How EGU boosted my confidence in what I do

Pablo Trucco Pignata

University of Southampton


As a person that gets easily overwhelmed without requiring anyone’s help, I found that this EGU conference was not overwhelming at all. The only reference I had for one of these massive events was the Ocean Science Meeting in San Diego in February 2019, just before the pandemic hit. Even then, with a pre-pandemic mindset and a bigger threshold for the number of social interactions that I could hold, I found OS insanely hectic and overstimulating. Don’t get me wrong, I learned a great deal and it was a positive experience overall, but it required a big push from my social skills repertoire and a good amount of willpower to not succumb to self-critical thoughts. Thinking back, I can attribute this different experience between the two conferences to a couple of things. The most relevant I would say is that now I am more convinced (or more delusional) about where I stand within my work.

 I migrated from a master's in coastal carbonate chemistry dealing with a traditional discreet observational approach, to a PhD in biogeochemical processes in the Southern Ocean using massive sensor-based datasets and as part of a big multidisciplinary project (CUSTARD). The switch has been overstimulating, inspiring, and challenging. Among other things, I found myself up to my ears in new QC processes with a steep learning curve and a convoluted dataset provider. In the beginning, this undermined my self-confidence in many ways. I was dashing back and forward between different processes, increasingly worrying that I was the problem and the progress that I made never matched my expectations. This worry increased after attending OS. I saw amazing, beyond-my-comprehension talks by the leading scientist on my research topic and witnessed fluent scientific conversations that I couldn’t tag along with. A sentiment of disconnection and despair possessed me. I came back to the UK with what felt like a new companion – like Sam Harris would say, it was like my house was suddenly invaded by a neurotic person that followed me to every room shouting non-stop trash to me. You can imagine that being in a lockdown situation with that bizarre alter ego was far from ideal.

To some, this might sound a bit tragic, and you might be right. However, it didn’t make it any less real. Fortunately, I could count on the support of excellent supervisors, a cat that momentarily adopted me and “fed me” gifts from the garden during the lockdown, and a solid network of friends. This allowed me to keep navigating through my work despite all the crap that my brain continue throwing at me.

So now, close to the end of my PhD, and at the other end of the lockdown, I decided to participate in a couple of conferences. One of them was the EGU. The maniac tried to join me again, but this time he didn’t seem to have as much of a hold on me. I was too busy realizing that somehow, I could correlate among different results presented in my session. Even more how they related to my subject and that my presentation was interesting and significant. I felt as if I had superpowers. Fluent, confident, geeky scientific powers. All this rippled through me and catapulted me into a new mindset. Now I am more engaged, purposeful and active. I have been interacting with a wider network of peers and envisioning a future for myself and my career. Is like something finally unblocked.

I have not yet fully overcome the common impostor syndrome, and from time to time I collapse into depressive states, but at least I have a sense that our minds change and evolve constantly. Most of the time imperceptibly, and that makes sense. I always perceived the subject of mental evolution as a lagrangian observational problem. Difficult to pinpoint how much we have moved if we are drifting along with the same particle (thoughts). But I think that in our career you should have self-reference moments, particularly when you expose yourself to others as much as you can. This can be a scary and challenging thing to do. But in other words, if you are in any way wired like me, I do recommend going out and engaging as much as you can with your peers. At any level that you can, and especially at conferences. 

EGU was fascinating. I saw many people that I have been meeting along this path and had been evolving as I had. I predominantly enjoyed the system of short talks. Maybe this system would not work for other smaller symposiums, but I think that particularly for these busy conferences we need to be concise and deliver our story and message thriftily. Otherwise, much can be lost in a sea of information. On the other hand, I did not appreciate the constrained time for questions. If we must learn to be concise, we also need to have time to discuss as much as we can. There lies the benefit of these scientific interactions. It was a shame that over and over we heard “there is no time for questions”, leaving us without the necessary feedback interaction that helps us to cement our collective knowledge. Hopefully the organization would see this limitation and change it in the future.

I am quite grateful that I had to face all these challenges. I think that despite that all these sour-self-inflicted moments have been difficult, they have helped me to grow in an unconscious way. I would say that it is important to have some self-referring landmarks that help you puncture/witness your path, and for me was this conference (and several other meetings before and after). I am deeply thankful that The Challenger Society supported me to assist OS and that I could make the best of it. To all the beings that are like me, that are impostor-syndrome dwellers and that have maniacs living rent-free inside their heads, I wish you a lot of persistence and patience. Things change in unnoticed ways, and if you let them happen, I dare to say they will always change for the better.

Picture of Pablo on a ship
BSc in Oceanography in Ensenada, México. Worked as a technician on board several oceanographic research expeditions and in laboratories for three years. After, finishing a year of study in Environmental Management, and worked as a consultant for three more years. Moved to the industry continuing to work as an oceanographic technician for the Federal Commission of Electricity for 5 years. Moved back to Ensenada to complete an MSc in Coastal Oceanography. Now in my 4th year of PhD in the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, UK

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