What does it take to be a good scientist? The first thing that comes to mind is, of course, commitment to study and master your discipline, but that's not the end of the story. A broad spectrum of the so called “soft skills” are required nowadays to succeed with a science career, and we, who will guide the research tomorrow, need to be specifically trained for that.

The “GraWIToN” project aims to prepare a new generation of early stage researchers to take the lead in the future of gravitational wave detection science. In practice, it translates into funding doctoral studies for 13 students, collaborating with the most prominent institutions in Europe involved in GW detection. A couple of times a year, the students are taken away from their home institutions and brought together at schools. The idea is that of providing them with a common knowledge base of the core topics about GW science, but also to make sure they are trained with the soft skills that are sometimes overlooked by universities. Networking is also fundamental for a scientist, and such schools offer the best environment to get into contact with peers and teachers from different countries and institutions.

The 1st GraWIToN school has been a very intense experience. It is not easy to leave everything back to face three weeks of full immersion in hard science. It was definitely not a holiday, but it was worth the effort!

Let's start from the formal courses: a lot of different topics have been introduced by the most qualified people, who worked actively in the very fields they were teaching about. For almost every of them, you could clearly tell the passion as they were going on talking about their science, and I think that provided me a good motivation to carry on with what I do. Sometimes, when I try to explain my studies to non-physicists (maybe you call them “normal people”) I feel it is very difficult to communicate what I do. Being in an environment where you could see so many affirmed scientists who have made your same choices, makes you hope a bit that it is actually possible to pursue a physics career up to the point that it becomes your job. Like a true, recognised, job.

To go back to the courses, so many different subjects have been discussed during the school that every time I think about all of them I am amazed at how complicated this type of science is. It will be truly a miracle when the first gravitational wave will be detected, because so many aspects need to be taken into account, and for every little of those aspects you need people properly trained to understand the problems and devise solutions. It is important that everybody works hard to bring a piece of the puzzle, but cooperation is at least as much as crucial in order for the puzzle to be completed: that's where networking and communication come into play. This school allowed us ESRs to meet, and, given the relatively closed environment and the long duration of the school, even to develop close relationships between each other. I think this will remain as the most invaluable result of the School.

Communication deserves some consideration by itself. Working close to each other, going out for a beer, playing together with balloons and spending time at the ping pong are all great ways to establish contacts.

But, when in your scientific career you will want to exploit such contacts to collaborate you will have to communicate effectively with each other, in a clear way and without ambiguities. Sometimes you need to communicate to a colleague who is not exactly into your field, and often you need to talk to people who have no scientific background at all (remember the “normal people”?).

The science communication and outreach courses were the distinctive feature of this school, and they in fact offered me a perspective that was rather new. We learnt about talking in public, putting then in practice what we learnt with stand-up 3 minutes science talks. We also had to produce several written works, and a panel about the Virgo experiment. One day, we are expected to participate in TED Talks (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfYloEifk2o) and Science Events, write in blogs and engage people, politicians and decision-makers about the importance of our science.

But all good things come to an end, and eventually we had to leave Arno's banks and the leaning tower to head back to our institutions.

At the University of Glasgow, I was lately busy with measurements of absorption from some silicon samples doped with other materials (for example Indium). We want to understand how impurities affect the optical properties of silicon, and in particular the optical absorption as a function of temperature. It is important because it could give us some hints on how to tweak such physical properties in materials used to build the very demanding mirrors we use in aLIGO and will use for ET.

At every step, I made stupid mistakes and I got corrected by my experienced supervisors. I put into practice their advice, and come out with a good result. Turns out that a sample I measured gives a lower absorption that thought, and that in turn makes better looking other results we have had taking that sample as a reference. Exciting!

Cool mirror coatings are coming. We learn new physics and now we are learning also how to best tell it to you. Are you ready to listen?

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