Being a visitor in my own country

Posted in: Internships & visits

Isabella is a final year PhD student working with Dr Petra Cameron on new materials for photovoltaic and water splitting applications

The CSCT offers you the amazing chance to spend some time working in a different institute during your PhD. It may sound like a joke, but as a 100% pure Italian spending the last 7 years of my life living out of my country, I decided to take the advantage of this internship to finally find out what working in my own country is like.

I started looking for placements in Italy and it turned out that one of the world’s leading research group in my field is actually based in the super cool and fashionable Milan! I spent 12 weeks as a visitor at the Centre for Nanoscience and Technology (CNST) at the Italian Institute of Technology. At CNST in Milan, I worked on fabricating and investigating thin-film materials for photovoltaic applications, and when I say thin, I mean really thin – about 300 nm, just to give you an idea a human hair is about 100 µm… 1000 times thicker than my thin-films! Particularly I studied the luminescence of these materials, which means their capacity to transform invisible forms of energy into emitted visible light. Why is it useful?? Depending on the intensity and properties and evolution of this emitted light, very important information about such thin-film materials can be explored that otherwise would be impossible to see. Practically, it means I spent lot of time playing around with some light sources, mirrors and lenses in order to perfectly align the laser beam to the surface of my thin-film, collect the emitted light and quantify it.

It has been an amazing experience and here is a list of thoughts about my short stay in Italy and how it feels being back in the UK…

Happy to be in Italy because…

  1. CNST is a great multidisciplinary environment that gave me a lot of experience. Being a private research centre, I was not really based in a department, but was constantly surrounded by physicists, engineers, chemists, material scientists - being among such diverse backgrounds and perspectives was really inspiring and strengthened my own work!
  2. At CNST, technicians are available 24 hours per day, 7 days a week. They are amazing people that made my life as a researcher way easier (and happier – thanks Marti…I miss you so much)
  3. I missed having at least 3 long coffee breaks during the day. One in the morning, another one after lunch and a final very important afternoon one. If you are not part of these coffee breaks you are not part of the centre! Also, it was very common that a single coffee break turned into a strong brainstorming session, where the most brilliant ideas and collaborations came to life!
  4. I lived and worked in Milan, which is only 1 hour train journey from my hometown, where my family and best friends live. Being able to be back home without the needing to book a flight in advance (and then trying not miss the flight) was priceless!

Happy to be back in the UK because…

  1. Italy is a country full of wonders, winter time means mountains and skiing! Too much of a distraction, especially if you are in your last year of the PhD
  2. What do you do after a long day at work in Italy??? Why not having a quick and cheap wine tasting??? Well, that sounds great but my liver and shape thank being back in the UK…also being vegan in Italy turned out to be slightly more complicated than being vegan in the UK!!
  3. Whichever problem you have, sit down, put the kettle on and relax! A nice and warm cup of tea always helps you and makes you stronger
  4. I missed people apologizing to you even when you accidentally bumping into them (did you know that the average British person says ‘sorry’ around 8 times per day?? Amazing). I missed people thanking the bus driver when they get to their stop, I missed the word lovely so much, I missed my understanding and calm supervisor, I missed my beloved cohort and the nice walks and runs and cycles in the English countryside.

So…at the moment lot of contrasting feelings and emotions. Happy to be back but feeling really homesick already. For now, I’ll try just to be focused on finishing off this amazing, happy, stressful, exciting, painful journey called PhD.  And then who knows what’s going happen to me…will I move back to my beloved country? Will I stay here in the UK for a bit longer?? ……I’ll keep you posted!


Posted in: Internships & visits


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