From Summer Student to the Sphere of Diplomacy

Sep 25, 2020
Roman Zochling and friend enjoying mountain views
CERN alumnus: Roman Zochling
At CERN: CERN Summer Student 2016
Today: Adviser for nuclear affairs at the Permanent Mission of Austria to the United Nations

OAR: When did you come to CERN as a Summer Student and what did you work on?
Roman :
I came to CERN in summer 2016 to work on a project regarding the discharge characteristics of a class of detectors called Gas Electron Multipliers - or GEMs in short. GEMs are a type of gaseous ionisation detectors, which are able to collect electrons released by ionisation of gas molecules (through e.g. a particle entering the detector) in a gas-filled volume and guide them to a region with high electric field, initiating an avalanche and producing a current on the readout anode large enough to be detected. Discharges might occur if the detector is exposed to heavily ionising particles or high radiation fluxes and they possibly have adverse effects on the operational stability of the detector.

OAR: What is your best memory of working at CERN?
The spirit of mutual support and collegiality that pervaded the whole group. Especially the hourly „coffee and cigarette“ breaks were a forum to discuss ideas and approaches in a very informal setting, which always proved very useful.

Apart from working, we were able to organise with some friends alpine tours in the mountains of France and Switzerland. Climbing snowy peaks on a rope and marvelling at the glaciers and the mountainous landscape was an extraordinary experience as I had never before done such tours!

Roman and Summer Student friends exploring the Alps

OAR: What are you currently doing and where are you located?
Roman : 

I am living in Vienna. After graduation, I switched sides and began engaging in the sphere of diplomacy. Currently I am working as an adviser for nuclear affairs at the Permanent Mission of Austria to the United Nations in Vienna. In more detail, “nuclear affairs” refers to matters concerning the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization.

OAR: What skills did you develop during your CERN Summer Student experience which have been particularly useful in your subsequent career trajectory?
Roman : 

Apart from improving and professionalising my programming skills and increasing my knowledge about particle physics, I learned that it is extremely important to be able to explain your ideas and what you are doing in a comprehensive way. If your explanations are incomprehensible, it often means that you actually haven’t understood the key points about your own work or idea.

OAR: What skills did you need to develop further when you left CERN to face your next challenge?
Roman : 

When I wrote my master's thesis in Japan, I had to face the challenge of conducting scientific work in a scope by then unknown to me, while bridging a huge cultural gap. So I had to learn to be patient and accept different viewpoints, as well as to always keep the big picture in mind - skills that are in fact useful in any situation of life.

OAR: Would you recommend the CERN Summer Student programme to other people?
Roman : 

Yes, definitely! It gives you a unique opportunity to see for yourself how science at CERN is done, and gets you in touch with other people enthusiastic about nuclear and particle physics.

OAR: What advice would you give your younger self?
Roman : 

Back then, I had a tendency to involuntarily slip into a “rat race”. I would wish that I had taken a bit more time to reflect about what is going on and which things are most important to me.

OAR: Do you still follow up on what is going on at CERN?
Roman : 

Yes, I do! That is also why I came across the alumni network. Interestingly enough, my direct superior worked at the Permanent Mission of Austria to the UN in Geneva and was responsible for CERN affairs from the policy side.

Summer Student Class of 2016

OAR: In your opinion, what is the unique value of the CERN Alumni Network?
Roman : 

Even though my time at CERN was very limited and I left already three years ago, I am still interested in what is going at CERN. The alumni network helps to keep in touch with people who are and were associated with CERN and to follow up on what colleagues who also did a summer students internship back then are doing nowadays.

OAR: What is your proudest achievement?
Roman : 

Having graduated with distinction in Technical Physics after seven years of studying at Vienna University of Technology. This was an instructive and formative period of my life that shaped my thinking and my attitude towards life.


Other news