Posted on 11 Apr 13:13
It has been a year since Marco, our EU-funded Marie Curie Excilight PhD student, first joined the team at Ossila. Marco is from Pomezia, Italy, and has an MSc in Materials Science and Technology from the University of Rome Tor Vergata. Doing a PhD whilst working full-time in industry is an impressive feat that few have managed to accomplish! In this interview, Marco shares his experiences of both worlds so far, as well as his thoughts on a few candid questions.
Q: Can you tell us about your project?
A: Well, my project is about making long-lasting organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDS) – particularly thermally-activated delayed fluorescence (TADF) emitters. What I need to do is make an OLED that lasts 10,000 hours, using only TADF materials - in particular, exciplexes. 10,000 hours is a big goal! At the beginning, I didn't realise how long that really was - it's more than a year! Fortunately, there are ways of running accelerated experiments that we are designing here, with the help of Nick, Jack, and Omar (The Xtralien team).
Q: How is the project progressing so far, and have there been any challenges?
A: Unfortunately, at the beginning of the project, the evaporator system was broken, and I couldn't make complete devices without it. During those six months, I basically just studied and did some literature reviews on my PhD subject area. I've also been to a couple of conferences.
I'm a PhD student at the University of Durham, but I'm also an employee at Ossila. So, my role requires me to balance these 2 aspects: the pure academic research that I need to do for my PhD at Durham, . Time management in my situation is not always easy because they're basically two full-time jobs, but I'm lucky because James (Ossila's MD) understands this, as he comes from an academic background himself.
Q: What were your initial expectations about working at Ossila?
A: Well, I was expecting to work with an evaporator, for example… No, I'm joking! These things do happen. I wasn't sure what to expect, as I wasn't 100% set on a PhD at first. I applied for this position with the Excilight project as it would give me the best of both worlds and 6 years of experience in just 3 years (3 years on a PhD + 3 years of work experience). I definitely expected to learn lots of stuff!
I'm also getting a taste of what it's like to work at a company, even though Ossila is not the typical "serious company" one would imagine - with everyone in suits and where you have to respect the manager purely because he is the manager! So, I didn't really have a clear idea of what to expect or what would be expected of me. But everything I found so far has been really pleasing to me, and I have yet to find any cons to working at Ossila!
Q: Is there anything about Ossila that has surprised you, in a good way?
A: The friendly environment! The average age of Ossila employees is fairly low, so we usually go out on Friday nights for drinks. It's not a closed, dark environment – I've been in other companies before, and it was nothing like this, it was more formal and strict; if someone had a task they were working on, it was entirely theirs and you wouldn't be expected or encouraged to work with them on it. Because Ossila is a smaller company, there is more transparency and everyone is more involved. Of course, I could never do Omar's job, but I know what he does and that I can go to him to ask for advice, etc. I love working in a team, I've played volleyball in a team since I was a kid. To me working at Ossila is just like working in one big team.
Q: What are some of your favourite things about Sheffield?
A: I can tell you which pub is my favourite -- Fagan's, just down the road (from Ossila). It's got the best English food I've ever had! Also, the first thing I tried to find when I first arrived in Sheffield was a volleyball team. I've always played volleyball. Finding a good team to play with made me feel a lot more 'at home', to rebuild a bit of that routine, and I've found that Sheffield is actually a good city to do that. I was living in London for six months before moving to Sheffield, and London is... it's just a mess! You can do everything, but it's so chaotic and big, and there wasn't much to do for me personally, for the type of person I am. I do prefer Sheffield over London; it's smaller and homier.
Q: If you could give your past self some advice, what would it be?
A: Well, I still don't know what I could have done differently! I'm still trying to figure things out. I'm making progress, but I'll probably only know what I should have done (differently) at the start of my PhD once I've reached the end of it! Right now, I'm just immersing myself in a completely new thing. My English wasn't as good as this previously, even though it's still not the best! At the beginning, it was a big struggle, to get really involved in the whole environment. It was the first time I was in a completely English-speaking environment, and I found out that I didn't really understand the Yorkshire accent! The first few months were the hardest part. The rest was just what I wanted - a PhD in a company.
Q: If you could only ever have one type of food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A: Tortellini ragu!
Q: Do you believe in aliens, and if so, what message would send to them?
A: Yes, I do! I would probably send a peaceful message, because if they can reach out to us then they're probably more advanced than us. If it was the other way around, my message to them would be "Hey, buddies!"
Q: If you could travel in time, would you go forwards or backwards?
A: Probably forward, but not too far – maybe just 30-50 years. I don't think I would go back in time - I think the past was a very dangerous place - we're still not the most peaceful species! But I would go forward in time, not too far so that it would be a future I can still understand. If I were to go forward by three centuries from now, I'd probably end up somewhere I wouldn't even know how to behave! So, I would probably just travel forward in smaller increments. I would, however, like to go back to the 1920's or 1930's... If you don't count the two World Wars, it had pretty good music!