By Fabrizzio Protti (University of Innsbruck)

While writing this, I realized that it has been exactly a year since I started my PhD journey. A year marked by new experiences, steep learning curves, and challenges. As all we know, 2020 was defined by the Covid pandemic. Indeed, the day I had planned to move to Austria (from Germany) to start working on my PhD, the borders closed!  So that’s how I started my PhD journey: at home-office and zooming. Quite a sudden way to start and getting used to what would become the new normal during these pandemic times.

Fortunately, the situation improved, and I managed to move to Innsbruck in mid-May. Due to easing in the covid regulations, I had the chance of working some days at the Institute and finally get to know the members of my new research group! Even some social gathering was allowed and some beers after work were a good way to start the summer.

During August-September, I had the chance to visit the ForHot site in Iceland and start our fieldwork despite Covid, so I can consider myself quite lucky! We shipped and installed up to 200 kg of scientific equipment to Iceland to start our monitoring of soil CO2 fluxes along a soil temperature gradient. It was quite an intensive field campaign, with several challenges on the way, but I am happy we manage it in the end. Thanks also to Palli who has been frequently checking in the field that everything is going fine. During this field campaign last summer, I also overlapped with a few ESRs, and it was really nice to finally meet them in person and in Iceland! I really enjoyed our time together and I look forward to new field campaigns together!

In winter I started a second project of my thesis: a soil incubation experiment, where we assess long-term warming response in topsoil and subsoil on the mineralization of soil organic matter after the input of fresh carbon sources mimicking belowground plant carbon inputs. This was also a heavily intense experiment, but I managed it thanks to the big help of team members of our research group in Innsbruck.

Now I am planning for the next field campaigns this spring and summer! A big experiment is on the way, which will bring me new experiences – and challenges for sure! But hey, that’s what a PhD is about, not? So, let’s endure and grow in the process.