MSCA Fellow and the Lockdown

In order to fully understand what it means to be an MSCA Fellow in the Lockdown, it is important to understand what it meant to be an MSCA Fellow before. Having a Ph.D. position in an MSCA funded project is considered as some kind of “special opportunity” among the young scientists, but almost no-one who hasn’t experienced it can tell exactly why, and what makes it so special.

Coming from a pure science background and from an economically challenging region, I didn’t have much of a travel experience or inter-field connections before my Ph.D. program in European Industrial Doctorate. During an interview, my supervisor warned me, that I would have to travel all around Europe to attend the different courses and interact with professionals from different applied or industrial backgrounds.

My first reaction was a polite chuckle, since, how in the world, could such a thing require a warning when this sounded like an enormous advantage of the project?! Little did I know, that this would be the beginning of eighteen months of my life, which were simultaneously one of the most amazing, but also one of the most stressful.

For those first eighteen months of the project, I felt like an anchor-less ship, always in motion. Almost every month, I had to travel somewhere. Sometimes it was a one-week course or training, sometimes a conference or a workshop, sometimes it was a visit back home to friends and family, sometimes it was a complete relocation from one country to another, but there was always somewhere to go, some travel to plan.

And yet, I was not alone. At all those courses I was meeting ten other fellows who had the same experience, the same amount of travel, the same feeling of constant motion. The same experience of being in so many towns and hearing so many languages, that even remembering which word was “hello” in a particular place was becoming a challenge. This is what was making us so “special”, this is what was simultaneously our curse and our blessing.

The world became smaller for us. Everything in Europe was within arm’s length, just one step to take. We had the feeling of having everything within the reach. There was no place we couldn’t have gone to, no knowledge or professional opinion that we could need and not be able to obtain. Everything was accessible!

And then suddenly, comes the pandemic and the lockdown. If our favorite food is not sold in our closest supermarkets, it is not accessible anymore, if we are not in the same town as our family, we can’t see them for months. Even if we live next to our offices and universities, they are out of reach. Even if we live next to our favorite leisure places, their doors are shut tight. We might not be disconnected, but we are isolated!

So how does an MSCA fellow feel under the lockdown? I think like an explorer, whose ship is damaged in the storm and who is stuck in a remote village. Who knows that other explorers are still out there, fighting the storm, and who is waiting for them to come to aid. Just like we are waiting for our fellow scientists, doctors, and pharmacists, who had been on the front lines of the battle against pandemics, to defeat it, and bring the world within the reach once again!

About the Author

Giorgi Rukhaia is an early-stage researcher (ESR3) in the ROMSOC project. He is affiliated with the Institut national de recherche en informatique et en automatique (INRIA) in Paris, France and working in collaboration with Signify (former Philips Lighting), the Netherlands. In his research project he is working  on an Optimal Transportation computational approach and the development of numerical algorithms for the inverse free-form optical surfaces design using extended sources.