If I must describe the beginning of my PhD, this can be summarised in one question… “why?”.
The first “why” of this short story is “why would you like to do a PhD?”; this is what Dr. Conor O’Byrne and Dr. Aoife Boyd asked me during my Skype interview, on the 29th of May 2017. This is the beginning of the story. “Easy!” I thought, but then I realised that it was, probably, one of the most difficult questions someone had ever asked to me. After 5 years studying Biotechnologies I could not imagine something different for my future, how to explain to someone that research is exactly the reason why you studied for 5 years, living far from home? My first answer was not really brilliant, I said something like “well, what should I do? I can’t imagine another way to apply my knowledge”. Not exactly the best answer, I know.
The second “why” of this story arrived months later the first one. No one asked me anything that time, it was me asking myself “why?”, while packing my stuff to move to Ireland. I’m from Sicily, a sunny and warm island in the south of Europe, where I lived most of my life. Sicily is my home, my happy land… my family is there, my friends are there, basically my life was there and I was packing, ready to leave everything and move to Ireland, not exactly the sunniest and warmest country I could think about. That’s why I asked myself “why are you doing this? Why are you leaving everything?”. The answer was much easier this time. I loved this project since the first time I read it, I knew that it was the right one, I was so fascinated by the idea that bacteria can sense and respond to the stresses. During my interview in Amsterdam I met my actual PI, the other Early Stage Researchers and I understood that the PATHSENSE project is not only a great professional opportunity but also an exciting personal adventure. I understood that this one was a perfect position. Doesn’t matter if this meant to move from Sicily to Ireland, leaving everything. I had found what I was looking for. and now I know that Galway is a beautiful place… wouldn’t say sunny and warm (the picture below is clearly a lucky photo), but people are great and the beer is awesome.
The third “why” is not a specific one. It’s that “why” that we ask our self every single day in the lab. It’s that “why” that makes us be researchers. “Why is this bacterium growing in this way or in that other way?” “Why in Vibrio vulnificus there is this gene but not the other one?” “Why my transformation protocol is not working?” and so on. This is the reason why I love science, because I cannot avoid thinking “why is this happening?” every time that I observe something different, something unusual. This probably answers the first and the second “why” of the story. This it’s not just the beginning of a PhD, this is and it will hopefully be my whole life, but this is another story.