Ever since writing my Master’s thesis, I have been studying the endosymbiotic bacterium Wolbachia in fruit flies of the Rhagoletis genus. Many publications I read during that time had been penned by the American Jeff Feder – the “pope” of Rhagoletis research. Feder and his team have spent decades describing the evolution of Rhagoletis, thus making an essential contribution to studying the emergence of new species. When I presented my results to Jeff Feder during the last phase of my thesis at the Vienna University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, he was thrilled and invited me to join his team as a guest researcher at his lab at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, USA.
These weeks taught me about US hospitality: I was a guest at Jeff’s home and his wife very kindly cooked for me and took great care of me. The time spent at the Feder Lab was not enough by far to implement the countless ideas Jeff and his co-workers had. Hence, we decided to submit a project to the Austrian Science Fund FWF for an Erwin Schrödinger Fellowship in order to gain more time for implementing our ideas. The decision to go abroad for 18 months was not purely my own to make. – Having just got married, it was obvious to me that I would leave only if my wife joined me. After discussing it at length we finally decided to embark on this venture in the USA...
Team-building far into the night
... and it paid off! I was very amicably accepted in the new research group and was immediately able to participate in ongoing projects. My new colleagues, but also the professors and other working groups, are extremely helpful and show great interest in my work. It is terrific fun to work in such a stimulating environment. I particularly appreciate the American way of doing science: very hard work on the one hand, but also making the most of breaks. Two or three times a week, for instance, I play soccer with Jeff and other people from the university during our lunchbreaks. On the other hand we will often stay at the lab until well into the night over a beer or talk shop at the weekly taco nights.
Model campus gripped by football fever
The University of Notre Dame is in Indiana, two hours' drive east of Chicago in the small town of South Bend. The university campus with its signature Golden Dome, is considered one of the most beautiful in the USA. Life on campus is mainly marked by sports events. There is a great commotion on game days: while there are normally about 10,000 students living and working on campus, such weekends will attract about 100,000 fans of American football who support our team, the Fighting Irish. As Europeans we were not particularly keen about American football initially. But since witnessing our first game at the stadium we, too, have had a clover leaf in our hearts. As the little town is otherwise a rather sleepy place, we like to “escape” to Chicago and Lake Michigan once in a while, but also try to get to know other aspects of this many-faceted country.
Networks here to stay
The decision to move to the USA for one-and-a-half years has certainly been worthwhile! Here, I enjoy science life to the full and I benefit greatly from the input provided by my colleagues. The contacts I have been able to make will, I hope, be useful to me in my further professional career. The fact that we also have a great time as far as our leisure is concerned, and that my wife has been given the opportunity to teach at the university makes the stay in Indiana an experience we would not want to miss, both in professional and in personal terms.