By Dennis Metze (University of Vienna)

March 24, 2021. It’s another day working from home and the sun is shining through my window. My laptop is on my desk next to a few plants and a lot of sticky notes on the wall in the background. I have just created a word document and written a few lines until I start reading them out loud to help me think: “In June 2020, I started my PhD at the University of Vienna. Since then, I have achieved the following milestones: ….”. – I stop and stare at the screen. That’s when it hit me! – “June, July, August, September, October, November, December, January, February, March”. I’m holding up all of my fingers in front of me and realize: “It’s been ten months! Has it been ten months already?” After freaking out for a minute or two and a short breathing exercise, I start to calm down and tell myself: “Okay. Pull yourself together and think back! What’s been happening for the past year?”

I moved to a new city during a global pandemic, spend the first day of my PhD working from home, and did so for more than half of the time ever since. While that doesn’t sound too promising, I’ve also learned and experienced a lot of new things. Of course, the first months were challenging, and I felt lost on many occasions. Restricted lab access, limited contact with more experienced colleagues, and procrastination resulted in a longer lag phase. I was afraid of not living up to my own expectations and sometimes felt  disappointed in myself. After a while, I began to understand that being too hard on yourself is not the way to go. It probably never is but even less so if one has to deal with a global pandemic and the isolation that goes along with it. Being more kind and patient with myself helped with adapting to the new normal and enjoying what I’m doing. Also, being surrounded by open and supportive colleagues and supervisors has made a big difference.

My main task for the past months was to learn and further develop a method to quantify the growth of individual microbial taxa in environmental samples with minimum disturbance. It’s exciting to connect microbial community data with activity patterns. In August 2020, I was lucky enough to visit the ForHot site in Iceland together with a few other ESRs. We had a great time working together. Therefore, I’m looking forward to having Coline and Biplabi for their secondment in Vienna and helping Fabrizzio with his pulse-labeling experiment in the summer.

Since the beginning of my PhD, I learned to be more organized, to make realistic plans, and to actively take part in determining the direction of my project. However, I also learned that in order to do my best, practicing yoga or exploring new foods are just as equally important. “My best” is not a predefined entity. It fluctuates and changes on a daily basis. Based on that, I adjusted my personal definition of a successful day. And sometimes I even think to myself: “Maybe you’re doing just fine.”