PhD student at University of Warwick, United Kingdom

Chrysi Sergaki

Chrysi S

Chrysi studied biology at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece. She gained additional research experience in Warwick University, UK, through an Erasmus research project with Dr Ntoukakis and as research assistant in Dr Gifford’s lab, but also in Munster University, Germany, through a summer school in Prof. Hippler’s lab. She is currently pursuing a PhD in plant – microbe interactions at the University of Warwick, with Dr Patrick Schäfer.

Why did you decide to pursue a PhD in the UK?

On 2014, I was lucky to be chosen for a 6-month Erasmus research project in the UK. It was my first choice because of the language and the high quality of research. After this experience I knew I wanted to continue as a researcher in the UK because of the level of research, facilities and opportunities that are available there. Also, the fact that it is such a multicultural country makes the life here more interesting!

Your life must be very different to the ones of most of your old friends. Do you ever feel like having to sacrifice your private life for your scientific career?

I think now is the time to build my life and focus on my career so I don’t see it as a sacrifice. But in any case, if you organise your work well, there is always time for private life. I still have friends (!) and a lot of hobbies, so I don’t feel overwhelmed by my work. Even better I feel so fulfilled working on what I love that it has a positive impact in my personal life.

What have been the best and worst moments in your scientific education and career so far?

Science is full of disappointments. I have been rejected a few times and quite often I felt I am not good enough for this field, that I am not smart or competitive enough. But my tenacity and my curiosity led me to search in different directions, and try to see what opportunities were available. This brought me to UK for my Erasmus project. And there is when the best moments started coming. There is no better feeling than creating your own things in the lab. From growing small plants to creating mutants. The Erasmus project, and the research assistant position following that, gave me the chance to learn and do things on my own and I felt more than appreciated for my work. During this period I realised how important is to be social in science and make connections among scientists. By meeting the right people, I learned about new opportunities which eventually brought me to another valuable scientific and personal experience in Germany, and to the PhD in the UK. Being in science you will always face failure and disappointment but also exciting moments – the thing is how you handle and evaluate them.

Where would you like to see yourself in 10 years?

In research! This is the only thing I can tell with certainty. I am not sure at which level, which field or which country – I try to keep an open mind to any option and opportunity I can have – but I know that I don’t want to stop doing science. I think it is something that keeps my mind active and my soul excited. For me science is a constant mystery full of problems that I have to find ways to solve them but also an endless source of knowledge; I will always find exciting facts about biology.

Do you have any role models or mentors who inspired you to peruse a career in science?

Of course I admire major scientists of my field and having such successes will always be a target for my career. But what inspires me the most is talking with people that I randomly meet and learning about their stories in science, how they make it up till that point and the way they see science. This shows me that the opportunities and the choices life gives are unlimited. So if you find them and use them correctly you can do whatever you have in mind!

What do you think is the most common problem scientists are facing in their careers today?

The handling of disappointment and failure. It is very easy to fail in science in a lot of ways. I think you have to be realistic about it, you have to know when to stop, when to take a step back, when to change your whole view of your work, when to ask for help. Denying to accept failure can lead to a vicious circle in your professional and personal life.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering a career in science?

Explore the opportunities you have and don’t be afraid to try different things. Any experience, negative or positive, will help you discover and improve yourself, but will also lead you to the right path for your career. And if something excites you, you know that you are doing the right thing, no matter what people say.


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