Personal Views

The only source of knowledge is experience.
- Albert Einstein -

You have finished your degree and are now searching for a job? You want to apply for a PhD or Diploma position? You are simply keen on new challenges? No matter what reason takes you to IMBA, you will definately enjoy a wonderful time. 


Moving to Vienna - Alex Vogt

It was a sunny Monday morning in October 2008. Packing cases, furniture and my seawater tank (including animals) were loaded into the car and trailer. Everything was ready and a friend of mine and me left the beautiful city of Ulm in Southern Germany. 

The destination was Vienna, we thought we would arrive there at around 3 pm. While driving we noticed that the vehicle might be a little bit too heavy, but we didn't bother a lot. It was a nice ride, lots of fun and good conversation until we got the strong suspicion that a police car had been following us for quite some time. Soon they told us to follow and stopped us at a motorway station close to Munich. "You probably know why we stopped you"... 

Of course we didn't know, still we had to drive behind them to Munich because the car had to be weighed. It turned out that indeed we were a bit too heavy (3.8 t instead of maximum 3.5 t). The weight doesn't seem to be such a big problem, BUT my driving license allows me to drive cars up to 3.5 t, so in theory I was driving without a valid license. After a while of discussion I could convince them not to keep my driving license. But they forced us to leave the trailer at the police station in Munich. Now we had to find a solution...we could not go on with the trailer, but the animals in the car had to get to Vienna asap! With a heavy heart we left the trailer in Munich. 

Back on the road the situation had just gotten a bit more relaxed - until I called my landlord to tell him we were running late. During this call he told me that I had to bring the money for the flat (agency fee and deposit) in cash (which I didn't have) otherwise I couldn't get the keys. Hmmm, what to do should I get so much money? Luckily I could make a deal with him and he agreed to get half of the money immediately and half of the money 2 days later. As we arrived in Vienna at 5 pm we fixed the contract and started building up the aquarium. I felt the apartment was a bit cold so I wanted to turn on the heating...nothing happened. Shit! But no time to take care of this problem, we had to hurry up a bit to get back to Munich to pack some things from the trailer into the car and then bring all the stuff to Vienna. So we just left and drove back (by now it was already 7 pm). At 11 pm we arrived in Munich and started moving things from the trailer into the car. Around midnight we were ready to leave, we just had to go to weigh it one last time. Total weight of 3.5 t...yes!!!...BUT oh damn, now the maximum weight was fine, but the trailer itself was too heavy (1.7 t instead of 1.5 t). Ok, let's unpack everything and move the heavy things into the car and the light ones to the trailer. 

At 3 am we were done with this and could finally drive back to Vienna, where we arrived at around 6 am, really tired but still in a good mood. My friend just took the sofa to sleep a bit, because he had to drive the car back to Germany. During this time I started unpacking all the stuff trying to make the flat look nice. After he left I felt completely exhausted so I also slept a bit before I went to IMBA to see people I know in Vienna. Some coffees and good conversation gave me the power to go back to the flat and try to get somebody to repair the heating which luckily worked out the same day. After the flat got warm I started realizing that moving was successful in the end and I was living in Vienna now!

From University to PhD - Heike Harzer

University student, semester 8 - 12

It is Wednesday, sometime between 10 am and noon and I'm finally back in the world, awake that is. Getting up is painful. My head hurts like crazy. But I manage. On the way to the university, I stop for a brief coffee and a chat with friends in a café just around the corner from my place. Coffee really does have a positive effect on a bad headache. Being somewhat more conscious than before I arrive at the university at 1:30 pm, just in time to grab some food at the cafeteria. Food wasn't the best the idea in my current condition. I really don't know why cafeteria food never seems to be great, or even good. Barely edible quite adequately describes it, I think. But it's still better than nothing. The afternoon drags on with a few lectures (I have to admit - I fell asleep in immunology) and lab training. At 6 pm my headache has returned. From experience I know that the only thing, apart from drugs, one can do against it, is going out with friends to have some fun. I always think I shouldn't consume any alcohol, but always end up having a couple, or more, drinks. This also gives me a headache, but for a better reason. Since people keep on telling us to enjoy our lives as long as we're students, I feel obliged to do just that. Somehow during the night, time flies much faster. When we leave the club, my headache is miraculously gone and the birds are singing along with us. On our way home we get run over by some people jogging in the park. Crazy. They don't seem to be much older than we are. Finally home, I go to bed, forgetting to set the timer to get up in time for the cell biology lecture in the morning...

