Ludovic, my first question is if you knew anything about Brno before moving to the city.
I didn’t know anything about Brno, to be honest. I just came here when I got the Ph.D. position at RECETOX. I got it and only had two months to move to the Czech Republic. So, I came here without researching anything, whether it was about the city of Brno or the Czech Republic in general. I just came here blindly. The only thing I knew was that I needed to change the currency. (laugh) I only researched RECETOX because it’s part of the interview process, job reaching, etc. And I am really glad to be here.
Where did you find the RECETOX Ph.D. position?
During my master’s degree, the teachers showed us online resources if we wanted to continue forward in research with a Ph.D. There is a database of Ph.D. position offers. There are new ones posted every day. Since my English level is decent, I told myself that I didn’t have to continue my studies in a French-speaking country because I’ve been there for 25 years; so let me go somewhere else! (laugh)
So, you are saying that you were looking for an adventure.
Yeah definitely. I wanted to change the environment, have new adventures, meet new faces, and see how things are done in a new environment.
And what did the interview process look like?
I simply applied for it, and we had an interview with a RECETOX committee consisting of my two current supervisors. The interview process was online.
And when exactly did you come here for the first time?
I came to look for a flat for the first time a week before the position started. Thankfully I managed to find a place to live in time! (laugh) Then, I went back to pack everything and moved to Brno. It was in February 2020, so it has already been over two years.
And then the covid started. Did you have a chance to meet your colleagues or even hang out in the city center?
Well, I had come three weeks before the covid pandemic broke out. I had some time to explore the city or meet some new people. Then, everything was shut down. Luckily, I had to work in the lab, so I was allowed to come to RECETOX, and from time to time, I even met my colleagues when I was working at RECETOX. However, everything else was empty. It was incomparable with our current lives.
Glad that this period didn't scare you out, and you stayed in Brno. What is the scientific area of your expertise?
Yes, it's a good question because my scientific interest has changed significantly over the past few years. What I am doing now is different from my background education. I have a bachelor's in biology and a master's degree in ecotoxicology and ecology. And now, my study program deals with environmental chemistry. I have always been interested in the fate of pollutants as it is one of the keys to preserving ecosystems. So I wanted this challenge. I knew I was lacking in chemistry, but the topic I was working on was so interesting when the offer was published, that I couldn't let that opportunity go away.
So, to answer your question, I would say that my area of expertise is related to semi-volatile organic compounds (in particular, pesticides) and their fate in the atmosphere.
Is your research now moving forward after almost two years of covid restrictions?
Yes, my research has moved forward. My main project is called Pan-European Study of Pesticides long-range Atmospheric Transport (e.g., PESPAT, for short). It is a project that we have developed internally and with my supervisors.
Before the covid pandemic, we set up a call looking for partners within air monitoring networks. Our idea was to sample the atmosphere at the same time all across Europe with the same type of instrument to see the presence of pesticides in the air during 2020’s primary pesticide application season. Thanks to the numerous favorable answers, we got 29 sampling sites located in 17 different European countries. It goes from the south of Spain until the northern part of Norway.
We have sites in fields, close to the sea and oceans, on top of mountains, and even in the arctic circle in Svalbard. The pesticides found even in remote locations (Mountains and polar sites) indicate the potential for long-range transport of these compounds and their fate in general.
I am very proud of this project; I would like to thank all our partners for their participation. We launched our call during the pandemic at an unprecedented time in History. We had so much positive feedback, but unfortunately, due to covid restrictions in some countries (lockdown), some potential partners couldn’t join us on this adventure.
And in 2020, you received the Brno Ph.D. Talent prize for your work, "Fate of currently used pesticides in the atmospheric environment”. What does this award mean to you? Does it have a positive impact on your scientific career?
In the beginning, I didn’t realize how big of an achievement it was, even the people at RECETOX came to congratulate me, and at that time, I didn’t know how much it meant. Of course, I was happy, but I just thanked them and moved on with my life. But now I can understand it better because it validated my project, my choice to come here, my work, and me as a junior scientist, recognizing that what I’m doing is innovative.
It was also very inspiring to meet the other recipients of the award. Each of them is working on an exciting project; meeting them and chatting about our work and living in the Czech Republic was fantastic.
How did you find out about the prize? Did you have to be nominated by someone else?
Nobody nominated me, I filled out an application with a description of my project, and they assessed it. You get the feedback on your project from senior scientists in your field, you receive your score, and for each category (divided by fields), they take the people with the highest score. Those people go to the oral presentation where you must explain everything you wrote in the 12 pages of your application in 7 minutes. Once everyone presented their project, At the end of the same week, you get the results if you got the grant or not.
