ESR Blog

7th April 2020

Turning culture shock into a positive experience as a non-EU BioImplant ESR

Syed Wahaaj Ali Rizvi, ESR 11

Moving from familiar to an unfamiliar environment, leaving one’s own country; family and friends, is not the easy decision but curiosity to learn, bright future, a better quality of life, and desire to explore the world supersedes those fears. After moving to a new culture, in the beginning, we feel anxiety, low moods, isolation due to differences in values, climate, food, languages etc. but positive-minded individuals end up learning new and worthy life experiences. I think most of the Non-EU ESRs particularly from the east, are exposed to this phenomenon of culture shock. I would not delve much into what culture shock is because already myriad literature exists about it. Instead I would like to share my few (by the way there are more) experiences about what I found distinctive, avant-garde and unforgettable in IMDEA materials and Spain. I belong to the south Asian country, Pakistan and spent my last two years in an East Asian country, South Korea. Joining IMDEA materials as BioImplant ITN Ph.D. fellow has been a unique experience and since IMDEA is in Spain. . . I was also exposed to a new culture as well.

After moving to IMDEA, I noticed a big difference between Supervisor-Student relationships. For instance, in conversation with my supervisors in the meeting I was attaching the word “Professor” or “Sir” before their name because that is what we do in the east. But it was very shocking for me when my supervisors asked me to call them directly by name. They and the culture of IMDEA made me realize that age or position does not matter, in IMDEA we all are equal. I came to know that this trend exists in Spain and many other EU countries as well. At first glance, this small incidence looks normal but if we perceive it from the eyes of someone from the east then it is something big. Now, I know that by removing the titles, “respect is not compromised” instead it reduces the gap between senior and junior, increases the efficiency of subordinate and boosts up the trust. Another perk of the MSCA BioImplant project is the diverse multicultural exposure. We are 3 BioImplant ESRs in IMDEA materials. Interestingly we all are of different nationalities. I also got a chance to learn a lot from their history, cultures and traditions with a cup of coffee.

Wahaaj_picture 1

Moving to Spain for a Ph.D. is also a great opportunity for tourism. I have visited many historical sites, plazas and parks. I would share an observation from my visit to the Spanish Parliament because what I learned from there was very important for someone from the east. It is very fine architecture built with care. When I went inside the main hall I saw bullet holes on the roof. I was very curious to know why these were there or why have they not repaired it yet? My curiosity aroused and I asked a Spanish friend about it. He told me the story of a failed coup during which many bullets hit the roof. These holes are not repaired even until now because these act as a reminder for the importance and cost of democracy.  That day I understood how crucial democratic culture is and we should work for implementing similar systems in the east which is struggling from coups and inefficient democracies.

Wahaaj_picture 2

Finally, I would close the discussion with remarks that culture shock is a reality and there is nothing bad in experiencing it but it can be tackled by visiting historical buildings and exploring interesting stories attached to them, meeting with people and observing cultural differences from a learning perspective.


19th February 2020

Blossoming at BINI: My First Presentation at an Academic Conference

Kerstin van Gaalen, ESR 4

From 17th-19th of January 2020 we had the chance to present our work at the conference Bioengineering in Ireland. The event took place in the very nice Mount Wolseley Hotel, Spa & Golf Resort in Carlow. We travelled there from Galway, Belfast and Aachen.

After the registration and lunch on Friday afternoon the first talks took place. In the first session four PhD-students presented their work in order to win the “Engineers Ireland Biomedical Research Medal”. The prize goes to a person making a significant contribution to the field of biomedical engineering research. Maybe in the future one of us will have the honour to present our work at this point. The keynote lecture was delivered by Prof Liam Grover (Birmingham), who talked about his experience in bringing a medical device to the market. He presented the development of a fluid gel, used as an eye drop which consists of a protein (Decorin) and has a natural wound-healing effect. Then the sessions of postdocs and PhD-students presenting their work in the fields of Biofabrication, Biomechanics and Cardiovascular, started. The first conference day ended with a delicious dinner and a funny table quiz.

The second conference day directly started with the Horizon2020 session, where we ESRs presented our work. All of us were excited and a bit nervous regarding our first talk at a conference. All of us presented for four minutes with a subsequent one minute of questions. In the first picture it is Flavia presenting her work on “A Bioresorbable textile based bone scaffold for critical sized defects”. We all performed very well, so we were happy in the end and able to enjoy the rest of the conference day. Four more sessions took place on this day including topics related to Biomaterials, Tissue engineering, Bone and Mechanobiology.

