"Everyone’s path is different, and that’s good!": Meet Vilde, from Norway

The only approach that will make you happy in the end is finding what truly motivates you.

Hi there, I’m Vilde from Norway, and I’d like to share the story of how I ended up at CERN, and how my life has changed because of it. 

The first thing I think it’s important to remember is that everyone’s path is different, and that’s good! There is no general recipe for reaching a goal. The only approach that will make you happy in the end is finding what truly motivates you, being honest with yourself and others, and to make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. 

When I started studying physics, I did not have a clear plan for what kind of career I wanted. All I knew was that I was inherently curious how physical phenomena are interlinked and how this enables development of technology.

The studies themselves were certainly not always a walk in the park, and there was a time when I made the decision to take a step back for a year to re-evaluate. I soon realized that my occasional feelings of not being cut-out for physics were in reality about feeling a bit out-of-place in that particular environment. The solution was not to find somewhere new to fit in, but to find an approach that fit me. After an internship I discovered the ingredient that had been missing throughout my studies, which was context. I found a topic for my thesis that seemed both interesting and relevant to the industries where I could see myself working in the future. As a result, my last year ended up being the year in which I learned more than the four preceding years combined. I applied to CERN with just about zero expectations to get selected, but then it just so happened that they needed someone with my particular profile at that particular time ;) 
Now I am a fellow at working on radiation hardness assessment of materials and components for the vacuum systems of CERN’s accelerators. This includes planning, execution and analysis of radiation experiments in order to verify the radiation tolerance of electronics used for vacuum measurements, as well as materials for the vacuum chambers. I have gained experience with a more industrial research approach and cross-discipline collaboration which without doubt will be of great value in my career. I have also had the opportunity to practice my outreach abilities by volunteering as a guide for the ATLAS and CMS experiments. Trying to find the best way to trigger the younger generation’s curiosity towards physics is both challenging and truly rewarding. 

In addition to professional growth, taking a job at CERN involved moving to a new country (France) with a quite different culture, far away from family and friends. Initially my plan was to finish my contract, enjoy as much as I could while I was there, and then return back to safe and familiar little Norway. I am not going to lie, the first year was tough. I did not understand the cultural codes very well, and I felt quite helpless at times whether I was trying to set up an internet subscription or going to the supermarket for a chocolate 10 minutes before closing time (don’t try it). However after some time, I had already gotten used to all these things and started focusing more on the amazing lifestyle that this region has to offer. 

Being located in central Europe means easy access to almost everything. In my case that mainly meant going to the mountains every weekend for skiing or cycling which is also a great way to get in touch with people. I quickly realized that cross-country skiing was not equally common here (although there are a few great places for that too!). On the other hand, despite never being a runner, I discovered mountain running which seemed to be a big thing over here, and all of the sudden I loved running too. 
In between mountain outings I have taken road trips to Prague, Milan, the vineyards in Alsace (or even the local ones in Satigny), to the old town of Annecy, and to the vibrant old industrial quarter in Zürich.

Now I have reached the conclusion that I want to stay for at least a few more years. Despite missing my family and certain customs, there are quite a few unique things this region has to offer both professionally and personally that I am just not ready to give up on. Living as a foreigner in a cultural setting quite different from what you are used to for a longer time is a huge opportunity for personal growth. I am much more understanding and open-minded because of it, and I am so happy that I gave it a shot instead of playing it “safe” and sticking with what I knew. 

Be open to opportunity, be open to failure. The worst thing that can happen is that you are richer from the experience and even better prepared to try another time!

If you're inspired by Vilde's story and want to find out more about our fellowship opportunities, visit this page.

Vilde