I was surprised to see that so few people from RECETOX are getting this grant every year. And I don’t know why, because everybody here has exciting projects and I think it’s worth trying. This thing is local; it’s a great opportunity and exercise to start writing a project proposal.
That´s cool! What about other Ph.D. students? Do they come to you to ask how to apply for the Brno Ph.D. Talent prize?
A few of them asked me if I could give them some advice. What’s good to know is that you can only apply for this grant in the first year of your Ph.D. studies. It’s not eligible throughout your entire studies. And it’s worth it; you can get 300 000 CZK. I think every first-year Ph.D. student should try it; it´s a fantastic opportunity!
And do you need to spend the money on your research?
No, the money is not to be spent on the research. It is specified even in the contract. The money is for you.
So, what does this award open some doors for you in your scientific career?
Yes, it does. And also, with the grant, you want to prove to the committee that you were worth it; they gave me the grand because they saw something in me and my work, so my goal now is to show them that they were right, that it wasn’t a one-time thing or a mistake, that I can do great things.
And if we go back to Brno, what do you like the most about the city? What made you decide that you'll stay here for your PhD. studies.
I like the vibe; it is very relaxing overall, which is good for me. I come from a small city, and I have this tendency to greet people on the street when we are coming toward each other even though we do not know one another.
So, of course, I wanted to do it here as well, but nobody said hello sadly, so now I stopped. Unfortunately, the Czech people don't do that. It wasn't shocking, but it was just something unusual for me. I must say that maybe French people greet each other a bit more than Czech people.
But you really moved in at the worst time.
Yes, that's true. But still, there were many things to see from the outside. I walked a lot, and I enjoyed it a lot. I often walked around the city and always ended up at the Petrov cathedral. I loved the view, and it was my favorite place.
I like the city. It is very clean compared to French towns. I was in Marseille to do my internship from November to December last year. It was fun to be back in France; however, I got used to clean Czech cities, which shocked me. Marseille is the opposite of that, but still amazing. I have great memories from my internship there, but Brno and Marseille are two worlds apart.
What about the food? French cuisine is very well-known around the whole world. Our cuisine is a bit different.
I like Czech cuisine. What was new to me was that the Czech people eat soup every day before eating the main dish. And I got used to it. I enjoy the soup being a part of a lunch menu. In France, you get soup as a main course; however, here it's part, and I love it! Overall, I don't miss anything as food. Well, that's not entirely true; I do miss a good croissant.
What about the language?
In the beginning, it was complicated. But people told me to ask young people if I get lost, or I wouldn't be sure about anything. So, I did it! (laugh) Teenagers helped me get around the city at the very beginning of my stay. Plus, I think that Czech people are good at English. I also taught bachelor's students at the beginning of the semester, but the students were great; they communicated nicely without any issues!
My goal is to speak Czech, to be able to have a conversation in the Czech language. I have been attending classes in the Czech language, and it has been good! So, we will see…
And did you enjoy teaching?
I really like it, and I have always wanted to try it. It was always something I wanted to do, and it happened here! I taught one of the soft skills subjects. And if I get a chance to teach this subject again, I am IN. It was very natural to me to speak to people, and it seemed they even enjoyed it. I like it a lot. My slides are ready for the next semester, so let’s do it; it was a lot of fun!
Is there a place you like around Brno?
Yes, what I enjoy is just grabbing a coffee and walking around the historical center. I don't have a specific place always to go. I don't like working in coffee places; it is only a place for me to relax.
And what is the next step in your project?
We have had most of the data ready, So I started to write the manuscript for my first 1st author article. I would love to have it prepared by the end of the year and then focus on writing my thesis for next year. I will also be giving an oral presentation about the PESPAT project in York (UK) in August at the Pesticides Behaviour in Soils, Water and Air conference. It will be one of the first times we showcase the results of our study, and it will also be my first “in-person” conference. I’m looking forward to it.
And you mentioned your internship. Did you enjoy it and why France?
I was in Marseille for six weeks. Culture shock at the beginning, but I got used to it pretty fast. I went there to be trained and perform additional analysis on the PESPAT sample. Overall, it helped the study because it increased the total number of analyzed pesticides. It was an excellent opportunity for my project but also for me for my personal development.
Ludovic, thank you for such a pleasant interview. I hope you will accomplish all your plans. I wish you all the best in your career and in Brno.