Flavia BINI

In the evening there was the special conference dinner with the topic “Disney/Pixar/Illumination characters”. The second picture show us dressed up as Cruella de Vil, Sheriff Woody, “Queens of Belfast”, Minnie Mouse, snow white, Maleficent and as a soldier from Alice’s adventures in wonderland. It was a very relaxed atmosphere and very funny to see the costumes of the other people.

On Sunday everybody went home again with the nice experience of a first presentation at a conference in their suitcases.   

ESR Disney photo
22nd January 2020

Becoming a BioImplant ESR: Let the adventure begin…

Martina Bernini, ESR 7

Among the biggest events I went through last year, there was the beginning of my job as a BioImplant ESR at the National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG).

My journey to NUIG begun in January 2019, a few months before my Master graduation, when I applied to this position and went through the interview processes. A few weeks later, I was offered the role and in August I gathered up the courage and made the big leap of moving to Galway.

Moving to a new country has its own challenges, such as finding accommodation and making friends, however, I was fortunate to meet two other PhD students in the BioImplant project that started with me, who have been a reference point since the very first days.

Despite all the challenges, the warm welcome received from supervisors and colleagues set us up for a good start; and now that I have been working here for 6 months I can really state that what I love most about NUIG university is the international environment and the coexistence of ancient tradition with the need of innovation, as testified by the presence of the quadrangle building (below left), now used primarily for administrative purposes, and the Alice Perry Engineering Building (below right), where my office is placed.

Picture 1_Martina
Picture 2_Martina


The first weeks in my office, as for all the other PhD students, have been revolved mostly around literature review and training for using the experimental facilities, both essential steps to set the basis of my PhD work. Nevertheless, being part of an Innovative Training Network (ITN) requires also that each PhD candidate attend quarterly meetings held at one of the host organisations.

Indeed, last 9th -12th December we had the opportunity to visit RWTH Aachen (DE), where a training event on the manufacturing of medical textiles, braiding technologies, non-woven medical textiles, bioprinting and composite materials was offered. A hands-on training was also organized for the ESRs, in braiding, melt spinning and electrospinning. The event was a great opportunity to gain more knowledge on these topics, present our work in front of the supervisors and the academic partners and team building with the other ESRs.

Picture 3_Martina

Even though this ‘journey’ has just begun, I am looking forward to collecting new skills and knowledge useful for my work and trying to get the most from this experience, both professionally and personally.

25th November 2019

BioImplant ITN ESR Induction Event: Reflections

Flavia Caronna, ESR 10

The first BioImplant training event was held at the National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) on the 26th -27th September 2019. All Early Stage Researchers attended the Event, nine of them came to Galway travelling from Ireland, UK, Spain and Germany, while three joined via Vscene. After a warm welcome given by Peter McHugh (NUIG), head of the School of Engineering, and a brief project introduction by Ted Vaughan (NUIG), BioImplant ITN Project Coordinator, all ESRs introduced themselves and their project. Together with BioImplant ITN partners, some lecturers and researchers from NUIG Biomedical Engineering department joined the meeting, actively contributing to the technical and scientific discussions. Later, Ted described in detail BioImplant project objectives, structure and research programme, explaining the role of an Early Stage Researcher. From the Training Committee, Eimear Dolan (NUIG) and the Training Coordinator William Ronan (NUIG) gave an overview of the training programme, highlighting the role and importance of workshops, network and external events, progress reviews and supervisors. Eva Barrett, as BioImplant ITN Project Manager talked about good research practice, dissemination, communication and project reporting activities required from the ESRs. At the end of the first day, Fraser Buchanan (Queen’s University Belfast) gave an introductory scientific talk about bioresorbable polymers. A Barbeque dinner was then organized for the evening at the Harbour Hotel Galway, where all ESRs and supervisors had the opportunity to get to know each other, network, share experiences, opinions and ideas in a sociable environment.

Representatives of Industry and Academic partners from all over the consortium joined the meeting on the second day. Two scientific talks were given by Alexander Kopp and Killian Reuss from Meotec GmbH (Aachen, Germany) about Magnesium-based bioresorbable materials, and Stefan Jockenhövel from the University Hospital of the RWTH Aachen (Aachen, Germany) about clinical perspective on interventional cardiovascular surgery. ESRs briefly presented their projects to all partners, thus having the chance to discuss their work with leading European experts of the Medical Devices field. After technical group meetings for discussing each project individually, the meeting was closed.

For an ESR, the first BioImplant ITN Network event was a stimulating opportunity for learning while being inspired by people with different cultures and expertise, committing to work together for contributing to the genuine advancement of science and technology.

Picture Network Event 1