My PhD one and a half year later – a recap

The application process

Hello. I’m Christian, a Ph.D. student at the University of Twente in Enschede in the Netherlands. A long time ago, I dreamed about getting a Ph.D. However, after finishing my Master studies in physics at the TU Dortmund with focus on particle physics, I wasn’t able to get Ph.D. position. But I didn’t want to give up hope, yet. Therefore, I started another Master studies at the FH Münster University – this time in photonics. I took attention especially on topics about optics and lasers including measurement techniques and processing. Since there is also a preliminary studies B.Sc. Engineering Physics and Laser Engineering at that University, there was some knowledge missing but I kept going – also as the Corona years came right at the start of my studies. Studying, experimenting and writing a Master thesis under this conditions was no fun but I could manage together with some colleagues over there.

I started with my applications for jobs before beginning my second Master thesis – including for my current Ph.D. position whose call for applications were forwarded to me by my supervisor of my Master thesis as well as from my bosses as I worked for a small company alongside.  And it was a Ph.D. position with a topic fairly close to what I’m researching during Master thesis. A decision popped then up in my mind: If I apply for this position and I don’t get invited in a later stage of the application process, I should then really give up on taking a Ph.D. path as I knew that this is the best chance that I can get even if it is a more prestigious position in a framework of an EU project.

So I give it a try, applied having reference persons who forwarded the position to me and I heard… nothing – for four months until I received some life sign that they’re sorry that reviewing the applications took so long as there was a large number of applications. They’d love to have an info whether I’m still interested and I answered positively to that mail – in the middle of my master thesis project. And this was the start of the real application as I got invited to a first interview round at short notice in August 2021. Within the next two months, I had then three interview rounds including giving presentations and assignments which are also discussed within the interview rounds. In the end, I got accepted by the end of September or beginning of October 😊. And I was welcomed to a first visit to my workplace by the end of October – still during my master thesis project. They would have also loved me to start in November but I wanted to finish my thesis first so I negotiated to start in mid-December as I needed to find an apartment to rent quite quickly but I got lucky in the end.

My PhD life sofar

So here I am writing this blog to you – one and a half years in. And I can relate pretty much what Kristal has already written in her blog. I’m also not considering myself as not being a fast learner but I follow my goals with a perseverance. I have also my moments where I doubt that I am not good enough and that I don’t deserve the position due to the lack of progress. But your progress is also not always under your control and you’re not omniscient. You’re in a learning process and need to adapt to the current situation. You’d never had got the position if you hadn’t been trusted or otherwise, your supervisor would have let you notice that you’re not suitable. So I proceed giving it my best.

During my PhD there have been some drawbacks: Vital lab equipment for my project keeps breaking down and repairs and deliveries take their time; some illnesses kept me busy; you need to reconsider your experiments resulting in that they more time than anticipated – and all that causes delays in your project and they add up. At least, I have now some results which I can use for my first paper and started to prepare with literature review and analysis. I also did most of the courses that I need to do so that I can save some time later, and I can plan my secondments at FHNW with Dian and at Micronit with Chayan as well as the secondment from Myka from DTU coming to the UT. After rain follows sunshine, you know. 😉

Despite that, there’s also a life beyond your Ph.D. I have also the luxury that work-life balance is also a matter here so that the lab closes after 6 PM which is the end of the ‘normal working hours’. So I have time for cooking, meeting friends and other activities: I’m member of the badminton and the gaming association following my hobbies. In future, I may add some diving and get a certificate for that. I also learn the Dutch and Japanese languages. Dutch – because I want to connect with the people and understand their culture and Japanese – to follow my dream to travel once to Japan and also to get an insight of culture. There might be also a laser conference there and there might be an opportunity to present over there but let’s see first.

Besides the training in Dublin and Copenhagen which I joined, I add a little vacation around the training sessions – sometimes spending some time with my ESR colleagues and some time on my own to explore the areas nearby. The training itself gave me some insight in medical product design and development including some manufacturing processes triggering some ideas I could do in a later stage of my Ph.D. Not many seems feasible with respect to the time that might be left for that and time is a quite valuable resource. But one or two ideas might be included in one of my secondments.

By Christian Herrmann

Christian Herrmann is ESR9. Christian’s project is titled ‘Laser induced periodic surface structures of polymers’.