Cameroon – Prague – Netherlands – Prague – Cameroon

The great life of a PhD student depicted in the title… In the past months I visited Cameroon, spend a week in Prague, now I am for 2 weeks in the Netherlands and in the new year I will again shortly visit Prague before going back to Cameroon. I am seeing more airports than the average person in a lifetime! In this blog I will try to look back at my experiences in Prague and Cameroon during the last months.

I ended my story last time when I was working on a grant proposal. It has been submitted and we are awaiting the results somewhere in the beginning of 2017. Part of the PhD studies is a conference for PhD students of our department. The whole department is invited and spends two nights somewhere in the Czech Republic listening to presentations from the first and third year students. So I had to present as well, but well, a starting presentation is much easier than the one in your third year. The conference was really nice, we had a lot of fun (and maybe some drinks as well) and I got some nice questions, comments and tips for my research! And of course it was a great way to get to know everyone better.

After the conference we had to quickly pack everything for Cameroon. Which seemed like an impossible task when you saw the amount of stuff we needed to take (See below). But in the end we managed!

The packing Insect Communities Group
The packing © Insect Communities Group

At the end of October it was finally time to go to Cameroon. All loaded with 2x 23kg’s we undertook a nice journey from Prague to Trebon and onwards to Vienna, Istanbul, Yaounde, Douala and Buea. In Douala two bags were missing and of course one of them was mine L. Which included the majority of my clothing… In the end they said that we were transporting dangerous goods (Batteries…) and they had to remove it and only then they could resend it. In the end we got our luggage, minus the batteries, a week later; when we were already on the mountain.

The hike up. © Y. Klomberg
The hike up. © Y. Klomberg

But let’s rewind to the trip up the mountain. One of the heaviest days in my life. I was prepared for a long hike, but having to hike up for 6.5 hours with a bag on your back is complete madness for somebody with little experience in mountain climbing… I struggled a lot, but thanks to two of our great field assistants (Francis and Collins) I managed to make it up to Mann’s Spring (2200m high).

The first two weeks we spent there, doing a case study in the Savanna above the tree line, establishing transects in the mountain forest, measuring traits and setting cameras for our pollination studies. After two weeks we gradually moved the camp down to Crater Lake (1600m), where the same work continued.

The view during the hike up © Y. Klomberg
The view during the hike up © Y. Klomberg

The field work was great and I begin to see more and more that field ecology is the best part of the job. So it will be a struggle in the last two years without fieldwork… But now I will first enjoy the field trips! Not being able to shower for a month, sleeping in a tent, having to use a latrine (hole in the ground) and cooking on a wooden fire. Great experiences, although a rather primitive life 🙂

Our camp in Crater Lake Y. Klomberg
Our camp in Crater Lake © Y. Klomberg

We had a great team with us in the field, so the month went by really fast. Luckily we will be back on the 18th of January for another field season, so I don’t have to wait long before going again! The only thing I am not looking forward to is the hike up and down again. These hikes were the toughest ones I have done until now… hopefully it gets better in the future!

Now after enjoying a short week of civilization in Prague and a visit from Joep and Koen I am back in the Netherlands to see the rest of my friends and family again. On the second of January I will go back to Prague to finish preparing for Cameroon.

Greetings from a cold country,

Yannick

 

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Finally, an update from Prague

It has been a while since I posted something. So it is time to inform you about what I have been up to in the last months. I see my last post was just before leaving for the first longer fieldwork in the Zelezne Hory Mountains in June. So let’s start there!

Yannick, Vincent and Bara. Copyright Sylvain Delabye
Yannick, Vincent and Bara at work. Copyright picture Sylvain Delabye

 

The initial plan was to go for a two week field work period, but since we were going to catch insects with nets during fixed time periods we already estimated we would need extra time. Only with good weather you are able to sample with this methodology… What can I say, entomologist are good weather scientists…. The weeks flew by, even though I spend some time being ill in the last week. I blame the Czech field methodology (involving huge amounts of Beer). But I had a great time with great people. Pictures probably say much more. So I will not dwell on the subject and just show you some pictures from the field :).

