Researcher – PhD Student – Mum: Can it be a practicable combination? Of course, yes!

Written by Mariangela Vespa (IZES gGmbH)

My name is Mariangela Vespa, and I am an Early Stage Researcher in the MISTRAL project. I am a PhD Student, but above all, I am a mum. My day alternates between work/kindergarten/baby food/diapers/university.
When I participated in the MISTRAL application process, my baby was just a few months old. It all went very fast, the first email inviting me to an online interview, the second one for an in-person interview in Saarbrücken (Germany), and a final email for an online interview in which they told me that I had got the position. WOW! And now?
After a few months, we moved from Finland (where we lived for 4 years) to Germany. In a next step, we had to find a house and daycare, while in parallel trying to understand where we were, the new language, culture, places, and so on. Everything changed so fast that I could not keep up with it! Yet it went on, flowed, and somehow worked out.
Unfortunately, just as everything seemed in order, the pandemic caused by Covid19 has changed all the balances, again. The kindergartens closed and I started working from home. That period was hard (for many people, I guess) and it was in that moment that we had to readjust all our family and work habits. The wisest decision seemed for us to leave Germany and return for a period to our homeland, Italy. We were sure we could find the comfort there and receive help from our parents. May grandparents be blessed! Therefore, a new phase began, made up of “Wait, I’ll turn off the webcam because my daughter has an urgency”; “Dear colleagues, my daughter wants to say hello to you” etc. Let us say that for a while the limits were not clear: am I working or am I a mother? A little of both, together, from the morning until the evening.
It has been more than one year since I started to work in the MISTRAL project and I feel that everything is settling down. My research on the cumulative impact of the different renewable energies in the people-place relationship is taking shape. My first article from the title “Mental associations between renewable energies, place, cognitions and emotions. A social media analysis on Instagram” is about to be submitted. All the prerequisites to get a PhD at the end of these years at Saarland University have been respected.
All of this was possible thanks to the research team at the Institute for Future Energy and Material Flow Systems (IZES gGmbH) where there is always a great propensity to understand the needs of the others. I am also grateful to our MISTRAL family, who organizes events trying to feel more in contact and taking care of us.
Concluding, the PhD student- researcher- mum combination is scary; it scares me too. However, it can be done. In my opinion, the important things are to have the right people next to you, a lot of willpower, and learn to slow down when the rest of the world goes too rapidly.