There are downs

There are downs

In less than one month, I’ll be back in Pittsburgh! Why is there an exclamation point at the end of that sentence, you might be asking? While long-term travel sounds like a dream come true, it still comes with struggles along the way. I still have lots of adventuring left to do but I am already looking forward to having my own space, a real kitchen (I’m ready to bake all the things!!), and easy access to a washing machine. I’m also more than excited to see people again! I love traveling, and in fact I enjoy traveling alone, but us the being alone, all the time, that can me difficult. In fact, I was happy to recently enjoy coffee with a friend from Paris, and I’m looking forward to joining up with my PIs and some other members of my lab for a conference in Germany next week. And as someone who enjoys keeping busy, forced relaxation only works for so long before I just really want something to do! I’m trying to pace myself for this extended period of traveling, so I’m rarely up for spending an entire day out and about. I am trying to change my habits so that my default isn’t to work, but instead to read, blog, listen to a podcast, etc. – but old habits die hard! I’m also more energized in big cities, so after spending the better part of two weeks exploring the small towns and cities of southern France, having Barcelona (where I currently am), Glasgow, and Paris as upcoming stops should provide me a much-needed boost.

I think that when I reflect back on this adventure it’ll be positive, but right now I’m finding it easy to critique myself when things aren’t feeling perfect. The mindset of “once in a lifetime opportunities” and “making the most of every moment” is counterintuitively detrimental, I think, to trying to appreciate the moments as they come – good, bad, or ambivalent. I’m just trying to make this trip about me, instead of about expectations. With still about 3.5 weeks and 5 countries to go, I’m hopeful that my energy level and enthusiasm will pick up again for the home stretch! 

International mobility in STEM #2: Hazel

International mobility in STEM #2: Hazel

Living abroad has both benefits and challenges, and it’s a matter of perspective and learning how to adapt that will help you thrive in your new home. For this second post in a series about international mobility in STEM, I’m excited to share a story from Hazel, a friend who I’ve gotten to know since living in Paris.

IMG_2978I decided to leave Turkey for my undergraduate studies because I wanted to study Molecular Biology, which was a new major at Turkish universities back then (2008). Furthermore, after bumping into Turkish people doing their masters or PhD studies in Molecular Biology in Goettingen, Germany when I was there to attend the XLAB International Science Camp at the age of 17, I got the impression that there was a lack of extensive research funding opportunities in Turkey. I moved to Bremen, Germany to study Biochemistry and Cell Biology at the end of August 2008, and since then I lived in Germany, the U.K. and I am currently in France as a post-doctoral research fellow at Institut Pasteur.

Both in Germany and the U.K., it took me about 1.5 years to entirely adjust to my new IMG_2900life. In Germany, it was due to that being my first time living abroad (although not first time away from my parents as my high school was a boarding school four hours away from my hometown) in a country with a different culture and studying entirely in English too. I didn’t have my close circle of high school friends and a wide range of extracurricular activities to choose from to continue being active. If I may literally translate from Turkish, I was a bit like ‘a fish out of the water’.

In the U.K., it was a different story. It was the PhD itself that took me around 1.5 years to adjust to. I skipped a masters degree and started my PhD right after my undergraduate studies and noticed that my summer internships failed to reflect what a PhD life would be like. However, things got better with time both in Germany and the U.K. I realized that once you grasp what your professors demand of you, whether in exams or in research, once you get friends, once you create ways to financially manage and if you are in a country where you don’t speak the language much, once you learn enough words and are courageous enough to look people in the face in shops, then things start to fall into place.

Nevertheless, I was nervous before arriving in France although I lived in two foreign countries before. I took a break after my PhD defense, went back to Turkey to do my thesis corrections and spent a few months resting while slowly applying for jobs. I got accepted to my current position at the end of September 2016, but it wasn’t until January 2017 that I could start due to all the paperwork and the visa application. And let me tell you that funnily, being back in Turkey after 7.5 years was another culture shock and I left Turkey as an outsider after physically being there for 11 months; I couldn’t adapt back.


Leaving takes courage and determination to face being a stranger both in your destination country and your home country. In the end, you might find yourself wandering around the world like me until you find your niche… Luckily forme, Paris has provided me with everything I have been looking for years and France just might be it 🙂


Hazel Silistre has an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Cell Biology from Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany. Thanks to the summer internships she did both at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Goettingen, Germany and at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, Texas, U.S.A. she was accepted for a PhD without having a masters degree. In 2011, she moved to Nottingham, U.K. to carry out her PhD studies in Molecular Microbiology at the University of Nottingham. After graduating in July 2016, she started a postdoctoral position at Institut Pasteur in January 2017. You can follow her blog Stu(r)dy Microbes if you would like to read about her PhD experience or learn more about bacteria!    