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Measuring plant functional traits in our field camp using a microscope

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Our field “camp” for the second week: Czech ski-hut

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the retarded botanist collecting all the Lepidoptera on Cirsium palustre, since I cannot name them 🙂

After coming back from the field work (18th of July) I still did not have a place to live. So my primary focus went towards finding a place. Luckily, with a lot of help from my colleague (and now neighbor) I got a place and was able to move in the day after my parents and brother arrived to Prague. My parents arranged a van to bring my stuff from the Netherlands, the van arrived just before I got my keys. So on my first day of having my own place I already managed to move everything in (and visit the IKEA). So I was settled really quickly, due to the massive help to my family of course! The days after were spend exploring Prague with my family and buying the last things I needed. So a short visit turned into a busy holiday for them… But we had a lot of fun!

My new home!
My new home!

After my guests left I was ready to really start making a routine and enjoy my life in Prague. I live in a nice and green area with some big parks around. So I started running. My goal was to complete a 5k at the end of September, but I already managed to finish a 10k. So now I am working on my speed and maybe even in the future I will join some runs for fun!

I chose a good neighborhood to live in. Close to supermarkets, green, good connection to the center of town and to the airport (direct bus), but the only disadvantage is that I have to travel for 40 minutes to my office…. But hey, in the Netherlands I was travelling for 2 hours to Naturalis once we moved to Leiden, so it could be worse :).

With Noor en Simon on our way back to Nijmegen. Great weather as you can see....
With Noor en Simon on our way back to Nijmegen. Great weather as you can see….

I decided to go back to the Netherlands in the middle of august. I wanted to see my friends again, travel with our sailing groups’ ship from Friesland to Nijmegen, visit Naturalis for my research and see the newborn daughter of Koen en Kelly. I spend almost two weeks in the Netherlands running around to try and do everything what I wanted to do. In the end I managed to do the majority of what I wanted to do, but still I did not see several people. I will be back in December somewhere, so if you want to meet up. Please let me know! I will try to arrange it :).

Prior to my NL trip I had visitors. First Bas (former classmate and friend from my studies) dropped by for 2 days during his European trip with his girlfriend. It was good catching up. Since they did not have much time we rushed to see everything they wanted to see. So it was quite a tiring visit :). After their visit I spend a day with Koos and Loes, whom were visiting Prague for a week, exploring Prague again (a lot of the same places I visited with Bas… I now know I can never be a full time tour guide). Had a lot of fun again and also good amounts of beer, but that is a good Czech experience.

 

After my trip it was time to get serious and start planning the Cameroon expedition, work on my personal grant proposal, prepare my study plan for the coming 4 years and start with my presentation on my research which I have to give just before I leave to Cameroon. So at the moment we are on track with the preparations for Cameroon, I finished my study plan, am working on my grant proposal and still did not start the presentation. But I will manage. I have already learned that weekends can be interpreted differently for a PhD student…. Furthermore, I have flexible supervisors. So I can shift my working days if that suits me better and I can work from home as well. Which is really great. But something you need to get used to after working with a fixed schedule.

The life of a PhD student is also much different compared to normal working life. You don’t have a real task description. Just an expectation of what needs to be done at the end of the four years. I can understand why a lot of students do not manage to finish their PhD within four years. Another thing which was going through my mind whilst starting with my PhD is that I am not smart enough compared to the people around me. But apparently it is something the majority of students have experienced according to a recent article in Science with the great title No, you are not an impostor. It is still possible that I am a retard though, but hey, let’s hope the article is right 🙂

I don’t have much to add to my story now. I will try to post an update more often, but when I am in Cameroon it will be hard. We will be spending the majority of the time in our campsites on the mountain. Without internet of course and due to humidity issues I will also refrain myself from bringing my own laptop. But you can expect some updates from me in the future. Otherwise, just send me a mail, call or skype if you want to personally hear what I am up to…

Ciao!

Yannick

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