Science Goes on Even When It Seems Impossible

Marina Gutierrez (ESR11)

New experiences always scare us, even when we are sure the decision we have made is correct.

When I started my bachelor’s in biotechnology, I did not know how exactly I was supposed to begin my scientific career. However, I was sure I wanted to contribute to society with new knowledge because I need to understand further how things work before deciding. And I was not wrong. Trying to understand the world, asking yourself how you can contribute to the progress, and understand the difficulties to reach the objectives are necessary but difficult steps.

When I applied to the PhD position, I was very excited to become an international PhD student. But once I was accepted, contradictory feelings came to my mind. I was ready to move away from my city but afraid of not adapting to a new country. I was scared for not speaking Italian but willing to learn as much as I could about Italian culture. I liked the research topic, but I did not feel ready to start. It was an opportunity to feel independent, but I felt worried about being lonely.

It turns out PhD is not only challenging from a technical point of view, it comprises all kinds of new experiences. Even when you think you are prepared to step forward, life turns out with new challenges. Experiments may not work out. Plans may be cancelled. Personal difficulties may show up.

I discovered that not having an answer for a question is an answer itself. It helps to look for new ways to respond, and it gives you clues to change your mind, to think outside the box.

Questions may not always be answered, even if you try very hard. Even when you have not found the answer you would like to, your work can still reference other scientists. And that it is OK because we need to understand we are not alone in this battle. Helping each other is an essential part of progress. In fact, we always hear of the “scientific community” without noticing how important is the word “community”. Research is based on sharing, acceptance, and discussion.

When 2020 hit so hard, we all had to overcome the new situation. Like everyone else, I had to accept the new reality. Planned experiments were impossible to be carried out, and working from home became the new routine. New ideas to still perform research activities emerged, and my contribution was possible thanks to all the efforts we made in the scientific group. All the progress – big or small, depending on the perspective – would not be possible without the people that have been around me these months. The ones that teach me the topics guide me and have the patience when I – still – make mistakes: doing science, speaking a new language, adapting to a new country.

It was then when I understood that challenges should not be seen as a high mountain we need to climb but a combination of small steps and breaks. Science seems a living organism that evolves, adapts, and goes on even at the darkest moments. It is inherently connected to human nature. As for science, personal growth is not a linear path.

I discovered that success is an internal state of mind. I have been challenging myself every day since I started my way into the scientific career. Science needs brave people, and I am happy to do as much as I can every day.