If you’re interested in sharing your story of international mobility in STEM, email me!

Just life.

Just life.

With one month left to go on my fellowship, I feel like I just got to the good part of life in Paris! In a previous post, I wrote about a lot of the struggles I faced in the first 4 months after moving to Paris. That was right after I felt like life here was finally becoming just life, and not a protracted vacation during which I also worked 8 hours per day. I can’t say that there was any one particular event that triggered this change in my frame of mind, but from early June, life overall felt easier. I began to feel more as the ease with chatting in French; in lab, I finally had a grasp on the few specific experiments I need to do before leaving; and I started going back to local spots I like without worrying that those visits are at the expense of trying someplace new. And honestly, I’ve been enjoying Paris a lot more now that I’ve taken pressure off myself to cram everything into the next month (meaning things in the city and in the lab). I know I’ll come back to Paris and that I will always have more things I want to do here, and there will always be more scientific questions I’ll be curious to answer. But there is a time for everything, and my task this next month is balancing the science with the Paris and reaching an acceptable conclusion on each front without neglecting one for the other (unfortunately easy to do in research). Everything about this city has really captivated me and in spite of the struggles I’ve had while here, I’m rather fond of this experience. Paris has always been one of my favorite cities, and getting to learn it in depth, become a local at some places (all of which are bakeries!), and explore it at a slower pace has made me fall in love with it even more. No longer do I feel like an impostor or like I’m bragging when I say that I live in Paris. It just is – it’s just life.

Toast to champagne

Toast to champagne

When in France, celebrate what the French do? That’s how I found myself last night at a party celebrating champagne! Hosted by Moët and Chandon, the weekend-long event features their Grand Vintage 2008 champagne in a classy yet chill environment, with something for everyone.

After coming out of the metro at Trinité (line 12), Maison Moët is barely a block down an otherwise empty street. You can’t miss the entrance – it’s marked with white and gold balloons and a tuxedo-clad bouncer. It was evident that a lot of thought went in to the details, and this entrance certainly sets an impressive tone for the night!

Inside, a canopy of lights hangs above a courtyard filled with black tables adorned with gothic-esque candelabras; at the back of the room is a sleek bar serving oversized glasses of crisp champagne. At the front, you can order your choice of formule from a perfectly color-coordinated food truck: braised beef or breaded chicken sandwiches, plus a glass of champagne, for 20-25€. Though the sandwiches are a bit small (sufficient as a snack, but probably not as a meal), I found the price reasonable once the (large) glass of champagne is factored in, considering the price of a bottle.

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But! If that atmosphere is not to your liking, or you’d prefer to eat something lighter than a hot sandwich, don’t worry! Pass through that first area and you will find that there are still two more areas to explore, each with a unique vibe and different food and drink options!

Immediately through the back of the courtyard, you enter into a small building that has been transformed with neon lights and metallic streamers into a “Mini Club” (that yes, I went to!). The inside is tiny, but even on a Friday night was not too full to enter; it just took a lot of “pardon”s to squeeze to the empty space towards the back of the room. The space is outfitted with a karaoke stage at the front and several small tables and chairs in the back (being used to hold bags and drinks, not people, when I was there). This is probably the most relaxed area at the event – dancing and music and no security/bouncers inside – but it also is very hot, as it’s a completely enclosed room with no windows. On your way out, you’ll pass by a champagne vending machine selling mini bottles of Moët for 10€, which at least for the novelty factor is cool to take a peek at! But, it’s the same champagne that was served in the first courtyard, while in space number 3, there are many more drink options.

The third and largest area is also the one I found the most clever- it’s set up like a beach, with benches shaped like boats, cabanas, and a champagne “cocktail” bar! You can choose white (13€) or rosé (14€) ice champagne, and then customize your drink with berries, lime, or cucumber slices. It’s served in an oversized wine gslass emblazoned with the Moët logo. Between the color of the drinks and the glasses they’re served in, this is where to order your champagne if you want the best pictures! I wanted to taste rosé champagne since I’ve never tried it before, and added berries and lime. I have to say I’m much more a fan of traditional champagne, but not sad I tried the rosé, especially from one of France’s luxury producers! Food-wise, here you can choose from charcuterie boxes for two, all priced at 12€. However, unless you arrive early you’ll be hard pressed to find seats at the beach: I had to take my cocktail back to the first area to sit with it.

Finally, at the “beach” there is also a “pool”! This one’s filled with gold confetti, though, and equipped with a photo booth that prints still pictures and emails you a gif of your antics! The iridescent gold confetti falling against a white tile backdrop makes for some sharp pictures. This little area was a lot of fun!

Maison Moët is open through this Sunday, from 11h-23h each day. It is a lot of fun, so I’d recommend making a stop there while you can!