So, I am a PI

3 minute read


In summer 2020, I got a message from Charles University in Prague that I have won an institutional support for conducting my research in the field of ultra-cold plasma physics at the Department of Surface and Plasma Physics. The 3 months that followed this news were cruel as I had to decide whether I take the offer or stay in a well-paid job of an optical engineer in the automotive industry.

In April 2020, my fixed-term contract at the University of Oxford ended. Because of various technical delays – and eventually also due to the coronavirus crisis – I left my project unfinished but was optimistic about prospects of starting a new life back in my home country. I had accepted the job of an optical engineer earlier that year and was looking forward to earning the money, finally! No more humid and cold accommodation, no more minus balances on my account, no more relying on the universal credit. My children would start attending proper schools with four really solid walls and a roof, and my wife and I would have more time for each other while my parents look after the grandchildren.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus crisis caused that I earned a fraction of what I expected on the furlough scheme and found myself being bored most of the time, for no tasks were challenging enough for me. The latter changed a bit when the part-time employment scheme was lifted but not in a scale that would persuade me that the future will be more interesting or brighter in the company. I realised that I would need to build my career for 6 years before being able to initiate my own innovation projects. So, when the University called that my own project (I had been formulating for more than one year before) got a green light, the only reason for staying in the industry appeared to be the money.

Money, money, money. I thought I will be able to be patient with the boredom if I had enough of them, but I was probably not hungry enough. Waiting at my desk for commands from my employer for the rest of my life appears to be scarier for me than being careful about the expenditure. Why would I live on Earth if I had to think only about collecting metal coins and paper bills? I am a proud successor of my family that has lived in Prague at least four generations, some of them leaving a permanent mark behind. I would like my children to see me in the similar way.

Now, I am sitting alone in a warm office, and making plans for my first 6 months as a PI. There are almost too many tasks for one to handle. I need to back up my research proposal with solid computational studies, to have my laboratory built and equipped and to recruit a postdoc and students. It will not be easy, but I can see the overall goal in a distance, which was not the case in the private company. The goals of the company were too short-sighted, and the management did not bother to communicate its intentions at all. We were often left blind and not being sure whether our line of actions is aligned with the intentions of the managers. In academia, I will not have to be worried about being recalled from a mission on the halfway any time soon. The judgment day will come in three years, but it is in my hands to prepare for it.