QISS 2023 Spring School

For 6 days and 7 nights, a medieval castle in the french countryside was inhabited by grad students, postdocs, and professors. The 50 researchers wandered the gardens, taking over the lecture hall, haunting the quieter rooms, discussing day in and day out questions in theoretical physics, mathematics, and philosophy.

The QISS 2023 Spring School was a research school aimed at training junior researchers in the basics ideas, recent developments, and open questions in the fields of quantum gravity, quantum information, and quantum foundations. It was a blast. I slept so little (at the beginning for stress and excitement, at the end only for excitement), and felt so happy the whole time.

Four happy and exhausted organisers: Lin-Qing, Lucas, me, and Richard (Pierre is in Gabon working on his political career).

I was part of the organising and scientific committee, together with Lucas Hackl, Lin-Qing Chen, Richard Howl, and Pierre Martin-Dussaud. We opted for an hybrid format, with traditional frontal lectures in the morning, and most afternoons were dedicated to activities that the participants themselves were invited to organise. The idea behind this format being that this self-organised time would allow the students many exciting possibilities, such as the ability to dive deeper into certain ideas in the lectures, talk about the most relevant things for them, practice giving presentations, simply rest and clear their head if needed, and overall give more occasions for making new connections.

The lectures were super engaging (maybe a bit too advanced for a first year PhD student). The poster session was never ending, the afternoons were full of activities, blackboard presentations, discussions, walks in the woods. One would have needed two brains to attend everything.

Carlo Rovelli answering questions late in the night (picture taken at 11pm!)
My friend Jan GĹ‚owacki giving a presentation outdoors.
Six tables like this twice a day!

The wonderful staff of the castle served us homemade food three times a day. We sat around the wooden tables and helped ourselves to the food from big serving plates, together with some locally produced wine. This created a convivial atmosphere for discussions between new friends and colleagues about physics and life that lasted well after the desert. At night, people were talking, playing boardgames, playing music, singing, and dancing.

By the third evening people started approaching me to thank me for organising the school, by the end some people told me it was the highlight of their PhD 🤩. The first research school i attended left a huge mark on me, the excitement of the new ideas, the connections made with people over maths and under the stars, reinforced my desire to be part of academia. What a delight and honour to be able to help bring these experiences for someone!

At end of the week, after a fantastic evening of music, juggling, and comedy by the participants, i stood in front of all those bright minds and warm hearts to do a round of thanks and closing words. I thanked the QISS consortium and the Blaumann foundation for funding the event, the teachers for their generosity with their time and their knowledge, and, last but not least, all the participants for creating such a magical inclusive and vibrant atmosphere.

We got a standing ovation 🤯.

I am hoping to organise other events like this, and that this one sparked the participants to organise similarly engaging and free-form events of their own.