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What a Trip! PhDs in Romania: non-academic secondment

Authors: Anastasia Nikulina, Maria Antonia Serge, Frank Arthur

1 month

3 PhD candidates

8 cities

Almost 2,000 km on the way

An infinity of beautiful Romanian landscapes…

We spent the entire month of October 2021 in Romania. First week was devoted to the regular Terranova Academy Field School (TAFS, find out more here). After that, the three of us started our new scientific and cultural adventure in Romania as part of our non-academic secondment. As you can see on the map below, we visited eight magnificent locations in this country. On our way, we met many outstanding researchers conducting brilliant studies. 

Maramureș and Bucovina

These are two marvellous regions shared between Romania and Ukraine. The wild nature of the Carpathians is the greatest treasure of Maramureș and Bucovina. Together with other members of our project, we landed at the airport of Cluj-Napoca, and traveled North to visit Maramureș. We stayed one week at Vișeu de Sus (Maramureș) from where we had nice field trips organized during TAFS. Later we arrived at Suceava in Bucovina. Even though Suceava is not a big city, it is still very cosy and beautiful. If you are lucky enough to visit this place, don’t forget to take a walk along Ștefan cel Mare Street, try round bread from a local bakery and drop by the National Museum of Bucovina.

We also visited Ștefan cel Mare University of Suceava where we met the vice-dean of the Faculty of History and Geography, Dr. Alexandru-Ionuț Cristea, who told us about Romanian history and the university. Although it is relatively young, the university has eleven faculties and offers high quality education with more than 120 programs. Because of our personal research interests, we would like to particularly mention our visit to the Faculty of Forestry and the dendrochronological laboratory. Cătălin-Constantin Roibu and Andrei Mursa told us about their research and showed their equipment which is used to conduct dendrochronological studies with high precision. Also, it is possible to combine obtained results together with other datasets such as climatic variables.

One of our weekends was devoted to the visit of the painted Orthodox monasteries of Bucovina (UNESCO heritage). These monasteries, built between the 15th and the 16th century, are undoubtedly artistic beauties of Romania because of their vivid frescoes painted on the outside walls. 

Vatra Dornei (touristic resort) was our last stop in Northern Romania. After getting off the train, we met Prof. Marcel Mîndrescu (Ștefan cel Mare University of Suceava). Together, we spent several days at the Geoconcept research station located deep in the mountains far from big cities, in the Golden Bistrita basin (Bistrița Aurie) on the summit of Tibau mountains. Besides working on our own projects, we had fascinating field trips in which we enjoyed the beauty of Carpathians and learned more about some of the existing problems of the region and their possible solutions.


Dobruja is located in South-Eastern Romania. This region is a part of the Terranova field laboratory on which Emily Vella is currently working. Thanks to the director of WWF Romania, Dr. Orieta Hulea, and the project officer at WWF Romania, Cristian Mititelu Raileanu, we had field trips in which we learned more about the history of the steppe landscapes of the region, its archaeological sites, ethnography and one of the region’s gems – the Danube Delta

The Delta is a unique ecosystem which is directly connected with the Black Sea via three main arms. It is the largest river delta wetland in Europe. WWF-Romania has managed to create a series of model projects together with other partners to encourage local communities in the area, the governmental and non-governmental environment and the business environment. One of the collaborative projects focuses on ecological reconstruction and rewilding of the Danube Delta area. Currently, it is home for many birds, fishes and animals including rare species such as pelicans and beaver. We were very lucky to visit this fascinating ecosystem by boat!

Transylvania and Bucharest

Once we completed all the main research activities, we decided to visit one of the most touristic attractions in Transylvania on Sunday. Probably, you already guessed which one we mean😊. Bran Castle (commonly known as Dracula’s Castle) became very famous after Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula”, and many tourists probably come there searching for mystery and supernatural presence. Certainly, local folklore has many stories about ghosts, strigoi and vărcolac. But this fortress is more important from historical and cultural perspectives. 

The first documented mention of Bran Castle dates back to the 14th century, and the fortress was important for military protection and armed conflicts during several centuries. In the 20th century, it became one of the favourite residences of Queen Marie (the last Queen of Romania). She put a lot of effort into designing, decorating and maintaining the building. Traditional Romanian floral motifs on walls, ceilings and ovens, music dining rooms, bedroom and old personal objects… While walking through the narrow corridors and admiring the beautiful views from the windows, we could really feel the atmosphere of past times.

As you may know, Bucharest is the capital of Romania. We crossed this city several times when we had to change trains and cars on our way from one place to another. On top of field trips, collaboration and scientific discussions, we managed to walk around downtown. Bucharest was also our last destination, after which each of us headed back home. Frank came back to Norway, Anastasia to the Netherlands and Maria Antonia to France. 


This long Romanian journey from North to South and from East to West was depicted here in its highlights. But this trip was more than just visiting landmarks. We strengthened the collaboration and the friendship between the three of us. Also, we significantly expanded our professional network and enriched our knowledge. Each of us gained new transferable skills, because this trip was very difficult to organize due to many reasons such as the pandemic, geographical remoteness, language, culture and a lack of time. We supported each other and did everything to maximize our presence in Romania. 

We really hope to see each other in person very soon. We can’t wait to meet our Terranova peers in Brussels. We wish to come back to Romania again to see the colleagues that we met on our way and to admire the beautiful Romanian landscapes again…

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