PhD student

It is Wednesday, and my alarm goes off at 6 am. I get up without major problems and go running with fellow PhD students in the park to get fit for the half-marathon we plan on doing in a few months. Some drunk students, science students from the looks of them, are screaming unintelligible stuff and trying to get in our way. We ignore them. I'm thinking that their time will come as well, doing a PhD and getting to know hard work. Back home, I get dressed, grab some breakfast and go to the lab. My life is here. I work through the morning, making good progress for a change. My experiment has actually worked! What a highlight! At 12:30 pm my stomach starts grumbling and we go to the cafeteria to have some lunch. I remember my days at university when the food was barely edible. After lunch we spend another 15 minutes lingering over coffee trying to avoid discussing science, but often failing to do so. The caffeine carries me through the rest of the day. I have to get another dose at 5 pm to keep me going. At 7 pm I'm in desperate need of a drink because my lucky streak stopped. My experiment has failed. But that's the life of a scientist; at least this is what I keep on telling myself. I'm still annoyed. But tomorrow is another day and I'll keep on trying. Some day, I'm sure, I'll discover something great; something all this hard work was worth doing for. I come home late again, have dinner and fall asleep in front of the TV. I only wake up once, because the students in the bar next to my place very loudly announce to go out partying tonight. Drifting back to sleep I remember my days as a student...

Becoming a Postdoc at IMBA - Ryan Conder

I vividly remember my life after finishing my graduate studies

Everything was looking great. I had a wonderful family, lived in a beautiful city and had spent the last 4 years demonstrating that one could successfully change careers. Yes, being on top of the world with the respect of your friends and peers sometimes prompts one to think ridiculously. 

So how could I make things as difficult as possible for myself? (In the science field, we call this challenging ourselves) I know, why not pick a lab whose publications I enjoyed reading the most and apply to do a postdoc as part of this group? I remember running through a list of pros and cons to see just how unfeasible this should be. The list went something like this: group has published more papers last year than my entire department and must get an incredible number of postdoc applicants - con. Group is in Vienna where they speak German, a language that all of my knowledge of comes only from watching the Sound of Music with my grandmother - con. I have no friends, relatives or contacts anywhere in Austria to provide any guidance in this decision - con. I like classical music, cake and great science - pro! Well there I was, knowing as a safety net, this should not be possible so I could go through life feeling I gave it my best shot and still ended up somewhere close by, learning and doing some decent science along the way. 

So I applied and in a whirlwind few months filled with inexplicable events, I interviewed, accepted an offer, finished a degree, packed up my family and moved around the world. It was then that the fun began. I recall mastering alternative ways of accomplishing the essential duties one must perform when moving a family. Finding a flat by repeating becoming lost while running at nights to combat jetlag. Furnishing the flat by explaining to a sales clerk the Maestro card was German for Mastercard, so they should give me all my furniture on credit. Finding schools for my children by showing up to look at a school and having the teacher letting my daughter join in for the end of year field trips. Obtaining a work Visa, I am not really sure about but recall our human resource woman at the time shaking her head and sighing a great deal while explaining to me what the administrative people in the MA35 were actually saying to me. 

Strangely now, I look back three years later and laugh at my not so smooth adjustment to life at IMBA and think some things have remained constant since the beginning of the adventure. I still have a wonderful family. I again live in a beautiful city. I have learned incredible amounts and realized all the hardships were not as difficult to overcome as I once thought. German is not a necessity as it is actually Viennese that is spoken here. Amazing new friends and colleagues have been made, many of who fall into both categories. And finally all my reservations about being qualified to be a part of such a group, were absolutely correct. It is difficult, incredibly trying at times and without a doubt, one of the best decisions I have made in my life. 

Organizing the Long Night of Research - Federico Mauri

I always thought that communicating science to non scientists is a very important task for people involved in reasearch, in order to spread information and avoid the consideration of scientists as a kind of freaks. Since usually there are not so many "volunteers" for such tasks, it is not surprising that I would constantly end up taking part in open days as a guide for visitors, and unsurprisingly enough, I ended up doing the same during my PhD here in Vienna. 

What I would not have expected was becoming the official german speaking guide of the lab. Even though I have been learning German for many years, I never considered the idea of explaining my job to an audience of Viennese visitors, I must confess... but then it just happened. The first time when my boss asked me and a colleague to join the Long Night of Research, representing our group, envisioning in me the one who was supposed to interact with people in German, while my colleague would take care of English speaking groups. 

In the end it wasn't even so difficult, and despite some vocabulary problems (concepts such as asymmetric cell division or Drosophila brain stem cells are not exactly part of everyday language...) which I managed to overcome, we were successful, and hence recruited immediately for next year's European Night of research. "No problem" I thought, "I did it once, I can do it again". With one little difference: this time the event was longer, and with a special focus on family and kids. Whoever tried to deal with kids, especially groups of kids, probably knows that they are a very critical audience that hates two things the most: being bored and being treated as if they were stupid. Imagine you have to explain to such an audience that your job is understanding the molecular mechanisms of asymmetric cell division of stem cells in the fruitfly brain, having just some fluorescent larvae, microscopes and ES cell cultures at hand as examples. Imagine you have to take care also of the adult component of the audience in the meantime. Then imagine you have to do all of this in a foreign language. 

I have to admit it was a difficult task, since the German speaking groups were the large majority and I had no break at all, a long challenge taking place in the Rinderhalle Arena. When visitors faded away at closing time, my mouth was dry and I was tired, but what is more important, people were (apparently) happy, and went away wondering wether the strange accent of their guide was from Switzerland or maybe somewhere in Voralberg. And I really mean it. Not bad, for an Italian in Vienna!