Looking out of my window and at the weather forecast for the coming days, it is undeniable that my recent decision to buy a better rain jacket was a good one. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be a little more difficult to tell in advance whether a decision will be right or wrong, especially compared to buying a rain jacket when living in Belgium. However, in the following paragraphs, I will tell you about a decision that turned out to be the perfect one.
In the beginning of this year, I decided to accept the great opportunity to become an early stage researcher and pursue a PhD within the COLOTAN project. For that, I would join the Drug Delivery and Disposition lab at the KU Leuven in Belgium. During the application process, I already had the chance to meet my future supervisors and some colleagues virtually and was very much looking forward to meeting them and the other members of the group in person.
But before that could happen, there were quite a few formalities that needed to be sorted out. I will not go into detail at this point, but would like to applaud my fellow COLOTAN ESRs, especially the ones from non-EU countries, for navigating all the paperwork they had to face!
In March, the time had finally come to move to Leuven. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, I had to quarantine right after my arrival in Belgium. On day seven, I was allowed to leave my apartment for the first time to get tested and when the result came back negative the next morning, I was free to familiarize myself with my surroundings. Leuven really has a lot of great sights and interesting places to offer, so the following days were spent exploring as many of them as possible.
In April, my first day at KU Leuven had come! During the first days, I was introduced to my new colleagues and I quickly realized that this was a good place for me to be! The following weeks, I was able to learn a lot from the other PhD students, especially about conducting clinical studies. During the virtual COLOTAN kick off meeting in June, I met all the other ESRs for the first time and I am looking forward to seeing them in person in the future, what a great group!
For me, the fall had two highlights to offer. The first one was the cycling world championships in Flanders, with the finish in Leuven. As a cycling enthusiast, I was over the moon when I learned that they would pass right in front of my balcony several times and with Belgium being a nation famous for their cycling fans, it was an amazing experience! The second highlight was the UNGAP meeting in Leuven. Hearing all the great lectures and meeting a lot of interesting people was a new and motivating experience and I am looking forward to attending more conferences in the future.
Reflecting on the last couple of months, I can truly say that I feel at home here in Leuven. Even though there are always obstacles to overcome, I know that I am in a supportive environment with amazing colleagues and an interesting research topic!
(Images from top to bottom: Grote Markt, Botanical Garden, KU Leuven Library)