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I, together with my labmates went to The Netherlands last Monday and Tuesday to attend the Dutch Plant Science Meeting in Lunteren. It was my first trip outside Germany which adds up to my excitement. We started on a car from Max Planck at 07:00 and arrived at the De Werelt Hall at about 09:00.

It was a full 2-day conference- some talks are very nice and interesting. Most are very informative. We listened and learned from the “stories” of other scientists- their projects, their methodologies and their strategies in coming up with their scientific produce.  And this makes me wonder about my project and how I would author my very own story. This, for the next 3 years or so, is the goal to achieve.

It was also intriguing how scientists behave and act. It mostly is about “how to do science” really. And how to survive in this scientific world.  To make a name, to be recognized, to be accepted by the community, and as noble as it is, to make a contribution to the never-ending world of discoveries, innovations, and inventions.

This got me thinking, am I really for this?

Do I have a room for breakthroughs and scientific bonanza?  I am not good enough- this is what I’ve always believe.  And will never be, I guess. The future in this world is still fuzzy. I still can not  see through it.  But somehow… somehow God put me here and I enjoy being here.  So perhaps, this is really is the place to be.

So rather contemplate on things, I reveled on it. I took pleasure on being here. I took pride on being privileged to be here. And I  delighted on being favored by the most high God that He poured overflowing blessings on me.

My take homes from this trip are:

1.  My boss is great!  It was my first time to see him present, and oh boy!  he rocked the center stage.  That was a speaker up there. Plus, the very interesting technology he pioneered in plant science.

2. I was inspired big time by all the presentor’s stories and is now dreaming of being a presentor too, one day.

3. Learned that Dutch gets cold lunch of cheese and bread.  While the dinner is protein-rich and warm.

4. Got a taste of my first Dutch beer, generously sponsored by the boss.

5. I saw the giants! 😛  They are really tall. Almost had a stiff neck after talking for almost half hour with two Dutch guys.  They say it’s in the milk. Apparently, I had had too little milk to drink when I was little.  No. I take that back. I am still little.  Hmmm…. when I was younger.  Now that’s more appropriate. *sigh*

5. I fell in love at the first sight of The Netherlands. The scenery at least in Lunteren is captivating.  That is my kind of place- vast greenery, country houses, wide yards, the gardens, the barns, the horses, and oh! the smell :P.  The misty feel of the place early morning upon our arrival added up to the mystic mood and fairytale touch.

6. Not to forget the scientific take homes, of course. Well, it’s just surprising to be hearing a lot about comparative genetics, evolution, and next generation sequencing! Hmmm… perhaps the next generation sequencing is not surprising after all.

7. Papers and awards makes one scientifically more attractive. But I must add, scientifically more attractive, may even mean physically more appealing.  Well, at least for me!

On our way to The Netherlands, thanks Mr. Navigator!

De Werelt, Lunteren, where the meeting was held

That's my boss doing his presentation.

The poster hall

Time for the infamous Dutch lunch

Dutch "cold" lunch of bread, cheese, and salad

We also did a bonus side trip to Wageningen University.  We toured the Laboratory of Phytopathology, greenhouses, the SOL lab, and took lots of pictures!

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The IMPRS PhD program in the Max Planck Institute holds a retreat once a year, attended by all the students as well as the supervisors/teachers. And March 28-30, 2011 was my first retreat. It was held at Hotel Nassau Oranien in Hadamar.

I do not know what to expect. But I know that I need to give a 20-minute talk or presentation about my project.  Every student should. And we will do this for the next 3 days.  It does not sound a lot of fun, does it? Nevertheless, I was excited.  The week before the said retreat, I was already looking forward to it, even though I was not prepared for my talk until the very last night before my presentation.  I was scheduled to present on the last day, so I thought, I still have some time to prepare during the retreat itself.

I was excited.  To take pictures, what else? (!).  I just bought this new camera just in time for my retreat. And hell yeah!  I  made myself lots of pictures.  And beautiful photography it was!  (more photos can be seen here!)

Aside from my photography, I actually enjoyed the talks given by my classmates.  I admired them for the work they have done.  I admired me, for getting myself into such a beautiful PhD program.  And I praise and thank God for this wonderful opportunity He has given me.

I learned a lot from my classmates’ presentations. I enjoyed the discussions and exchange of ideas after every talk.  I embraced the opportunity to interact with the professors and scientists. I delighted in smart talks with beautiful smart people of our very own scientific community. I savored the meals (specially the fish and sea food dishes) served at our hotel. I celebrated the visit to the lovely town of Hadamar. And I cherished the bonding times with my mates.

And so, until the next retreat!

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The path to becoming a scientist

Wow, I actually survived the first retreat!  Thank God.

Although I have not gotten over the hang of it, today is “back-to-work” day.  I have to admit I somehow missed the lab and my labmates. Seriously. That should not come as a surprise actually.

