I want to follow up my internship with a P.hD.

Martin Csiba became an intern at the Laboratory of Functional Biointerfaces at the Section of Optics of the Institute of Physics of the CAS a few months ago. His internship was originally planned for two months, but he established his place in the team and extended his internship. It helped him to verify that he wants to continue his studies as a PhD student, preferably within the same team. “a PhD is a four-year commitment, so I didn’t want to dive in headfirst, but now that I’ve seen how research works and how studies work, I know it’s something I want to do in the future,” he says in an interview conducted by an intern from the HR and PR department Šárka Vodičková.

How did you come up with the idea to apply for an internship at FZU?

During the final year of my studies I took part in the Erasmus programme where I met a surprising number of Czechs and Slovaks who were studying there, it was in Linz, so four hours south of Prague. And in one of the outings where we went into the city, I was telling them what I was doing, what I was researching in my thesis, I mentioned for example the QCM method and so on, and one of the people I knew said it was a coincidence, that he was working on something similar at FZU so he recommended it to me, I got a contact from him, and then when I started liking it, I contacted Dr. Lísalová and said that I would be interested in a PhD, firstly an internship and then a PhD. So that’s how I got the internship in a roundabout way and I’m very happy for that.

And how did you find an internship topic that suited you? Did you and Dr. Lísalová agree on a specific topic?

The Dr. recommended the Radius Centre and said that it would be great if I applied for one of the internships offered at FZU. There were two topics within the QCM method, one was more technical and one more theoretical, and as a physicist I’m more into theoretical topics, so I chose that and the result is the internship I’m doing now.

How was the application process?

After the first interview I had to fill an application form through the Radius Centre which included the topic of the internship and filling in information about myself. I also filled out a questionnaire, sent in my resume and that was basically it. The application process itself was very user friendly. Further communication and the interview were already done in person with the head of the laboratory and HR.

How big is the team do you work in at FZU and what language does the team communicate in?

My team consists of approximately ten people, with each member having an overview of what the whole team does, but also specializing in different methods. We work with methods such as QCM, SPR, ellipsometry, polymerisation and so on. Each member of the team has a basic understanding of how all these methods work, but there are always one or two members who are experts in a particular method. They all naturally already focus on one method during their studies, which means they then have more expertise in it. It is possible to know a little bit about everything, but it is better to focus on one topic in more depth. The team communicates partly in Czech, partly in English. Some of my colleagues are Czech, but some of the supervisors and Ph.D. students are from abroad, so the team meetings are in English, which suits everyone. Communication within the team is then based on an individual preference.

How many interns are in your team? Do you know other interns at FZU?

I am the only intern, but there are several Ph.D. students. And when I arrived in early August, there was another intern starting in another lab with me. We chatted at the initial meeting with HR and sometimes we see each other at lunch or in the hallway and chat.

How would you rate the overall atmosphere of the team?

When I arrived, I was a bit worried about what it would be like, but those concerns were not founded at all. The approach is very professional but also very friendly. My colleagues and I usually chat and there is no downright hierarchy in the team, it’s not like you have to be afraid to ask questions. If any problem occurs, I can ask my colleagues or my supervisor. The atmosphere in the team is very open and friendly even in terms of communication, so that’s great for me.

Has the internship helped you to think about what direction you would like to develop professionally?

Yes, after finishing my Master’s degree I was thinking about what I wanted to do next. There were still some academic ambitions in me, so I was considering a PhD, but first I wanted to broaden my horizons a bit. Not to stay at the Comenius University in Bratislava, but to go somewhere else. Thanks to a contact from Erasmus, an opportunity opened in Prague, which I thought was a great way to casually find out how things work in a research team and how research itself works. This good experience has combined with my academic ambitions, and I am now in a position where I would very much like to pursue a PhD. A PhD is a four-year commitment, so I didn’t want to dive in headfirst, but now that I’ve seen how research works, how studies work, I know that it’s something I want to do in the future.

How do you enjoy the topic you are working on at the Institute of Physics?

I’m glad that my internship introduced me to different methods for looking at biological layers. The method I was already familiar with was QCM, which is based on crystals connected to a computer that vibrate at different frequencies. Changes in frequency can be picked up by our computers. Another method was SPR, which is based on light reflection, then ellipsometry and electrochemical measurements.

So did the internship introduce you to all the activities the team does and the issues the team members are working on?

Yes, the internship itself was originally going to be a two-month internship. The first month consisted of familiarising myself with the different methods, which worked on a training basis, my colleagues did their measurements and I observed them and they explained how it worked. Gradually they started to give me space, I was able to try out some of the simpler measurements and then we moved on to more complex measurements, and in the second month we were more specifically focused on measuring using the different methods. The last time we focused on electrochemistry, for example, which was a complex measurement. This is clearly an area that I would like to continue in the future, which I also found out thanks to the internship.

Are you also involved in the processing of the data from the measurement results?

My colleagues have already shown me how to process the data, but I haven’t processed it independently yet. But if something comes out of our measurements, this will also be part of my activities in the future.

How would you evaluate the scientific environment at FZU?

The main building of FZU and SOLID are modern buildings, and the laboratories at our institute have been modernized, so I think that in terms of equipment, especially instruments and their software, FZU is at a high level. 

What do you like most about your internship?

The fact that as an intern I am not treated any differently from the other members of the team. I’m part of the team and I’m not treated as an outsider who would bother the team members, who the team would have to take care of. I feel like a real member of the team. I was shown everything in a comprehensive way, not just the glitz and glamour, but the reality of the day-to-day running of the lab. This has also helped me decide to do my PhD.

Did the internship help you develop as a person?

The internship enriched me linguistically. Working in an international team is always a challenge for me, I realised that I have some gaps in my English, although I understand it, but I need more practice in terms of my speaking. It’s interesting to see the complex approach of the team, that we communicate in Slovak or Czech, but whenever needed we can switch fluently to English. So I’ve learned to be more flexible in terms of the language of communication.

Did you meet anyone interesting at your internship? Someone who inspired you?

Before I arrived, I read Dr. Lísalová’s articles, so it was interesting to meet her in person. However, my role models have been my colleagues who are only a few years older than me and still studying, because their careers are closer to mine, it’s a great motivation to see so far ahead of me, I don’t only see Dr. Lísalová who has already had a long scientific career, but also my colleagues who are taking the initial steps and who I can therefore follow better.