lWhat is it like to be a researcher at a Belgian university ? Not saying that my case was typical for all researchers, chances are that I wasn’t since I was only filling in time, first waiting for my army service to come along, and later whilst trying to find a job.
Especially before the army, when I was living in Ghent “op kot” (i.e. renting a student room near the university), it felt more like being a student with money. So I could buy books and records, and go out for meals and for a drink in the evening, something that my limited budget as a student (B.Fr.500 a week) just wouldn’t allow.
It also meant that this time I had to learn my stuff properly, unlike when as a student you learn mostly to pass the exams, and if you don’t need it afterwards, you tend to forget about it. After all, if you have to give the practical sessions of the syllabus to the students, you better make sure that you know what you’re talking about.
And then there were the things you had to do to keep the money flowing into the laboratory, like in my case performing metallurgical examinations of samples (mostly welded stuff) for Volvo Trucks, who at the time did not have their own metallurgical lab, and relied on us to provide the expertise. At the same time, it sharpened up my report writing skills, since all reports issued by the laboratory had to be vetted by the professor, and I must admit that some of my earlier attempts came back rather bloodied in red ink.
Apart from that, I remember doing literature surveys so that the professor could remain au fait with current developments in steel without having to trawl through all of the literature. One I remember in particular is a study I did on interstitial-free (IF) steels – my initial grab of the literature was a bit confused, and it meant the IF study had a large addendum of other low carbon steels that were under development at the time, such as ultra-low carbon bainitic steels or rephosphorised steels.
I also remember being involved in guiding a student through his thesis work on Electro-Slag Refining, and doing the ground work for a future thesis (but more about that one in a later blog). I also did a literature survey on dual phase steels, which was the starting point for the doctorate’s thesis for one of the other researchers.
So in the end, did I do any ground-shaking work as a researcher ? Probably not. Did it prepare me for my future career as a metallurgist ? Again not sure, although it can’t have hurt. It definitely gave me a head start when I began my job with Iscor, being a notch above some of the engineers-in-training who had just come out of university.