Almost 2 months after the completion of my PhD studies I decided to sit down and write this, my last blog entry, to sum up my experience in the PROTECTED ITN network.

My name is Maria Christou or as friends know me ESR8. Back in April of 2017 I moved to Oslo to start my PhD in the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. Fast forward 3 years and 6 months later I successfully defended my PhD and now friends know me as Dr. ESR8! During my PhD I used zebrafish aka wonderfish to study the effects of anthropogenic chemicals on the physiological, molecular and behavioral level and translated these results to the possible effects on human health and wildlife fish populations.

A lot of things have happened in the years of my PhD. As participants in this international ITN network we were very fortunate to travel and get to know different cities around Europe such as Belfast, Toulouse, Aachen but we also travelled to the other end of the world in Chile. Even if this journey ended after only a week, I consider myself lucky to be in Valdivia in a time where people were demonstrating for their rights and I got to know about their stories firsthand. During the start of 2019 I spent three months in Liege, Belgium for my secondment in Dr. Marc Muller’s lab. Being away from friends and family was not easy and I spent many lonely moments in this city, but Marc and his coworkers made me feel welcome, helped me with my research and we shared many nights out together enjoying the best that Belgium had to offer, beer! Marc, Ratish, Renaud, Thanh and Misch thank you for making me feel part of the lab from day 1.

Being part of an ITN network I got to meet 14 other fantastic people and PhD researchers and made some good friends, Gus, Que, Eli, Solomon and Ajay with whom I shared some very happy moments during the last 3 years. For some of us the PhD struggle is over. Que, Tobi, Chiara, Vittoria, Elizabeth we made it! For the rest that are on the final stretch, keep it up, because it will get brighter on the other side.

What can I say about my last year of PhD. In the year 2020 we were all faced with something that could only be a science fiction scenario, a world pandemic. The first lockdown found me in the beginning of writing my PhD thesis and social distancing meant that I had to go through the long and challenging process locked up in my bedroom/office, trying to keep my sanity while finalizing my thesis. Virtual and outside meetings with friends and family was the only form of support I had that kept me going, and gave me that final push to reach my goal. My supervisors, Erik Ropstad, Thomas Fraser and Jorke Kamstra were also a great help through all the years of my PhD research.

And now that everything is done, I can say with certainty that if I was given the opportunity I would do it all again. The last years, and especially the last one, taught me that I am capable of much more than I give myself credit, the experience, knowledge and friends I met will accompany me forever and I hope that our ITN network can reconnect when the pandemic is over.

From the cold north I wish everyone a Happy and Healthy New Year 2021.


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