An Interview with Chiara Galante
Written by Karla
Chiara is the Communications Manager at NGC. She founded the NGC Mainz back in 2015, with the idea of bringing local PhD students together to discuss science and scientific careers in an informal environment, but also to socialise with peers working in different scientific areas. During her PhD Chiara worked on adult neurogenesis and glia-to-neuron conversion. Since 2019, she has worked as a science manager. In this interview, we’ll get to know more about her scientific journey but also about her passions outside academia.
Q: Can you tell us about your upbringing, where were you born and where were you raised?
I was born in Vicenza, a small city in the Italian north-east just between the more famous Verona and Padua. I grew up in a small village in the countryside, the same one where my parents were born and raised.
Q: Anyone specific who boosted your vocation towards science?
Even though my parents didn’t go to university, they never stopped my brother and me from pursuing our interests. However, the greatest impact on my education and my earlier life choices was the fact that my brother is eight years older than me. He was the first in the family to pursue a university degree, and then became the first to get a PhD. Seeing him living the academic life while I was still in high school strongly influenced my decision-making. My brother has been the greatest role model I’ve had in that sense and, in a way, I owe it to him the high degree of curiosity and awe for the universe that I nurture, qualities that make a scientist.
Q: What motivated you for doing a PhD?
During my university studies, I knew that I wasn’t ready to leave academic research and that I wasn’t the right fit for industry jobs that were lined up ahead of me at the time. I needed an occupation in which I could continue to learn and try to understand the working of things, asking questions, and searching for answers. For me, that was academic research.
Q: And why did you decide to move to Germany for the PhD?
Learning from my brother’s experience, I knew that PhD students in Italy aren’t usually paid, or get very small fellowships. For his first postdoc, he moved to Munich. When I visited him I instantly fell in love with the city. I also learnt from him the differences between funding and working prospects for PhD students in Germany and Italy. All of this, together with the conviction that working abroad is essential to grow as a scientist, prompted me to apply for an Erasmus/LLP fellowship in Munich. Those eight months convinced me that Germany was the right place for my PhD.
Q: What do you enjoy the most living in Germany?
Coming from a southern-european country, I’ve always been attracted by societies with strong social security systems. Compared to Italy, Germany is a much more livable place with higher salaries and a more sound social security system. It’s what convinced me to stay here after my PhD - I can more easily envision a future for myself. I also enjoy very much how easy it is to move around with trains and public transport, and the generally more open mentality toward the European Union.
Q: Do you miss anything from Italy?
I am very stereotypical: I am well known for constantly complaining about restaurants, eating and drinking habits, but also fashion choices! I also miss the general feel for the enjoyment of life, of the good things and the beautiful ones Italians are famous for. To me, Germany lacks this intrinsic love for beauty and good life that Italians have… I could really start a long monologue about this. I also miss the sunlight, as in the generic amount of sun shining, and I had to start taking vitamin D to improve my mood: I love winter and the cold, but there are too few sunny days in this Meenzer Winter!
Q: In the past you told us that during your PhD you learnt who you are; what has been the most and least enjoyable aspects during your PhD journey?
To be honest, my PhD journey wasn’t exactly the easiest one and I am glad I survived it. There isn’t much I remember fondly about my PhD except for the friends I’ve met along the way. My group was extremely international and I was sharing the office with PhD students from another very international group. I have realised that I am very European and so I wouldn’t want to live any longer in a non-international environment.
To be clear: I don’t regret doing my PhD, even with all its negative parts. It’s a journey that, albeit full of struggles, took me to a place where I am happy with myself and what I am doing. I cannot imagine where I would be right now hadn’t I taken the path I took, and I’ve learnt that we make our choices and cannot take them back.
Q: It is exciting to see you left academic research, but still stayed close to science doing something quite different. Can you describe what you do in your current role in scientific management?
I am currently the Coordinator of a Postdoc Programme and of a Summer School, and I also work closely with my colleagues in coordinating the PhD Programme of our institute. Each day is different from the next and so you build up a profile in project management and also expertise in events management, communications & outreach, and fundraising and budgeting. My job is highly versatile and requires strong organisational skills and communication skills, high-level multitasking, and a lot of patience.
Most of my time is spent organising training courses, events and other activities for the programmes, as well as attending meetings with stakeholders involved or writing emails. Many emails. However, I have many more tasks such as performing surveys and collecting feedback for quality control, compiling statistics and reports, proposing and implementing new features to the programmes, writing memos for the upper management, overseeing the budget and writing funding proposals, advertisement, internal & external communications, outreach, overseeing career development activities, and liaising with many different people (our junior researchers, the group leaders, alumni, other offices within my department, the administration, external coordinators, company representatives & more).
I love my job, it’s very dynamic and you constantly learn something new. However, there is also a lot of stress, for instance, to secure funding to be able to offer the training and events for our junior researchers.
Q: We’ve heard that you love reading… if you could recommend just 1 book to everyone, which book would it be and why?
Tough question, I am not really good at narrowing it down to just one book. There are too many different styles and too many different messages. Besides, there is still so much I have to read… but if I had to really suggest a title to read, I would say: anything from Charles Dickens. The world needs to read Dickens. Everyone. Before I lose all hope in humanity.
Q: Besides reading, what else do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I prefer quiet, homey, and nerdy pastimes, no surprise here. I like to bake and cook, especially for others; I really enjoy that feeling of having taken care of someone else, particularly if through their stomachs. I also like music, from classical to jazz and progressive rock, and I love opera. I enjoy visiting museums and art exhibits, and I’m a big science fiction fan. I also love science-communication and visiting new places. I basically need a lot of food…for thought and soul too!
Q: If you could give yourself advice, 10 years ago, what would the advice be?
You are not wrong. You are not a fake or a fluke. Just try to be the best possible version of yourself you can be.
Written by Karla Azucena Juárez Núñez; Edited by John (Jia Jun) Fung. Featured Image: NGC/Design.