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

The maori mexican flying kiwi unda down unda.

My most sincere apologies amiguitas y amiguitos, as I have not written in these pages for a long time. Do you know that feeling when simply you think you have so much to do/think/procrastinate and leave that simple task you wanted to do and realized that you thought of something in 2007 and it is already 2017? Well, you might call it lack of inspiration, motivation, time, even excuses or that actually your mind has gone somewhere else. Well in my case? I just couldn’t find or better say didn’t feel the proper time to actually sit my ass down and write. But oh how unfortunate you are now, as this feeling has arrived and my now again cute ass is ready to be seated again.

The land down unda’ a land down unda’. A place where it is possible to breathe the freshest and cleanest air of the planet and even buy it on the duty free zone at the airport to give as Xmas present. The magical land of the ultimate adventures, badass war tattoos and war cries, a hilarious English accent, rugby on every corner and #gandalf.

Yes. New Zealand. ***makes Haka noises***

-The bloody hell were you doing there mate?- you might ask. Trust me when I say I was as surprised as you when I discovered that 0.4% of my genes are originally from Oceania which of course includes NZ***finishes the Haka***. To be sincere, I have always been curious about this faaar far away part of the world; as mentioned above, it just sounded like a too good to be true place. I recall a TV commercial in the 90’s where a lad was being dropped down from a chopper into a mountain, started skiing, passed cool caves, finished on what seemed to be a jungle, changed his outfit to a swimming suit, and then caught up with a lady in bikini, grabbed a board and started surfing. I mean how fucking cool does that sounds? And of course, #gandalf. So I was more than ready to snowboard and surf and potentially meet my NZ lover as I would yell to demons “YOU SHALL NOT PAAAASS!”. All in one day.  Hell yeah.

As this didn’t sound incredible enough, life gave me a marvelous and hilarious kiwi friend, someone I could basically say is like the sister I always wanted and never had, including the part where we can both deal with complex unsteady aerodynamics problems, fail miserably, still make the engine work properly, drink Gin like actual beasts and dream everyday to explore and conquer the world. Universally known as “Jenbla”, I had the great honor of being hosted by herself and her family where for about two weeks, we did a brilliant road trip all across from Christchurch down to Wanaka, Queenstown, to the west coast and the back to CH. You want a real advice for your next trip? Hang out with the locals, there is truly no way to know the culture of a place than with them. It is not only because they live there, it is also because when there’s a foreigner on the game, locals also discover their country. It is an actual win/win scenario.

NZ didn’t disappoint me as there is a huge Gimli stone statue right on the airport of Auckland. What a way to start I must say. So yeah, after spending a fantastic weekend in Buenos Aires, Argentina with another of my dearest lads (gracias #che! volveré hermano!), after 18 hrs, there was I, landing in Christchurch, ready to see kiwis, penguins, climb, hike, snowboard, surf and dance the Haka as soon as Jenbla came to scene. Literally, after 25 minutes of landing we were already hiking the closest hill haha. Had then a cultural day as I wanted to know a bit more of the culture of the country so we visited the natural history museum, got staggered by the maori culture and heritage, the importance to the people about it and well, I just love museums.

I must say that NZ is sooo fucking expensive haha. Beers, clothes, fun activities, gasoline, transport, food. Everything is expensive but absolutely fucking worth it. The best way to travel around the islands is to rent your own car or camper van and then up to the road as it goes. Asking for rides on the roadway might also work, just consider you could freeze to death after 8 PM during winter. Great extreme sport though. Despite making sure you have enough money, people’s mega friendly, chilled, relax. Have you seen Thor 3? The bloke made out of blue rocks? There you go, that’s a true NZ spirit right there. So what you waitin’ broh? Wanna come?

