The International’s Guide to an Academic Life in Berlin


It would probably stir your interest to find tips and tricks on how to survive your graduate studies in the beautiful city of Berlin. But to state it at the very outset, there’s no mantra to sail through this. My apologies for the rather misleading title but as I pen down my experience in order to explain the very same, it is striking to consider if following a certain norm or rule would have been really beneficial in the first place.

Berlin, the beautiful land of music, art, history and an easy going culture also happens to be home to several students aspiring to get the Doctor title. And by Doctor, (like most of us hilariously try to put it), not a real Doctor, but a PhD. I happen to belong to the same species. Striving to explain the pathophysiology of a rare genetic disease, I have reached a point in life where the mere mention of “rare”, “genetics” or “disease” can pull me out of a deep slumber.

Seeing the musician engrossed in playing the most beautiful notes irrespective of whether the passer-by spares him a cent or not, or the artist immersed in splashing the most beautiful combination of colours in his wall art regardless of whether he is appreciated or not, the city and its dynamics are interesting. There is this strange sense of motivation that I have felt even on the most mundane of days. A fair proportion of it I would actually attribute to the German work culture-tirelessly diligent. Even if everything seemingly goes downhill, the German work ethic appears to be always governed by a thought process which could be put into words like

We need to get this done!

Adding to this is the Berlin lesson of stoicism. Some may say that these words are rather of a frustrated academic. Well not quite, just into my second year of PhD, I have had only a glimpse of the whole picture. But when I say stoicism, there’s a fair bit of reason behind it. The numerous stories of struggle and hardships, of people escaping wars, unjust societies, or simply seeking a direction in life by means of struggle, each one of them is unique. Having had the chance to meet people from various walks of life and being exposed to various situations, academic as well as non-academic, I learnt that life becomes a lot easier as you progressively learn how to endure, only to relay it into your strength. And Berlin, with its heterogeneous mix of people, culture and traditions gives you the exactly the right bit of time and space in a rather easy framework. Now this comes from a bit of experience. Having lived in two big cities previously, namely London and Delhi, Berlin definitely takes the cake for this.

This is somewhat a philosophical take on my life in Berlin. Whether or not I become a good scientist only time will tell. But to the city that taught me the way of life and helped me grow, I would always keep Berlin at a special place in my being.

By Namrata Saha

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