The self-inflicted, unpredictable yet rewarding, academical adventure

Well hello there my fellow readers. It has been quite a fucking while hasn’t it? Just about 1.5 years ago I think it was the last time I spent recapitulating and sharing some adventures or stupidities with all of you.

Bbboi but so many things have happened. Sooo many things. Getting to the age of 30 years old is definitely one of them. Will maybe post some of that later buuut…as weird as it is, I am now sitting in the bike section of a train, on my way to Bonn, the former capital city of Germany, where I shall be part of a saturday Archaeology party, from one of the besties of H, my now official seemingly very much significant other (This will be shared at some point too, it has been amazingly ameisin). Anyways, the inspiration came to me just now to write about the rolling coaster I hopped in some years ago and honestly after the last time I wrote, I finally felt I really wanted or better said, found a way to get my shit together for some minutes and share something cool with you again. Call it the writer inspiration or lack of time or stupidity or simply eternal laziness. It is how it is.

After completing this crazy engineering masters program and traveling 1.5 years ago, life put me in a position where I am now surviving a PhD position in Stuttgart, Germany. This absurdly fluttering partially damped experience is what I want to talk to you about. But hey I gotta start from the beginning.

It was October, a very nice autumn afternoon in Rome, me sitting with H, (which back then, was my craziest true love encounter, but not my official partner in crime), right by the Tiber river, by the San Angelo Castle, discussing what the fuck were we doing meeting in Rome, trying to figure out what to do with so much love and stupidity, knowing that the chance of being 12,000km apart was quite impossible to survive. Suddenly, my phone ringed with the sound of a new e-mail, the sender was the director of the turbomachinery institute where I had an internship the summer before. The message, directed to thrusters graduates, was an offer to apply for PhD position on experimental research focused on double-phase flow phenomena. Sounded pretty insane and cool (at the time) and it was in Germany, which I liked, where I could drink nice beers, which I liked, and very close to H, which I also liked, a lot; so my main engine to apply there was my own nerdy and adventurer spirit, and the fact that H was in Germany too of course.

Magically, I got the chance for an interview. So I went back to Mx, enjoyed some months at home and boarded a plane in December to attend with my family to the graduation of the master program, travel around a bit, visit some friends and go to this interview. And obviously to visit H. And meet her family. Fucking panic.

Summarizing, the interview was grand, I had to basically re-do my entire master thesis, because it was written like a piece of shit, but in the end, it was grand! I was surprised, but very very very thankful with life, the universe and all that bullshit. -Here we fucking go again world!-. Those were the words I said to myself, happy for a new adventure and exciting to get out of the plane and drink all of the Weiß bierchen.

What I want to transmit with this blog is basically what does it mean, for me at least, to do a PhD in engineering, in one of the countries that has a seat at the pinnacle of engineering and science. Aka, quite the high level shit, and the daily struggles that come with such ridiculous levels of masochism.

The first year I did everything, and at the same time, absolutely fucking nothing. I spent months reading literature and trying to understand a bit of the science and physics behind steam turbine technologies, condensation effects in low-pressure turbines and optical methods to measure such effects. It had 13% to do with what I studied for a masters degree. 3 months after I arrived, I assisted my now ex-supervisor, to run the first experiment in this +250k€ steam nozzle test-rig, with steam entering the line at 15bars and 280°C and entering the nozzle at “controlled” 780mbar, 120°C and “decent” expansion rates. The only thing I remember from that day was running up and down, opening and closing valves, shitting my pants because of a thermal choke which resulted in a boom that moved a 5ton pressurized tank as if was about to explode and…that’s about it. So much shit happens, in such an ephemeral amount of time, no matter how hard I tried, my brain was simply not able to adjust to the required level of permanent attention and concentration. I remember being entirely exhausted by the end of the experiment, as if I had played a Rugby match at the playoffs. I’ve never played Rugby in my life haha, but I feel like that’s what it should feel like. Fucking drained.

Things did not get easier, as I just had to keep learning by doing about instrumentation, measuring techniques, acquisition data softwares and all sort of things I’ve never ever touched before in my life, and the worse is that you want to learn it, but you just don’t have the time to sit down, study passionately, get a bit the feeling and then check if it works. You always say to yourself: – ah ye, I need to study this, I’ll check it up later- but you never have the time or the energy to do it. You are (or need to be) always either 100% in the zone, or 100% absent minded, looking at the sunlight and checking the reflection and refraction of light in your beer.

In my country, some people say that doing a PhD means you cannot do a “real” job. Boi, they have no fucking clue of what they are talking about haha. In 2 years working in the industry I did not learn as much as I did the first 6 months in this ludicrous science adventure.

I also keep reading if doing a PhD is worth it or not. I guess there is no really an absolute answer to that, it is completely relative to what you do, what you want to do, how you want it and where. In my case, a PhD in Germany opens the doors to get a permanent and fucking high level job in Europe. It also gives me an insane amount of knowledge that I can apply in many branches on engineering, if this is what I decide in the future. It equally can prove one day, that I am a crazy mother fucker which is insane enough to challenge himself intellectually and follow through all adversities. It also says that I’m not as dumb as I thought. Or in any case, that the people who evaluated me, believed all my bullshit.

Please don’t get me wrong, sometimes (or many times)…(daily)… I ask myself, why the fuck did I choose to do this?. Was it really my nerdy adventurous spirit? Was it because of love for H? Was it because I “just” wanted something else to do? Was it because of my love to do crazy challenges? Or was it because I really wanted to do, or at least try to do something meaningful, that could actually help the planet with awesome cool science? Or maybe, it was because I pictured myself in a situation where I am in a plane, and then someone asks for a doctor among the people and I say firmly: -Ehm yes, I am a Dr, what is the problem?- glimpse at the person who is choking with a fucking pretzel and say: -oh…no, I am not that “kind” of Dr-. I like to think it is indeed a mixture of all of this.

In any case, what is definitely true, and what I believe many PhD students realize, is that in my last 1.5 years here, I have truly got to know my own academical capabilities, desires, dreams. It was really really hard to accept that whatever I end up researching about for the last 3.5 years, will most likely NOT be meaningful at all, in terms of making our planet cleaner, greener, better, or us as people more conscious, sharper, better. NOT. AT. ALL. To understand, that doing this, is because you are crazy and you somehow like it. Despite earning decently, I am not even able to travel around as much as I would. There is either no time, or no chance or no desired companion. You might have your nice plan laid-out for the 4 or 5 years of your PhD, but most of those things will not be as you initially thought, not even as you wanted them to be. And I guess that’s what is sometimes cool about it.

I want to think and to believe I have learned plenty of stuff and that one day, I will be able to use some of it. I cannot avoid to feel like I have no fucking clue of what I am doing, or exactly why. But I am an optimist and enjoy a good laugh and a good victory beer after breaking my head during a rough measuring day, I enjoy the “intellectual” discussions I can have at this job, I am grateful for the friends I have done until now and it is the overall picture of this what makes me smile. It is the family and the love that has embraced me here, what keeps moving my engine. In my heart, I think this is exactly what a PhD is about. Adapt, improvise and overcome.

And of course, to prove that science rules over all, bitches.

Science 1 – 0 Bearded guy in a cross fan club