So off we were from CH to Wanaka! a small gathering point village where it is possible to do kayak, snow sports, helicopter/plane rides, hiking/trekking/climbing on hills, mountains and glaciers, Mt. Iron, Roy’s peak and Rob Roy’s glacier are just some examples of those; you want mighty thunder thighs? You want to climb, not feel your legs because of pain, sweat at minus degrees and still look at a beautiful scenery? This is the place to go. And of course a zillion amount of lakes and sheep. Sheep every-fucking-where. Not to mention that when I got the wheels, as you drive on the right side of the vehicle, I almost got ourselves killed but nothing to worry about, besides Jenbla’s panic attack, my extreme crazy cat reflexes saved us and got us on time for dinner. Simply brilliant, I really loved it.

Down to Queenstown, where is like everything I just mentioned, times 462. The world’s adventures capital some might even say, and trust me they might not be that far away from the truth. The town is beautiful, quite fancy, still expensive, but Jenbla and I were there to become legends,  to transcend in time and space on stories yet to be written and spoken among our family members and the people of this planet. To become one with the motion of particles and scream so loud we could open interdimensional portals. We became bungy jumpers. 134 meters of insane fun, 8.6 seconds of free falling and free red crying eyes after the jump. We went to risk our lives, jump into the void, feel free, get very close to what is a heart attack, and paid a lot of money for it. Absolutely brilliant. Of course, on a Skype session my mom wanted to kill me as soon as she saw the jump video LOL. #mexicanmomlove

To Punakaki in the west coast we went! And shit I was just amazed how the weather and the vegetation could change sooo much from side to side of the island. We drove a significant amount of hours that day, but it never got tired you know? The great music, the mountains and trees and the very cute Kias. (2nd official bird of NZ). We wanted to be on time to see the clashing of the sea waves to what are called the Pancake rocks. It was unfortunately too dark already and it was quite rainy (apparently always rains on the west coast) but life was benevolent and we had a nice and sunny morning the next day, so after exploring caves and almost dying either by falling off the rocks or getting swallowed by the crazy sea, we saw an amazing show performed by nature and enjoyed our ride back to the east coast.

 

On the way back, we went to a place called “Castle Rock”. Recall the scene on the 1st lord of the rings movie when the hobbitsesss hide with Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn under some crazy stones because a shitload amount of crazy crows from Saruman and a Nazgul are flying to hunt down Frodo and make him fall like a bitch? Well that place exactly is where I found myself screaming “MR. FRODOOO!” on the top of one of the rocks as an asian family would stare at me like “UGH these fucking tourists”. At the same time, Jenbla was running all around, hiding in holes like a rabbit and climbing the other rocks. Truly like brother and sister.

Naturally a trip in NZ is not complete until you’ve done a mountain bike ride after fucking climbing zillion mountains and being crazy sour or until you’ve swum on a basically frozen lake, surrounded by only snow, just because it is not fun until you’ve done it and didn’t die. #crazykiwis

I never had so many nature adventures and even better, never shared it with someone who is crazier than me and I feel blessed with life for this. I got thunder thighs and was able the completely cleanse my “smoking years” lungs breathing such clean air at the top of the mountains. Even when I didn’t see any penguins, nor kiwis, didn’t snowboard, nor surfed, nor met my ultimate NZ lover in bikini, I was able to live a true kiwi life experience as I had the chance of doing and living fucking cool adventures across mountains, lakes and sea. Lived as another member of an awesome kiwi family, felt welcomed by all the great people I met there and felt ridiculously happy with life, as I get to be the friend of someone like Jenbla. And I got to yell “YOUUU SHALL NOT PAAAASS!”

You feeling adventurous and with a pinch of adrenaline running through your veins? You feel you cannot breather under this EWWW disgusting quality of air of the town you’re living in? You tired of the routine and feel like a crazy adventure should make you feel alive again? You feeling like being totally away from everyone you know and surrounded by only chilled and cooled people that will say “Don’t you worry my dear!” every single time? You also feel like you have a shitload of money to spend only to get to this island? Well I feel all that, but only feel it, because my account balance is basically on negative numbers, but the feeling is so strong that not only I recommend all of you to fly right now to NZ, I definitely will be back.

You want me to describe New Zealand in one sentence? Well I think there is one:

“Yeah, nah, it’s epic bro!”

Tēnā koe, a hupane!