Chilling adventures of an early stage researcher (Vanesa Salazar)
Once upon a time in Edinburgh…
October, it was a rainy evening, two young ladies waited at the bus stop at the airport. They have just arrived from
Coimbra (Portugal) after a long day travelling. However, they weren´t tourists. Their names were Manuela and Vanesa, two early stage researchers about to start their PhD.
For Vanesa, it was the first time in Scotland. She was about to discover a whole new world. In fact, she had no idea of all the crazy stories she would live through, in just her first months in Scotland. How do I know? I am Vanesa.
Time to give my closet (and my head) a makeover: new country, new life
Coming from the Mediterranean country of Spain, it makes sense to be shocked by the constant rain and early sunsets at 4 p.m. Although Scotland offers a very cold weather, people offered me a very warm welcome (especially in the lab).
One of the things I struggled with was the first one I had to do: find a place. When I arrived, I had rented an Airbnb for just two weeks: no time to lose! I was surprised to see how many scams there were and, sadly detected several in my attempt to visit them. Also, there is such a high demand, it is not rare to visit a place and find that a previous visitor has already taken your chance, no way!! Running out of time, no place to stay, what would I do? An ad replied to me at the very last minute: it was a beautiful house in a calm neighbourhood. I was saved and just in time!!!
Time for shopping: No fresh fish, no seafood, no unwrapped meat, no uncanned legumes and no make-up section at the supermarket… This was an emergency!! I had to start my own research on alternative shops where to find my beloved ingredients as well as try Scottish traditions like haggis. Early, I started to take a cup of tea and porridge daily (almost a total Brit huh? except for my accent hahaha).
What is it like to do PhD in Edinburgh?
It is thrilling and challenging. If you already follow me on twitter @weird_neuron, it is very likely that this question is the one that interests you more. In my case, I am part of a very big and international lab. It is also a very multidisciplinary lab. For first months, I learnt the different studies on monogenetic mutations related to ASD/ID that are carried out in the lab. I also had the chance to meet many other PhD students of first, second and last year during different workshops organized by the University of Edinburgh. We spend a lot of time together, in the lab and outside as well. I remember how much I laughed in one of our ‘Mario Kart competition’ Saturdays, the Halloween party or the good pints at ‘The Pear Tree’ pub after work.
What do I find special about doing a PhD here? Good question. From my point of view, the main point is the strong collaborative environment. Collaboration is enhanced from the very beginning between PhD students but also it is something you can observe within and between labs. Another thing I like is the wide range of training the university offers, both online and in-person. I have had the possibility to learn topics from programming to writing skills. During these first months of my PhD, I have also planned my first experiments and I was properly trained for working with animals when inducted into centre facility. Also, I attended the UK-Japan Symposium where I learnt about cutting-edge imaging techniques and current neuroscience research lines in each country. I met and discussed my ideas with other researchers from the field and received feedback. Research, networking, discussion, socializing, learning, training, planning and all over again. In addition, I have just started to run my first behavioural experiments…exciting times to come!
Edinburgh: the city of mysteries, myths & legends
Just in the middle of Edinburgh there is a Sleeping Dragon. It used to circle the skies but one day, it rested on a peak and it hasn´t woken up yet. It is better known as Arthur’s seat today. When climbing this famous hill, I tried to be careful and not to awake the dragon (we all know what happens when you awake the dragon by Game of Thrones…). Luckily, it keeps sleeping.
Friday night is for going from pub to pub with some friends. During one of those nights, a crazy wind blew against us and, in the twinkling of an eye, my friend’s glasses were missing. The ghosts of Edinburgh went to party tonight!? Cars on the road, people crossing from one pub to another…where were they? We looked for them in the middle of the street with no clue of whether we were going to find them and if so, in which state. After walking some minutes searching, the wind calmed down and we found the glasses next to the road in a puddle. It looks like the ghosts didn’t want to play anymore. What a crazy night!
If you come to Scotland, you come to the nation of legends, myths, and mysteries. From Nessie to kelpies (a mythical water horse), Scotland is full of mythical creatures and ghosts. Pay attention when you come, you don´t want to miss them or much worse, to disturb them!
Text by Vanesa Salazar