Hello everyone! My name is Alana Cutliffe and I am one of the Early-Stage Researchers on the “Protection against Endocrine Disruptors” or “ProtectED” Project. The Project aims to further research the effects of certain chemicals – termed “endocrine disruptors” – that have the ability to interfere with our hormones.

I am based at Queen’s University Belfast but have just recently returned from a four-week epidemiology secondment at the Norwegian Institute for Public Health (a Partner Institution of the Project) in Oslo. Under the tutelage of Dr. Merete Eggesbø, I got an insight into what an epidemiologist does – in the context of the studying the effect of maternal exposure to chemicals on offspring health. The skills I learned here will help me better critique human studies on the topic of endocrine-disruption.

The secondment was more than the just the acquisition of technical skills, however: it was four weeks full of adventure, funny moments and friendly people. And, of course, LOTS OF SNOW!!! When I first arrived, it was minus 10 degrees Celsius – the lowest temperature I’ve ever experienced – and there was inches upon inches of snow. My two layers of Belfast-bought gloves didn’t quite do the business at keeping me warm and I spent the first few days slipping and sliding about the place. Thankfully, my “AirBnB” Host was very helpful, and I soon got kitted out with gloves, hats and shoe-spikes (to give more grip when walking) at a well-known outdoor shop called “XXL”.

Norwegians seem to spend more time outside than they do inside. Despite very comfortable heated floors and heaters indoors, and irrespective of the weather, people always seemed to be out and about. When I first arrived at my apartment, I was greeted a by a seven-year-old – ski’s attached to his feet – jumping on a trampoline (this is some form of ski practice, apparently). Instead of being in prams, small children were often pulled-along by their parents in tray-like sleighs. One day, I came back to see AN ADULT lying with her iPad in the ten-inch-deep snow, without a care in the world (in Ireland, this practice is usually reserved for sunny weather).

The workplace had equally friendly people, with a strong “work-life balance” attitude.They were quite an international bunch and I got to know them at lunch (usually taken at 11.00), at “Friday Cake” and at Department Meetings. I had a great colleague and friend in my fellow ESR, Anteneh, with whom I shared an office (I’m used to sharing an office with fifteen people, so this was a bit of change). My supervisor, Merete, also organized several social occasions such as sleighing (followed by hot chocolate and cream), a walk up a snowy hill (to see the views of Oslo) and dinner at her house; at the latter occasion, we had a special minimally-polluted fish (“Skri”) that only is available around February-time.

While the working language was English (and most Norwegians also spoke English on the streets), I did happen to find myself in all-Norwegian settings now and then: most notably, the day-long logistic regression course I took turned-out to be delivered entirely in Norwegian (with the slides being English)!! So, while I’m not sure on the words for “hello” and “goodbye”, I now can recognise technical words such as “exposure group” (“eksponeringsgruppe”) and outcome (“utfall”). This was an experience, to say the least: Anteneh said he would have left after five minutes!

Outside of the office, I also did my own exploring. Along with two other ESRs (Maria and Vittoria), I went to a well-known Jazz Club (“Blå”) in the City Centre where the quirky jazz band has been playing every Sunday for the past ten years. Maria also invited me to have drinks with her colleagues and to go see “Three Billboards” (in English, subtitled in Norwegian) in the cinema (called the “Colosseum”, because of its huge screen). We ate at an Indian Restaurant (“Curry and Ketchup”) and had chocolate covered crisps (called “Smash”) during the film (I only had a few, because I wasn’t too fond of them). On my last weekend, my sister and my mother came to visit; we had a jam-packed day of Fjord tours, a visit to the Viking Museum, a visit to the Vigeland Sculpture Park and fine dining along the pier (“Aker Brygge”)!

Overall, the experience was eye-opening and highly enjoyable. I was sad to leave and am looking forward to visiting again (all fifteen early-stage researchers will be attending a Winter School in December).

“Tusen takk” (“thank you very much”) to all the staff at QUB and NIPH for this amazing opportunity!

Alana

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