-By Michael

I arrived in Canberra a little bit more than a year ago, in February 2015.

I had to wait a bit to actually start doing academic related stuff, because thanks to someone at the Bangkok airport I had the most terrible flu I ever had and I couldn’t do much for about a week.

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Once we got this obstacle out of the way, I started to go to RSES, seeing the place, and meeting people. I had no supervisor: my supervisor to be, Daniela Rubatto, was moving to Europe.

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I wasn’t keen on moving there with her, because I just got out of the northern hemisphere! I want some kangaroos and koalas in my life. Instead, I started knocking on doors saying: “oh hi there, can I be your student?”

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One of the most striking thing about RSES is its size. The thing is huge. It’s a complex of several buildings, with hundreds of people. For myself, coming from a small geology department in a university somewhere in the deserts of the Middle East, this was overwhelming. At first I had a hard time navigating the labyrinths of RSES, and I still get confused trying to get to the SEM without taking any wrong turns.

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Another striking thing was how smart everyone seemed. There are 3 seminars every week with people talking about all kinds of stuff that did not mean much to me. Some scientist was talking about something, then another scientist goes “hmmm… interesting…” and nods the head. Really? But I don’t understand a thing! How can this be interesting??

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But those were experienced scientists. What seemed the most amazing to me, were the other PhD students. They would go on seminars and ask questions! And smart questions, not just stupid questions. How do they know that? I didn’t even know that you can know the thing you needed to ask that question. I didn’t even know this could be a question. This gave me a bit of impostor syndrome. Everyone knows stuff that I don’t!

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The good news is that with time you actually learn stuff. So in one seminar you understand 5%. In the next one you get 10%. You also notice that some of the questions asked by some big-shots are actually pretty stupid. You start understanding what people are talking about!

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As you progress, you even have opinions. So you advance from understanding what people are talking about to understanding why people are talking about a subject. You connect the dots from something you heard in a previous seminar, a paper you read, an experiment you did. And then you ask a question.

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And then the speaker goes…

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Is it possible that I’m now one of those students who know stuff? After slightly more than one year, I definitely know more that I did before. And the more I know, the more I realise I don’t know. This is what makes science so fun: there are so many things out there waiting for someone to discover and understand them.

All this done over one year. I still have at least two years until I should graduate. Impostor syndrome no more! I am confident that I can successfully become a scientist, which is exactly the point of studying in a PhD program.

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