Time flies, and as much as I wish it would slow down a bit a whole year has passed again. Incidentally, it is the first time I’ve written here since I crossed the middle point of my entitled contract. Although this date should not be more than symbolic it has always that slight psychological impact as it marks the moment when one shouldn’t look that much at the starting point anymore but more at the ending one. That’s what I’ve been focusing on in the past year: thinking and acting in a more pragmatic and results-oriented way in order to complete my PhD without requiring a contract extension. And I do think it’s on track!

The first step was to complete the academic training requirements from the University of Glasgow. It was nothing drastic but I was late due to perpetual postponing. Fortunately I was able to mostly rely on the GraWIToN training program organised within the network through several schools. Therefore, after Pisa and Birmingham, I flew to Hanover in last September to join my fellow ESRs during a week of courses on high power lasers. As usual when we gather it was very enjoyable but all the more since the topics of the courses were very close to my field compared to previous schools. It was also my first opportunity to go to Germany after 11 years of learning German so I was quite excited to see how good I could do. Well I hit the ground and went back to English quite quickly…

The next journey was back to Pisa in November and at least there were no expectations there it was going to be English all the way. We gathered all together one last time (or so we thought…) for a project management school which took us a bit away from our usual not-cooperative codes or puzzling  equations and was quite refreshing. We also got the opportunity to work with enthusiastic high school students during a workshop on science communication.

And training-wise that was mostly it; I still had a few more courses to take as it is not allowed to get all the credits from outside the University. It wasn’t that much of an issue as the University also provides a wide range of high quality courses and actually picking only a few was the hardest part. I finally settled on ultrafast photonics, software carpentry and problem solving skills as there were both convenient for me to attend and relevant in my project.

The second step, less trivial was to define where I wanted to end up at the end of my PhD and what I wanted to achieve. It’s been actually quite hard as I have a long lead time for any of my experiments (up to 8 months) so I knew that anything I would decide after May had little chance to be achievable in time. I think I did a good job anticipating (for once!) and around December we sat together with my supervisors and settled on realistic objectives for the thesis. If we did it again now they would probably be somehow reviewed but given the finite nature of the project it is not possible to redefine them every few months and it was important that this was done.

And the last step has been of course to try and work towards these objectives. With a few more secondments at the University of Glasgow among which a 2-month period which was a wonderful experience where work and entertainment perfectly merged, and the background work at Gooch and Housego I managed to advance to being close of completing all my experimental work. Or at least the one that had been planned back in December. I won’t go in the scientific details but in short, I abused my bonds testing a whole lot of their optical and mechanical properties to investigate their suitability for specific products or to get more knowledge on the mechanisms. I also led some cleaning trials to answer issues the company was meeting with their process and some computing work to look at the sensitive issue of thermal stresses in bonded components. There is still some work to do but the largest part has been completed.

So what will I do during my last 6 months? Well first I’m given a few more opportunities to present my work as I’m attending the Einstein Telescope meeting in Glasgow at the beginning of September with all of the ESRs as a wrap up farewell gathering for the GraWIToN project. But moreover I’ll experience a more exotic adventure when I fly across the Atlantic in October for my first time ever as from this year work I could pull together a paper accepted for presentation and publication at SPIE Optifab in Rochester (In New York, not in the UK). It will also be the first time I attend and present at a conference which is outside the Gravitational Waves community. It is not meaningless as one of the purposes of GraWIToN has been to highlight the branching between different fields of research towards a common goal and how the large fundamental research projects can benefit to the private sector even though they are often seen as low return on investment opportunities. Therefore, getting recognition from a different sector and being allowed to present in a conference where most attendants will be coming from the industry is a real achievement to me.  I shall obviously highlight in which frame my work was funded and supervised in a hope to increase the interest of private actors to join such projects.

Speaking of which, as the final point of the project is now in sight, I’ll take the opportunity here to come back on my experience as a Marie Curie Early Stage Researcher and how I see it as a stepping stone for my future career. I’ll stress one more time how grateful I am for all the opportunities I got to travel (I probably travelled more in the past 3 years than in my whole life before), meet people from everywhere and live a wealthy life for my first 3 years in the professional life. At this point it is quite certain that I won’t stay in my host institution after my contract expires mostly because I’m looking forward to go back working in France although I value the experience I had abroad. I haven’t started looking for job opportunities yet because of how uncertain my date of availability is. Of course in an ideal world I’d be able to submit by the end of my contract and be free around February but I’d rather be cautious as I expect it won’t be a straight path. As for where I’ll look for I think I have a strong edge compared to most Ph.D students. And by that I don’t mean skill wise, but because I can make a choice whether to go towards academia or industry with more knowledge on the whys and wherefores than the average. It was something I really valued when I accepted this contract and I’m glad it delivered. So you might wonder to where all that enlightenment leads me. Well for various reasons I’ll probably move away from the academic path and look for a position in the industry or in consultancy. At this point I’ll most certainly lean towards material science to get along with my formation and interests. I don’t especially value it to be in the GW research field but if opportunities arise who knows…

It’s likely the last post that I make here so I’ll once again thank the Marie Curie Programme which funded me, the board of GraWIToN that gave us the opportunity to write here and provided support throughout the project by organizing schools and meetings. And I’ll thank you for following the journey. It was a bit sparse but I hope that it helped picture how the experience was and for those who have the opportunity, maybe encourage you to take part to a similar one.

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