Since last year, I was offered a job working for a company that I would have never seen myself working in before – a radiocarbon dating lab.
Radiocarbon dating is a huge deal for archaeologists in particular because, when one of these researchers makes a new discovery, it is down to a radiocarbon dating lab to determine the age of that artefact and give them more information about its chemistry.
The majority of the time this information fits in perfectly with the reseach team’s expectations, however, every now and again it can give data that is unexpected – making them completely rethink their understanding of a site or an entire epoch of human history.
It is a really fascinating job to be in because you continuously talk to professors and researchers about their work and find out about all the different projects that are going on around the world. However, without having any formal background in chemistry or archaeology, it was surreal to find myself talking with world experts about their projects without feeling like a complete impostor! Even more so when they use really specific terminologies or definitions that make if feel as though they are speaking a foreign-language entirely. Imagine – Speleothems!
Fortunately, living in foreign-speaking countries had prepared me for this very situation as I mastered many years ago the art of pretending as if I could follow a conversation without letting on that I didn’t understand a thing! So how do you do this? Well, it’s a perfectly-timed nod of the head, the classic “mhm”, mixed in with either an “ahh” or “ohh” of realisation. After years of experience, you will even start recognising the ‘traps’ early on – like when the tone of the conversation suddenly changes and you realise that something serious has just been said… when this happens, be ready to look deeply concerned – almost as if you’re trying to remember whether you have left the oven on at home. And then, after all is said and done, don’t forget to tell them that you “hadn’t thought about it in that way before” – after all, you wouldn’t be lying!
It’s a simple skill but also incredibly powerful when used right… now I’m just wondering when my career in politics will begin!
In all seriousness, I don’t think anybody really expected me to be an expert in these fields when I began and the technicians in the lab (the real experts and professionals) were always on hand to answer any questions that I didn’t know myself.
Like with Uber, this position has also been remote – the only exception to this has been when I have been needed to attend conferences. Over the last year I have been many of these such as in Bern, Bilbao, Birmingham, Brussels, Dublin, Manchester and Vienna. There were also two other scientific conferences in London however these were much simpler to travel to as I was already living in London at the time.
I really enjoyed my time in Bilbao in particular as it was during this trip that I was able to meet quite a lot of the people that I work with on a daily basis (but had never met in person). It also gave me a chance to learn more about Bilbao and the Basque country – an autonomous region in the north of Spain with its own unique language, flag and culture.
My team and I spent a week exploring the Basque countryside and, being there, you really wouldn’t believe that you were in Spain at all.
I think one of the best parts for me was trying all the different types of Pintxos (bitesize meals/snacks you can find on the counter of every pub and bar). We also met several archaeologists that we work with in the region and they brought us along to one of their excavations.
Near to the end of August, I had a conference scheduled in the city of Bern, Swizerland. I read up about the area and decided to use the opportunity to take a week off from work in order to travel around the nearby Jungfrau region.
This was a really big trip for me as I had never been to Switzerland before and had always wanted to go since I was a kid. My mum had also never been and, because of this, my family all chipped to buy a ticket for her to come along as well as a surprise birthday present. This actually worked out pretty great as she is allergic to nuts so any swiss chocolate samples that she was given were instantaneously handed over to me. Not bad at all.
The town where we stayed was called Interlaken – it’s name literally translates to “between lakes” based upon its location right inbetween two large lakes, Brienz and Thun.
As we were hoping to visit quite a lot of places during this trip, we decided to buy a Jungfrau Rail Pass as this gives you umlimited access to get on and off any train, cable-car, tram or boat in the entire Jungrau region! Definitely worth getting.
Just 30 minutes away from Interlaken via train was another scenic village called Lauterbrunnen. This town is also a perfect base to explore the Jungrau region with the added benefit of also having Staubbach Falls right next to the town centre!
From Lauterbrunnen, you can take a train higher into the Alps – all the way to the last stop JungfrauJoch (nicknamed the ‘Top of Europe’). At this stop, there is a viewing station where you can see and even hike across the Altsch glacier. It even has a few restaurants, a chocolate shop and ‘Ice Palace’ inside.
On the way back down to a lower altitude, the temperature starts to rise again and it begins to feel more and more like summer. After a while, its hard to believe that you were standing by a glacier just a few hours before.
I think one of the coolest parts of the trip were the boat journeys across Lake Brienz and Lake Thun. As the Jungfrau Travel pass let us take any boat on either lake, you can take one whenever you please and use it to travel from village to village as if it were a bus. It’s really the perfect way to get some fantastic scenery without ever needing to leave your seat!
All in all, Swizterland really does live up to its hype. I can only imagine how it must have been for the local townspeople to grow up in such a place.
Since coming back, I have now moved out of London and will continue working for the same company in Florianopolis, Brazil. I’m really excited about this change as it has been three years since I was last in Brazil. At the same time however, I am a bit anxious as I have also never been to this city before and it feels like that I have forgotten quite a lot of my Portuguese since living in Mexico! This trip will only be short however and I’ll be back in Europe from the spring onwards to attend even more conferences!