STEP Impact

Over the years, hundreds of students from developing countries have benefitted from the ICTP-IAEA Sandwich Training Educational Programme (STEP). Here are a few examples:

Testimonials from ICTP STEP Students:


Name: Alvina Kusumadewi Kuncoro (pictured above, in ICTP's host city of Trieste, Italy)

Home country: Indonesia

STEP host institute: ICTP, Earth System Physics section  

Research field of interest:  solid earth geophysics  

How is your research field of interest of relevance to your home country?

My research is about geodynamics related to earthquakes and tsunami. Indonesia is known for its high potential for natural disasters such as earthquakes. Almost every large earthquake that happened in Indonesia is unique: for example, the Aceh-Sumatra earthquake in 2004 and the Palu-Sulawesi earthquake in 2018. The complex nature of every segment in the Indonesian subduction zone leads to various types of earthquake phenomena.

How did the STEP program benefit your education?  

It is not easy sometimes for a woman (especially in my country) to decide to do their PhD overseas. Being a STEP student gives me the opportunity to (still) get experience at the international level as a PhD student in my home country. At ICTP I am supervised by an expert in my field. His advice and our discussions enlighten me to do my work better scientifically, sharpen my critical thinking in research, and enrich my basic knowledge about my research. As I visited ICTP, I was also supported by the Solid Earth Geophysics group there, which included other post-docs and PhD fellows who I could turn to when I didn't understand something in my research. Also, I was supported with the computational resources needed to do my simulations.

What, for you, was the best part of being a STEP student?  

I get the experience at the international level as a PhD student even though I don't do my PhD overseas, especially as a woman and a mother. During my ICTP visit I was able to attend an international workshop where I met many experts whose papers I usually read for my research. As a STEP student I was able to bring my son ( he was 6 months old when I brought him to Trieste for my first visit) and received lots of support from ICTP staff. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, I was not able to bring my family for my last visit and we were apart for 6 months. But, I finally made it!

What are your plans for after you earn your PhD?  

I would like to apply to be a lecturer at any university in my country. I would like to do more research on earthquakes and other natural disasters in Indonesia based on physics. I wish as a lecturer that I can increase the awareness and interest of Indonesian students about the high potential of various natural disasters in Indonesia. I also want to share my experience with my future students about my journey during my PhD, so that they can pursue their future goals in science regardless of their limitations: coming from developing countries, big cities or the countryside, financial issues, resources issues, being a woman, a mother, etc. They can have the same opportunity to get a better academic/education experience.  




Name: Farnaz Ghanbari (pictured above in front of a blackboard at ICTP)

Home country: Iran

STEP host institute: ICTP, Mathematics section 

Research field of interest: differential geometry, Riemannian geometry, general relativity and positive energy theorem, Einstein constraint equation, vector bundle

How is your research field of interest of relevance to your home country?

I think this question is somehow wrong; I believe that all scientists around the world in their fields of interests are trying to make the world a better place to live for everyone, not just their own country but the whole universe. I think all fields of science would be relevant to and benefit every country in the world. As we all know, mathematics contributes to a lot of fields of science like physics, biology, medicine, engineering and so on. The great mathematicians were also inventors and prominent figures in other fields of science, for instance Carl Friedrich Gauss is known for outstanding works in electromagnetism, Newton's research on optic theory.

How did the STEP programme benefit your education?  

This opportunity benefitted me in a lot of ways; I could communicate and work with eminent scientists, especially my own advisor, [ICTP mathematician] Claudio Arezzo. They all helped me to gain more skills, organise my thoughts and ideas and improve my abilities as a future researcher in mathematics. This programme was also invaluable for me in learning new methods and gaining more and more knowledge about leading researches in my field of interest, which opened my eyes and my heart to a whole new world of science.

What, for you, was the best part of being a STEP student?  

For me the best part of being a STEP student here is working with one of the best mathematicians in the word, Professor Claudio Arezzo, and communicating with a lot of great researchers and students that ICTP has bought together in one place.  

What are your plans for after you earn your PhD?  

I am looking forward to the prospect of continuing my studies and research as a post-doctorate to achieve my long held goal of becoming a university professor so that I can make positive changes and pass my knowledge to the younger generation and educate them to the better future for all of us. 




Testimonials from IAEA STEP Students: 




Name: Daler Hojiboev (pictured above at the Jožef Stefan Institute, Slovenia)

Home country: Tajikistan  

STEP host institute: Department of Environmental Sciences, Jožef Stefan Institute, Slovenia

Research field of interest:  analytical chemistry of environmental samples; research of heavy metals and radionuclides in aqueous environment  

How is your research field of interest of relevance to your home country?

