By Rannva Danielsen,
One of the many benefits of being part of a European training network is that we get to go on secondments. For those not familiar with EU jargon, a secondment is basically the same as a work placement. I am doing my PhD with Syntesa, a private company in the Faroe Islands, so for my first secondment I wanted to experience being a PhD student in an academic environment. The Arctic University of Norway, also called UiT, is part of the SAF21 network, does excellent research on fisheries and a few colleagues from SAF21 are also based there so choosing UiT was easy.
UiT’s College of Fishery Science is based in Tromsø, which is known for one thing: the northern lights. Tourists flock here and I see why. Not only do the Auroras regularly dance across the starry sky but the landscape is some of the most beautiful I have seen. I arrived in Tromsø on a dark Sunday evening in January, and I couldn’t quite believe my luck when I saw the breath taking view from my temporary bedroom window.
Naturally, I did not travel all the way to northern Norway for the northern lights, the views, or to have a go at being a ‘regular’ PhD student for a few weeks. I wanted to take courses, which I am unable to do in the Faroe Islands. More specifically I wanted to take statistics. I have somehow managed to get through five years of university without statistics and now it was time.
The introductory course in statistics was specifically for PhD students and it was chock-full, so I wasn’t the only who managed to avoid statistics for so long. I had taught myself a bit of statistics before the course and read the course book, and after a few days I concluded that statistics isn’t as difficult as popular culture will have you believe. I actually found it quite fun because it allowed me to do a lot of new things, and now, a few months later, I have been able to use the knowledge I gained in Tromsø and perform statistical analyses. That was my main objective with a secondment at UiT.
Of course, I gained a lot more than that from my time in Tromsø. I took other courses too, e.g. in communicating science. I made new friends and new memories. I went bowling with UiT’s PhD student organisation and drank coffee with the other PhDs at 10 every morning. I saw resting humpback whales in the bay. I experienced the wonder of the first sunrise after months of hiding under the horizon. I went downhill skiing. I tried cross-country skiing to work but failed and ended up taking the bus, skis in hand (skiing is second nature to Norwegians and they found it hilarious when I recounted my morning’s adventure to them). I saw a reindeer race, petted huskies and tried (more successfully) to steer a dogsled. I even ate their famous oven pizza and cream cheese, and learned to accept that beer costs a fortune. I basically had a good go at being Norwegian (minus the sweaters, they are prohibitively expensive).
In hindsight, the most important thing I took home is a considerably bigger network. This fact only dawned on me a few weeks ago when I found myself at dinner with about 30 scientists in connection with the ICES ASC conference. I looked around and realised that a lot of the people around the table I had met in Tromsø or through people in Tromsø. That is because during my time at UiT, I had the opportunity to informally discuss my research with scientists who work in the same field as me, and now I know that if I ever need their advice or have ideas for collaborative projects, I can just pop them an email. You can’t quantify the value of that (but if you know a study, do send it my way). To me, the whole point of the ‘European Project’ and H2020 is to connect people from different countries and build bridges between nations, and in that sense my secondment at UiT couldn’t have been more successful.