new personalities. They are not only places where you have to confront yourself with new challenges from the outside world. But it is at the same time you discovering yourself, getting to know yourself better, and gaining self-awareness. Just as the more you read research articles, the more it seems that you don’t know anything (or at least that you are not up to date enough), in the same way, you realize that in each experience abroad, you add a piece to your life.

In my case, I like to discover, to push myself beyond my comfort zone. So I left Italy for Germany, then for Canada, then for Spain. Now I am back in Germany, knowing that I will return to Spain to complete my Ph.D.

After six years abroad, I started to take for granted that adapting immediately and entirely to the new country is a normality, and so I adapted. I must admit that each country I’ve lived in can bring out of me or make a specific part of me prevail. It seems that although you remain the same, with the same temperament, your character shapes and molds itself to the country you are in and the people around you.

I realized that there is no such thing as the perfect country. In my opinion, you have to be firm in your actions and not lose sight of the end goal.


Image source:
Photo by Garrett Sears on Unsplash