Cypriot Clio Azina came to RWTH in August 2020 as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow and is now a Junior Principal Investigator Fellow. We asked her about her start in Aachen in view of the coronavirus restrictions and her expectations for her time at RWTH.
Welcome to RWTH Aachen University. We are delighted to have you here as an international researcher for our Junior Principal Investigator fellowships. We would like to get to know you a little better!
Thank you for having me! I am very happy to be here!
You are from Cyprus, you studied in France, earned part of your doctorate in the USA, and then did post-doctoral research in Sweden. What inspired you to apply for a JPI fellowship at RWTH?
I am actually both Cypriot and French. I grew up in Cyprus and went to a Greek school but I had been travelling to France for the summer since very young and had always planned to study there since French is also my mother tongue.
During my Master’s degree I was approached for a Ph.D. program which was to be carried out between the University of Bordeaux, where I was studying at the time, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the USA. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to travel and experience a different culture. I also believe I wanted to do this program not only because I was interested in the project and excited about the research, but also because I wanted to experience a different research and educational environment.
During my last year of Ph.D. I wanted to explore a different field and started sending out emails for post-docs several months before my defence so that I would have time to apply for funding if it was needed. I was very excited to go to Linköping University in Sweden! I really enjoyed my time there, not only because Sweden is a beautiful country but also because I was a post-doc. That meant being treated somewhat differently than before. I was trusted with more responsibilities, I was encouraged to develop my own ideas and I was also promoted and sent to various conferences and workshops to extend my network. That’s how I met Professor Jochen Schneider, actually.
After meeting several times at conferences and meetings, seeing what his group was working on and his approach to research, I almost immediately knew that I wanted to come to Aachen and join his group! Also, the reputation of RWTH as one of the best technical universities in Europe and the support it offers its early career researchers played important roles in this decision.
So, to join RWTH, the first step was applying for the IUVSTA Scholarship, then I applied for a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship. Both applications were successful and I was delighted to work at Materials Chemistry. When I found out about the JPI Fellowships through ResearchGate last January, applying for the JPI was taking it a step further. Being able to lead my own group is a fantastic opportunity! I am given all the tools and most importantly the guidance that I need to grow into an independent researcher and successful leader. This is what drew me most to the JPI fellowship. It is an intermediate step, before competing for professorships, where you get to experiment with ideas and develop soft skills under the careful eye of the mentor you chose. The feedback you receive is very valuable for professional growth.
The support that RWTH is giving to its JPI fellows was also a motivation for it: the numerous workshops, individual coaching and, of course, the funding that comes with the position are of great importance. I am so excited about having the flexibility and freedom to develop my own research line while also supervising my first Ph.D. student!
How did you arrive in Aachen under the difficult conditions of the pandemic and what is your first impression of the city?
I didn’t have any problems arriving in Aachen, I had problems leaving Aachen! I was actually in Aachen for a three-month stay at Materials Chemistry (Professor Jochen Schneider) with the IUVSTA Medard W. Welch International Scholarship that I was awarded in 2019.
I arrived in January 2020 and was planning on returning to Sweden at the end of March, however, my three-month stay became a five-month stay because of the pandemic. I was unable to travel until mid-May since all the flights I had booked were cancelled one after the other. I finally managed to return to Sweden and had barely more than a month to finish up my work, pack my office and apartment and return to Aachen. I was back in July and the situation had calmed down slightly. I still quarantined for two weeks as a precaution which was also the perfect time to get settled in.
As for my first impressions of the city, I think Aachen is a lovely place! I particularly enjoy the cosy city centre and the nature surrounding it. I am now waiting for the weather to get a bit better so that I can keep exploring!
The JPI Fellowship Program is intentionally coupled with a Profile Area of RWTH. The aim of the program is for the researcher to develop a T-shaped profile at RWTH and to expand interdisciplinary collaborations within the University. Which Profile Area are you working in and what advantages does this have for your current research project?
Indeed, the JPI fellowship opens so many doors for interdisciplinary collaborations within RWTH, which is great for early career researchers like me. I am working within the Materials Science & Engineering (MatSE) Profile Area and hosted at Materials Chemistry.
MatSE offers access to a wide range of techniques for developing and analyzing my materials but also allows me to expand my network by exchanging and interacting with researchers, staff and students from different faculties. Also, the project that I am developing will greatly benefit from interactions with the Molecular Science & Engineering (MSE) and Medical Science & Technology (MedST) Profile Areas, as well as Forschungszentrum Jülich through the JARA (Jülich Aachen Research Alliance) program.
Another great aspect of the profile areas and ultimately RWTH as a whole, is the support given for technological transfer of basic, fundamental research. Indeed, as a material scientist, the aim is to, sooner or later, see the materials that we develop in the lab, being used on a day-to-day basis. I think the JPI fellowship will indeed allow me to develop a T-shaped profile but also the soft skills that I need for advancing my career.
Please note: RWTH is now inviting excellent and experienced early career researchers to apply for six Junior Principal Investigator Fellowships.
Applications are accepted until February 9, 2021.