Today, quality control of natural waters is of great importance. To study the influence of various factors on the quality of water resources, it is necessary to conduct research using modern methods and devices. To obtain good results, an important element is the training of highly qualified personnel and researchers. Our research work will be efficiently used in the forthcoming projects/programmes in the environmental study area in our country and outside it.  

How did the STEP programme benefit your education?  

The excellent organisation of my study at the Jožef Stefan Institute has improved my skills and expanded my research horizons by using the newest equipment and methods of analysis. The training was very useful for me as a researcher since it allowed me to enrich my knowledge. In addition to the training programme, I have attended several PhD defenses at the Jožef Stefan International Postgraduate school on topics relating to issues of the environment and methods of analysis, and I participated in international conferences.  

What, for you, was the best part of being a STEP student?  

The STEP programme opened up many opportunities in terms of visiting leading research institutions in the world, meeting scientists from other countries, conducting research work - most of which I managed to use.  

What are your plans for after you earn your PhD?  

My plan is to continue research on environmental science.   




Name: Mumba Mwape (pictured above at the IAEA's Soil and Water Management and Crop Nutrition Laboratory, Austria)

Home country:  Zambia  

STEP host institute: Soil and Water Management and Crop Nutrition Laboratory, Joint FAO/IAEA Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, Seibersdorf, Austria  

Research field of interest:  agriculture-irrigation design and management for increased food production  

How is your research field of interest of relevance to your home country?

The Zambian government launched a diversification campaign to make the agriculture sector more productive and eventually export-oriented and through this, identified irrigation as one of the targets and subsector to develop. The sustainability of the subsector depends on prudent use and management of the resources therein and to ensure that irrigation continues to provide the envisioned benefits. My interest is to have a sector that will be developed and managed with future generations in mind.   

How did the STEP programme benefit your education?  

The STEP programme was arranged in a way that after all my field research for a particular year, I get to travel to my host institute for analysis of any data, collected both in the field and laboratory in Zambia, and carry out any other additional lab work required in Seibersdorf. I am working with stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen in my research and the host institute has professionals and experts in this field. I have experts and state-of-the-art lab equipment at my disposal for the successful completion of my PhD research.  

What, for you, was the best part of being a STEP student?  

Having so many experts to learn from and work with, from the inception of the research, and to see it grow to the current stage, hoping it has my desired impact.   

What are your plans for after you earn your PhD?  

I would like to continue working on water-use efficiency in a wide range of crops to improve their water productivity so that a sustainable irrigation sector is developed in Zambia. In so doing, I will be positioned to advise and help come up with policies that will contribute to a more productive agricultural sector that will be sustainable as well.    


Name: Gabriele Sena (pictured above at the Elettra-Sincrotrone Trieste) 

Home country: Brazil  

STEP host institute: Elettra-Sincrotrone Trieste 

Research field of interest: microtomography and microfluorescence synchrotron radiation  

How is your research field of interest of relevance to your home  country?

During my PhD I developed different protocols applying 3D synchrotron radiation microtomography, using different staining and fixation methods to enhance contrast visibility and to identify structures of the head of the Rhodnius prolixus insect, the main insect vector of Chaga's disease that is endemic in Central and South America. Chagas disease is recognised by the World Health Organization as one of the largest neglected tropical diseases in the world, being a relevant social and economic problem in many Latin American countries. The large number of triatomines participating in the transmission makes eradication of the disease basically impossible.

Thus, studies involving a better understanding of the physiological systems (neurosecretory, respiratory, and digestive) of insect vectors, such as those carried out in my thesis, can provide fundamental support for a better understanding and control of the disease, for which there is currently no vaccine.  My PhD work constitutes an important tool for studies on the physiology of insects and their application in the field of population control and blocking the vector transmission of pathogens.  

How did the STEP programme benefit your education?

Through STEP I was able to expand my international collaborations and considerably increase my publications in impact journals. Now, I continue my work with the researchers I met during STEP, but living in Brazil.  The STEP changed my professional career and I will always remember everything I experienced during this period.  

What, for you, was the best part of being a STEP student?

The opportunity to work with excellent researchers in my field of work.  

What are your plans for after you earn your PhD?

I got my PhD in 2019, and since then I've been a postdoc at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. I continue my research in the area and also collaborations with my STEP advisor.