Life with a PhD

By Davide Gaglio

The minister said: … I now pronounce you husband and wife! What a happy moment!

Yes I am married! It was such a perfect day. (Listen this song while you reading the Blog):

“…Oh, it’s such a perfect day

I’m glad I spent it with you

Oh, such a perfect day

You just keep me hanging on

You just keep me hanging on”

We had such an amazing time, having shared it with our close family and friends who traveled from both far and near to be with us. As promised here some photos:



…and now still with these beautiful moments still stuck in my mind, with my heart full of joy and “amore” …now back in my office…in front of a pile of Excel files and R codes…

I have finished the majority of my field work, so lots of analysing data and writing up awaits me now… I am at the usual stage of every PhD student… asking myself Why? Why am I doing a PhD? Why have I embarked on this journey of constant challenges? Why have I allowed MS Word and printed papers to become such a big part of my life? Why? I was thinking a lot about the answer to these questions.

As mentioned in my previous entry, Matt Might explain a PhD like this; and the following picture shows the difference that my PhD will make to humanity 😦



Well, my answer to this question is simpler than I thought and it’s not related to humanity…but to myself, and may be a little selfish. But I do it….to be happy!!!

Do you remember that feeling of happiness when you learned that you were accepted for a PhD program? How happy did you feel when you shared your experiences with other PhD students? Or when your first conference paper was accepted?… Yes, I am happy and grateful when I have the opportunity to share my experience, my vision, the results of my work with others. I feel grateful that there were PhD supervisors in the audience who listened to my perceptions as a PhD student. And you never know, it might have influenced their vision of a supervision process…at least a bit. And it means it might potentially change the life of other PhD students …

And yes the bigger picture…there is always a bigger picture behind your small limited piece of research… you just need to learn to see it. Looking back over the past few months, reading all my previous entry of my blog about my PhD, I can see that I have managed to progress my research considerably and have, indeed, learned much about my own life.

Thanks to my terns for making my job so magic!!! Yes…you are much better than penguins!

last pic

I would like to say goodbye with this sentence:

“Pursuing a PhD, is like beginning a journey… it’s always quite scary. But as you go along in the journey, the fear you had in the beginning becomes obsolete as you open yourself up to new challenges and experiences that change you forever.”

The Fitz family

By Davide Gaglio

I am sure most of you experience the lack of money that comes with being a student. While I was a masters student at the University of Bologna in 2006, I had the opportunity to work part-time as a postman. But when my short career as a postman unexpectedly ended, I would never have dreamed of doing a PhD in South Africa, or being involved in an extended academic family in the truest sense of the word.

During my farewell at the post office, I had a long chat with a girl that had just returned from a trip South Africa. “South Africa?” I said, “Yes… but which country of South Africa?” 🙂 🙂 Well, that was when I realised I needed to fill some gaps in my geographical knowledge, but I blame my high school teacher 😉

Soon after, I started to gather information on this fascinating country and I decided that South Africa would be my next destination! I rapidly looked for an opportunity as a field assistant in South Africa and ended up applying for a field assistant job for a project run by the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at UCT – mostly because I LOVE birds. But I had no idea how much the people here would make ornithology, academia, research and conservation come alive to my mind.

From August to October that year I spent a great time in the field and had the opportunity to get a glimpse of the “Fitz Institute”: the students, the post-docs, the staff members, the professors. I was particularly taken by the “Niven,” one of the most important libraries on birds worldwide. I attended some seminars there, and started to daydream about one day presenting my own research in that beautiful setting!

I was also intrigued by the social aspect of the Fitz’s people, particularly on Friday afternoons. Students, lecturers and other members meet at the pub most Fridays and discuss a wide range of topics (rugby, photography…but of course mainly birds!). I joined them on one such occasion, fresh from the field, hiking shoes still caked in mud. Over some well-deserved drinks, I became engaged in a delightful conversation about Oystercatchers, with the late director of the institute, Professor Phil Hockey. Would I have been able to chat so happily with such an august person if I’d known beforehand who he was? Probably not – I only discovered his identity after the pub visit. Phil unfortunately passed away 2 years ago. But informal meetings like this drives intellectual curiosity, and inspired me immensely. It’s probably a large reason why the Fitz is such a research powerhouse, and has been designated as a DST-NRF Centre of Excellence.

The Fitz promotes and undertakes scientific studies, primarily involving birds that contribute to the theory and practise necessary to maintain biological diversity and sustain the continued use of biological resources. Here is a photographic glimpse of the Fitz’s main research:

And a few years later…here I am…doing my PhD about one of the most, elegant, photogenic and mysterious coastal seabirds in southern Africa, Swift Terns!

However, being a foreign student, I have faced a few challenges. My family and friends are very far away and they are very much missed. Building new relationships is always challenging, especially when every year you have to renew your visa and you don’t know in which country you’ll be… or even if they will let you return! Moreover, to be socially involved is important for our species 😉 Since the beginning, I have been welcomed by the entire institute and step by step I’ve been privileged to make many friends, which share with me the same passions and dreams. Yes… I feel “like home”. Today, I like to call the institute and the people working there the “Fitz family”. Here I feel appreciated as part of a team, I can have long chats with the other students, be and wisely suggested by staff members when problems arise and am passionately guided by my supervisors. In the last few years, being proudly part of the Fitz, I did my part, giving talks about my research and the issues of our marine ecosystems to various bird clubs. I also wrote some articles to environmental magazines and attended a conference, where I was awarded runner-up with the best student oral presentation! Along with publishing scientific articles, semi-scientific articles … and recently representing the Fitz with Dr Rob Little at the launch of the 2015 National Science Week of the Department of Science and Technology at the North-West University’s Mafikeng campus.

Exciting opportunities for students arise from the passion of the people working in institutes like this. There is a wonderful sense of cooperation, which is shared amongst the different disciplines and academic roles. Many of my colleagues have become great friends, which is often a rarity. I am doing my best to make the most from my research in an institute which believes in my capabilities and I am sure the results of my PhD will make the difference! How you ask? Well, I will tell you next entry!