Nationality: Luxembourger and Portuguese
Work Institution: Aston University
Research Interest: Molecular Biology, Genetics, Placenta
Tea or Coffee? Why not both? Coffee in the morning, tea in the evening.
Everyone has a dream, a passion, a goal, a determination to do what they dream of. Some people aspire to be millionaires, others aspire to develop a new technology, others aspire to win the Nobel Prize, others aspire to have a family of their own and others aspire to have both an incredible career and an incredible family life. Over the years all these aspirations and/or these goals have changed and evolved and what used to be the aspiration of a woman can now also be the aspiration of a man and vice versa. For instance, 80 years ago, regardless of which country, it was unthinkable for a woman to choose a career over a family, not to mention to have both. Today, although not accepted in some countries, in many it has become completely normal and acceptable. However, that being said, I’ve been asked multiple times “Why are you always moving from one country to another? Do you not grow attached to people? Do you not love your family? Don’t you think it is time for you to settle down and grow your own family? Aren’t you tired of studying?”.
You see, I am the first person in my family from both the maternal and paternal side to go to university. None of my cousins or other family members have gone to university. My family emigrated from Portugal to Luxembourg, aiming for a better life for their progeny. Though my family understands the value of education and has always supported me, they do not always understand why I did not start working right after my Bachelor’s. Moreover, many family friends have asked me the questions mentioned above (“Why are you always moving from one country to another? Do you not grow attached to people? Do you not love your family? Don’t you think it is time for you to settle down and grow your own family? Aren’t you tired of studying? You know being a woman and all, you should really think about settling down, especially if you want a family of your own!”) multiple times.
My answer has always been the same: “I have a dream and I am going to do whatever I need to do to achieve it. If I have to move from one country to another to achieve that, it is an advantage as I get to experience much more, while also doing what I want.
I grow attached to people and that is the beauty of it. When studying abroad you get to meet so many different people, some may even turn into being your family away from home. You end up developing friends all around the world and you get to learn so much more about different cultures.
I love my family and try to share my experiences with them as much as I can. I view this as a unique opportunity and I know first-hand how a lot of people, as for instance my mother, would have wanted to go to university and study but did not have the opportunity to do so. Therefore, I will take this opportunity and make the most of it.
I am not sure what you mean by the real world, because this is the “real world”.
This usually leads to a sequence of questions and comments until they finally understand that getting a PhD is not at all comparable to getting a Bachelor’s degree. Whereas a Bachelor’s degree is timetable-based and allows for free time, a PhD entails working hard 24/7 in keeping up with the literature and being passionate about the research one conducts. Getting a PhD also entails going through a few disappointments when an experiment doesn’t turn out the way one had hoped it would, and one has to repeat one experiment over and over or even spend months trying to validate or improve a method. Sometimes, like many other PhD students, I am sure, I wish more people would understand that getting a PhD is more like a full-time job, in which your night-time story is a research paper and in which you get used to keeping a post-it pad next to your bedside table for when you wake up in the middle of the night with an idea about your research. Your brain is never “just resting”, and your research becomes like your baby that wakes you up at night. In fact, this analogy about getting a PhD being similar to having a baby has been discussed among colleagues many times and the more I think about it, the more I think that it is the perfect analogy.
A PhD, just like a baby, is something you love, something you are passionate about and something you want to see grow (or progress). It is also something that can get quite frustrating, for example when something isn’t working, when the baby is crying and you don’t know why. You need to find out “the why” and then once you have figured it out, you need to find a solution to make it work, to stop the baby from crying. Finally, once you have a solution and the baby has stopped crying, you see it grow and (in the long run) take its first steps. Just like when your research is going well and you generate publishable data: It is something you are extremely excited and proud about.
So, to all of you, peer PhD students, keep pushing, our baby/thesis/project will be fantastic! Don’t let yourself get discouraged by comments other people may make or by crying babies or little things that aren’t quite working the way you had hoped they would because in the end it is hard but it is worth it!
About the blog
Being a PhD student in a European training network is a life-changing adventure. Moving to a new country, carrying out a research project, facing scientific (and cultural) challenges, travelling around Europe and beyond… Those 3 years certainly do bring their part of new - sometimes frightening - but always enriching experiences.