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Scholarly Pursuits

Diploma Programme launches new academic year

New ICTP Diploma students attending a virtual welcome session with ICTP Director Atish Dabholkar and Diploma staff
New ICTP Diploma students attending a virtual welcome session with ICTP Director Atish Dabholkar and Diploma staff


In the annual cycle of events at ICTP, none is more eagerly anticipated than the yearly welcome of new Postgraduate Diploma Programme students who arrive from all corners of the world to commence a year of intense study.

In spite of this year's pandemic, 2020 is no different. Thanks to extraordinary precautions implemented by the Centre, with guidance from health authorities, more than half of the class of 2021's 50 students have arrived to the campus. Under ICTP's strict Covid guidelines, the students must self-isolate for two weeks. ICTP's Galileo Guesthouse has been prepared for their stay: all students have separate rooms with private facilities; meals are delivered to their doors, as are books from the Marie Curie Library, and they must remain in their rooms for the duration of the isolation period.

To ease the isolation, ICTP has arranged online orientation sessions for the students. Meeting future classmates and instructors online rather than in person may not be the ideal way to embark on a life-changing academic experience, but in Covid times this method has become the norm. Indeed, in the official welcome session held by ICTP Director Atish Dabholkar with the students, some of whom were still in their home countries waiting for visas or flights, a sense of joy and excitement prevailed.

"It's a fantastic thing to see all these young faces, from so many different countries and with so many different backgrounds," said Director Dabholkar in a Zoom webinar with the students.

"This is a time to make the transition from being a student to start thinking independently like a researcher," Dabholkar advised the students, adding, "You have to learn how to collaborate, how to ask questions. Science is naturally international, so learn how to interact with people from other countries." He concluded, "One of the best things that students get out of the Diploma Programme, other than the courses, are the lifelong friendships they form with colleagues."

ICTP scientist Mikhail Kiselev, the coordinator of the Diploma courses in condensed matter physics, has helped to ensure a smooth transition for the students in their new home. This includes providing opportunities for virtual socialising. "We have opened a 'Virtual h-bar', a platform for students' discussions outside ICTP working hours," he explained. Students were also given free access to a series of documentary movies by ICTP scientific consultant  Giuseppe Mussardo.

For the students who have already arrived, a period of self-isolation has not dampened their enthusiasm for their ICTP adventure. "It feels incredible to be at ICTP, finally, to meet scientists from all around the world. ICTP is a delightful place to study," said Alejandra Quintanilla Zurita of Mexico. She has come to ICTP to study Earth System Physics. "I'm looking forward to learning a lot from all of the professors and to connect with my classmates so we can continue working in the future," she said.

Erick Arguello, from Ecuador, will be studying high energy physics for the next year. He was grateful to arrive in time for the start of the Diploma academic year in spite of the challenges posed by Covid. As for the coming year, he said, "My hopes are several: meeting the academic staff since they are extremely talented people, learning a lot from the classes, meeting knew people from different parts of the world and to know the Trieste and the country."

The Diploma courses are continuing to be delivered online for those students still in self isolation as well as the remaining few still in their home countries. Those who have completed their period of self-isolation are now attending courses in person, wearing the required masks and maintaining the proper social distancing in the lecture halls.

With the arrival of the new class of Diploma students, a sense of hope has returned to the ICTP campus. Step by cautious step, activities are emerging from the shadow of the pandemic, proving once again that science, and those who pursue it, can overcome most barriers.

--Mary Ann Williams