I feel like this is as much of a big deal for me as the “young adult transition” portrayed in the Paramore song with the same name.. (And currently, it is indeed cold outside).

I’m Petra and I’m glad you came across this blog. I’m a fresh PhD student in the group of Dr. Andreas Hejnol at the Sars International Centre for Marine Molecular Biology (“from now on just Sars please!” – I hear you! ?). This awesome group of people (from now on the S9ers after the name of the group S9) studies the development of various marine invertebrates, comparing how their organ systems develop and what it means for our perception of the evolution.

I personally study how group of cells, essential for creating a new individual in sexually reproducing animals, evolved. (Germ cells are a real gem! ?) This means I am interested in when and where in the body do sperms and eggs arise and what it takes for a cell to make a decision to become one of the mentioned types and differentiate. What is more, I get a chance to compare these events in different species. So practically, I get to watch development of diverse marine animals and witness an extraordinary embryonic life from the beginning.

To save you time, there will be a lot of science talk. Hopefully in an engaging, funny and approachable way (I might also throw in some pity talk for myself every now and then, so sorry for that. But hey, it’s internet, right?). Feel free to join me in learning a little something about developmental biology and reproduction of marine creatures (and evaluate my noob blogger abilities as a bonus! ?).

So, what exactly am I going to write about and why should it be YOUseful?

The fascinating world of marine organisms

Along the way, be ready to explore the fascinating world of marine organisms and meet the life forms you may not have encountered before, or never knew had existed 🙂

If you ever wondered what a life of someone who decided to stay in academia after grad school looks like, if you were always interested in “behind the scenes” stories from places of white lab coats (another stereotyped myth or true? Read on and find out ?) or if you are a fellow PhD student who clicked his way here, seeking the online advice how to survive this part of his life (feel free to share, all ears here ?) welcome! You are in the right place. I want to share how my journey of a young scientist unroll and am prepared to let you in on its ups and downs (Or am I? Decide for yourself and let me know how I’m doing). And I will also try to cover a bit what it’s like to be a foreigner in Norway and you might catch some glimpses of beautiful Norwegian nature, too.

Don’t just read science, do science” & Communicate science (if I may)

As a science fan and someone who decided to study biology I, and many others, often faced a very little understanding of what we really do:

i-study-biologyOh, you study biology? So, what are you gonna do afterwards, take care of the giraffes in the Zoo?” “Oh, you’re going to teach! How amazing!” followed by “Oh,..hmm, but why don’t you just sign up for the teaching courses instead?”

Now it is easy to explain that you build houses, or teach, or sell stuff for a living. But try to explain people you decided to follow up the academia path and spend your days wondering about and untangling how the protein domain X interacts with protein Z in the species V, because that is what is behind the differentiation of special cell type considered an evolutionary novelty for that phylum. Chances are they:

  • stop listening after first four words, nod and walk away politely as soon as they can with the intention of never speaking to you again;

  • think of few questions to ask you (yay!) and then give up and walk away; or

  • they make fun of you for being childish and not getting “a real job”.

And, when it comes to the family, studying the life sciences means your grandma is always going to see you as a doctor, and your relatives will ask you these crazy specific questions about human anatomy/ physiology and topics completely out of your scope, you most likely have no idea about.

Therefore, sometimes, it can feel kind of lonely out there to be a person in science. Which is also why we try to encourage you here to get the feeling of what our job is really about. There are popular TV shows about cops, doctors, lawyers, etc. but scientists? None.

Bazinga! ? Of course, there is at least one I know of – and thank God for it – but is it representative? Follow this blog and blog of my fellow CELLas and decide for yourself! ?

  1. How to start a PhD headfirst – It’s not the way you plan it’s how you make it happen 🙂

People always stress how important it is to think long and deep about where your path should follow after you graduate from the university. So, being close to finishing my Master’s, that is what I tried and intended to do.. However, the picture of long pros and cons lists you’d probably expect of someone choosing a future direction of his career was far from the truth. For me, it came down to a single question. PhD abroad vs PhD at the home institution. Embrace the great unknown? Or stay in the comfort zone and build my future on a familiar ground? That was the question. The thing is, I have always found these pros and cons lists biased and largely affected by one’s true preferences and desires. Why to bother waiting for the end of the match when the referee is clearly cheering for one team? So off I went, towards new adventures!!

Without being fully aware of what it means and how extremely lucky I was, I found myself in Bergen, starting as a new PhD student and an EvoCELL fellow. I feel like this is the right time to give you a few necessary (not necessarily funny) facts:

  1. Sars centre in Bergen did not get its name from the SARS virus – a respiratory disease causing coronavirus – but was named after Norwegian marine biologists, father – Michael Sars and his son – George Ossian Sars, who lived in the 19th century. So now you know too.

  1. Bergen is the second largest city in Norway. Also called the city of seven mountains because of its lovely surroundings (But why 7?!). What can be seen as less lovely is the amount of rainfall we get here, which is why Bergen is also known as the city of rain. Meaning we can easily go several days in a row without seeing the sun (true and sad story) BUT making it a perfect place for dancing in the rain!!

  1. EvoCELL is a network of wonderful people with the common noble goal:

-> To know more about how we EVOlved! And by we, I mean a system of diverse, highly coordinated and busy functioning cool microtowns – the CELLs. <-

If you wandered through scary streets of internet all the way to here, I am pretty sure you already know where to find more info about it. But just in a nutshell.. It is part of Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Networks, funded by EU funds Horizon 2020. The fellowship supports young scientist wannabes, such as myself, recruited to top notch groups mainly from the field of marine developmental biology and genomics.

  1. Even numbers. I love even numbers. Hence the dots.. Don’t ask me why, ask yourself why you don’t.

Petra KovacikovaNow, I am not saying that the way I got myself this fancy title “Early Stage Researcher” is the most ideal one. Neither that I am the one who made it happen. But who knows? I truly believe that some things in life are just meant to work out and you will somehow find yourself exactly in places you are supposed to be.