So as much as I want to share and write about my experiences during the retreat, I do not have much time to do so at the moment.  I need to be back to the lab remember?  Nevertheless,  I will show you some snapshots I took during the retreat.  I think pictures speak louder than words. So enjoy the photos as much as I did enjoy taking and admiring them!  May these photos lure you into our world.  So go on, come on in, and maybe, just maybe, you can join us in our travel into the PhD world!  It can be fun, you know? Believe me, please.

I will post some more retreat stuff this weekend. I promise.

The first Arabidopsis plant seen during the retreat. Thanks to Maarten 😀

Parasitic plants growing on tree branches; that looks like bird nests from afar. Interesting?

I've learned that hotels here in Germany, perhaps especially in religious regions, provide bibles in every room.

The view from our hotel room- the big mansion on the left is a private music boarding school for boys.

The conference hall on the second day of the retreat

"Time for coffee- Do stupid things faster with more energy" 😀

Caffeine is a regular part of the PhD life, at least for me.

A picturesque view of the small lovely town of Hadamar

Lovely Hadamar

Ah... the sound of dripping water!

A church on a hill

On the church wall

Stained church window in black and white

The city hall of Hadamar at 10 minutes before 18:00 in the evening

The PhDs on their walk looking around admiring the city

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The Karneval season has been started today. Where people dress up in every costume imaginable, drink like there’s no tomorrow, party until the wee hours, and do every possible things conceived.  This season, also known as the “fifth” season of the year, is a crazy season.  This is according to what I have heard (and read) so far.

 

I am experiencing this for the first time and I am glad Cologne and its people has not failed me (yet).  It has managed to cope with my expectations and I am anticipating more of this “craziness” for the next days to come.

 

The institute had catered a mini Karneval party today at 11:11. Interesting costumes coloured and flavoured the campus. The scientists dressed up! Hoooray! I was not quite sure how a Karneval party is gonna be like in a science community like ours until I saw the scientists proudly staging their creative costumes!  This is enlightening and I am proud of my very own scientific community here.  Germany has held up its name, well, at least for me!  (Fun and carefree is what I define Germany.)

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Two cats (or bosses) and five rats (labrats or “rats” who work in a lab) went to Winterberg on a Wednesday morning, on official business, using the institute’s car (shhhh!) for skiing. Fun in the snowy mountain filled with evergreen trees with their everblooming ever green green leaves decorated beautifully with fresh snow like a powdered sugar atop a chocolaty cupcake.  (They looked fantastic!) It was a gloomy freezing (!) day. Nevertheless, the ski resort was filled with people, mostly Dutch from the neighbouring The Netherlands, as evident of their yellow plated cars, as opposed to the white plated ones of Germany.  The two female rat ski rookies were lucky enough to be tutored on Skiing 101 by Cat #1.  And there we went trying our way for skiing.  Skiing is hard work!  A very hard work.  Much harder than being in the lab playing labrats. Even harder than doing an experiment.

That’s what I thought. At least in the first hour or two. Of trying to learn which is horizontal versus vertical.  Which is downhill, and which is uphill. Learning to bend forward and not leaning backward, where the former means you go faster (which is scary! and even made scarier by the fact that I may hurt people who BTW is not covered by the shitty health and accident insurance policy in Germany.  Are people hearing me? Do something about this please!), while the latter means you stumble down with your battered butt into the cold snow which, BTW melts in your ass and gets your battered butt wet (!).  Well, as I’ve said, that is what I thought – hard work.

After an exhausting hour or two, the two rookies gave their battered butt a break and decided to stock up energy for later.  Nibbled on some comfort foods, high energy of sort, Currywurst mit pommes (Sausage with potato fries) and heiße Schokolade trinken (hot chocolate drink).  After getting full, we set our minds and mentally run the “Skiing-is-fun program”. We bought our lift passes, went up the hill and tried skiing down.  This we did for the next 3 hours or so. After indefinite number of falls (which I hate because it is very hard to get up as your legs and feet have very limited movement, and I am too embarrassed to be picked up by the boss, I mean Cat #1, every time I fall), I started enjoying the “play” as I learn to balance, ski down, go faster, snow plow, turning left and right to create beautiful curves, slowdown and to break.  Oh boy, I was loving the slopes! It was so much fun!  The cats and the rats were all very tired and happy by the end of the day. The two rookies, especially, have battered, aching, exhausted, at-the-verge-of-hypothermia bodies, but a refreshed mind. Our bodies ached for at least 2 days, but it was all worth it.  Who gets to have a hard core scientist as a ski trainor anyway? Not so many I guess.

Ski rental, 10 euros

Lift Pass, 16 euros

Currywurst mit pommes and heiße Schokolade trinken, 10 euros

Smiles on our faces, fun bonding time together, refreshed mind, PRICELESS.


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