This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No. 956851.

Together mode

A recent experience made me painfully aware of how much context matters – imagine you’re sitting in a big online meeting, listening to one of your peers present, and suddenly a message notification pops up on the shared screen: “The project manager looking down on all of us”. What would your first reaction be? How would you feel about the person who wrote that message? Chances are, you would be shocked that anyone could be so rude and feel quite embarrassed for them (and rightly so, in my opinion!)…

As the one having written that message, I felt absolutely mortified and would have loved to just sink into the floor and disappear. I had shared the fateful caption along with following screenshot from Teams “Together mode”, hoping to bring a smile to Inês, who had worked hard to prepare an awesome presentation for what would seem like an empty room… But all the group saw was the preview text, out of context, certainly leaving room for interpretation. Thankfully, our project manager was very understanding and took it with a smile and a good laugh (to my great relief) when I explained the prickly situation to her.

“The project manager looking down on all of us”

Looking back on this experience, I was reminded of a German saying that would roughly run as “the opposite of well-done is well-meant” in English. How true that was in this case! It got me thinking about how all of us ESRs are “out of context” all over Europe, trying our best to fit in – not only scientifically, but also socially, culturally, and linguistically. It is so easy to feel like one’s constant efforts are more well-meant than well-done, especially when they are not necessarily recognized…

For this reason, I would like to take the opportunity to recognize how my fellow ESRs have inspired me throughout the COLOTAN project so far. Doing a PhD is about growing scientific knowledge, yes – but perhaps even more so about growing as a person. Doing a PhD is also nothing you do alone – science is all about collaboration, all about “Together mode”! Every time I feel stuck in any area of my PhD, the other ESRs lead by example, no matter the context.

Take social context, for example – Alen was a newcomer to an already established social group, something my introverted self would surely have overanalyzed a million times over and likely shied away from. Alen, however, took it in stride and joined the throng, jumping right into the ESR world. I would surely benefit from less overthinking and more doing from time to time!

When I am tempted to just throw a frozen pizza in the oven and skip the gym because I am stressed, I think of Theo. He is great at setting aside mindful time (despite a busy schedule) to enjoy the small things in life – whether that is quality slow food, walking to and from work every day, or lots and lots of basketball. His example reminds me that just fueling my stress by perpetuating a hectic cycle doesn’t make it go away (like, at all)!

When I feel discouraged looking at all the Greek letter variables in various mathematical formulas, my thoughts shift to Lea, who must feel like that 24/7. I have absolutely no space to complain about needing to learn Swedish (similar enough to German) as an adult. Lea is out there, faced with challenges such as a completely unrelated language, a different alphabet, and a general population that doesn’t automatically shift to perfect English if anything is unclear. She takes the cake for sure!

Katha has taught me about the importance of being independent, and of never giving up on your dreams – it is never too late to try something new and change your destiny. Whether it’s becoming fluent in a new language, making the COLOTAN video, or changing supervisors, she is always up for a new challenge. Good things take time (and, oh, so much patience), but you can make them happen if you put your mind to it!

Since moving to Sweden, I have, at times, worried that my German identity was slowly being overwritten or slipping away. Sebastian, who grew up in the same region of Germany as I did, has shown me that there is no need to fear. Your roots will always be a part of who you are, and moving abroad just means you can share that with the world. That is evident from how he has seamlessly integrated into living in Leuven, flawlessly representing Rhineland-Palatinate in the process!

Signature beach shirts and highly entertaining and yet also highly problem solving-focused presentations are things I have come to associate with Marco. He is ever authentic, and almost ever positive. I have often felt pressured to be whoever others expect me to be, or even drive me to be– but Marco is there to remind me that the best way to go is to just unabashedly be yourself. Bonus points for always lifting everyone up and making them smile!

I have always felt like a huge nerd and honestly a bit weird, but Sydney has shown me that you can both be a scientist and one of the cool kids. He also (literally) wears his hobbies and interests on his sleeve – everyone knows he is the comic addict. If disappearing off into nature, writing poetry, or a borderline unhealthy fox obsession are ever generally considered cool, I will be here on the sidelines waiting… but until then, I will at least try to be better about sharing the things I am passionate about!

Speaking of being passionate, to Alessia, I say: a little fire goes a long way – all it takes is a spark. Enthusiasm is contagious, so don’t be afraid to do your thing. Dance through life, chatter excitedly, and use ALL the Italian hand gestures! I am absolutely terrible and awkward at dancing and small talk, and quite frankly should use my hands/arms/shoulders for a wider range of things than just pipetting and typing motions… But I am all the more inspired when I see people in their element, excelling at these things!

During our time together at AstraZeneca (AZ), Harshad has taught me so much about physiologically based biopharmaceutics modeling (PBBM) – he is an absolute whiz at all the different available software and has made the programs much less intimidating to me! Brainstorming together on an almost daily basis about generating and implementing input parameters has been very giving – as have our lunch and fika discussions about Indian and German culture, history, the news, and world politics. Harshad has kept me in the loop on PBBM, AZ, and the world!

Pedro has shown me that it is okay to live a little, and to treat yourself sometimes. I tend to be frugal and future-focused, so reminders to live in the moment – from time to time – are good to have. And if someone from about as far south as you can get in Europe can withstand a lack of sunshine (mostly due to rain), then I can withstand Swedish winter!

Denny has continually lightened the mood with his easygoing and confident nature, not only by inspiring us to collectively become huge fans of Lidl (photographic evidence to follow). What stands out most to me though is a conversation we had about planning for the future. As the type who likes to have concrete plans for everything – years in advance if possible – nothing terrifies me more than not knowing exactly what I will end up doing for the rest of my life. Denny helped me realize that it’s okay to be a bit worried, but also important not to get hung up on it. Things have a way of working out!

Last, but never least, we have Inês: Her unwavering resolve shows that perseverance pays off, and that being resourceful takes you immensely far. Her kind heart, bravery, and get-it-done attitude have inspired me again and again when I was this close to giving up. Whether it is giving a killer presentation (see photo above) or joining me in sushi behavioral therapy (trust us, it’s a thing), Inês is amazing!

In celebration of my friends,


(Rebekkah Hammar)