Life in Germany after getting the Green Talents Award 2018: Report by George Parku

George Kofi Parku has a background in Chemical Engineering from his studies at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. In April 2019 he arrived at the German Biomass Research Centre (DBFZ) for his 3-month research stay. To enhance his research career in Germany he started as a PhD Student in Chemical Engineering at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in September 2019.

The Green Talents Forum undoubtedly has been a springboard to my academic and research career. The excitement back in 2018 when I got news that I was going to be a Green Talent still sends traces of shivers down my spine. The platform did not only provid me with the opportunity to sell my research work and credentials but also enhanced my collaboration with research in Germany. This was evident following a successive research stay at the German Biomass Research Centre (DBFZ). The stay there played a major role in my introduction to the German research landscape and culture.

My interest in advancing my research career in Germany brought me on board to the Institute of Catalysis Research and Technology of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) as a PhD candidate starting September 2019. My PhD study started on a very stellar note. Of particular interest and challenging for me was the slight shift in research area. Contrary to my master’s study where I focussed on plastics pyrolysis into fuels, my PhD research took a completely new dimension. This includes the optimisation of pyrolysis bio-oils for downstream microbial conversion using thermodynamic modelling. It was a new challenge that I had to accept, especially with regard to the thermodynamic modelling aspect. So far, I am very happy that I have learnt a lot and gained some new technical skills in chemical engineering. I hope these will even be better at the end of my studies.

Approximately, 6 months into my PhD journey, the COVID-19 pandemic popped up and that changed the whole dynamics of what I expected. I quite remember my first international conference was due in just a couple of weeks but it was cancelled. I thought things would get better after a few months and I can get to attend this long awaited conference but I only realised later that a new way of life was just about to begin and most likely progress throughout my PhD journey. Lockdown restrictions were issued and I have to resort to home office. A completely new approach to my study. Something I have never experienced throughout my academic journey. Initially, I struggled and I was hardly productive but I had to cultivate the habit of self-discipline to get going. Thanks to a weekly progress update meeting initiative by my advisor, the productivity of working from home even got better. The pandemic has also intercepted numerous planned research visits abroad. I, however, hope these trips will still materialise before the end of my study.

I am currently halfway through my studies and I hope the dynamics will get better for the remaining half. Most
importantly, I would forever be indebted to the Green Talents Forum and the BMBF as their initiative placed me in a key position to begin my doctoral journey. It is interesting to note that BMBF also funds my PhD project. The DBFZ Leipzig will also be forever remembered for playing a major part in my initiation into the German research community.

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