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Leadership Weekend

Hi all! This post will be a mixed PhD and travel post, since it refers to some sort of PhD Retreat that my PhD program holds for 1st year students only. Therefore, I did this last year. Damn, why couldn’t I create the post last year, so many things happened! I am talking about the Leadership Weekend, an annual event of the MIT Portugal program that generally takes place in the wonderful Peneda-Gerês National Park, in the north of Portugal, close to the border with Galicia, Spain.

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“During the two-day program at Gerês National Park, the PhD candidates saw their leadership and teamwork capabilities tested through outdoor team challenges and role-playing exercises. These events gave the students an opportunity to observe their own social, physical, and psychological skills and abilities, and the effect of these factors on leadership.” – MIT Portugal on a previous Leadership Weekend

For us it was an excellent opportunity to get together because, in the end of June last year, we were having lab rotations and were not having classes all together anymore. We stayed in the Youth Hostel of Gerês, close to the village of Campo do Gerês, which is an awesome hostel. The rooms are very new and well kept and it has 198 beds total. You even have apartments there, but we stayed in twin rooms. The whole hostel was full because another huge group was having a meeting there. I absolutely recommend it since it’s good value for money. And you get stunning sunset views to the mountains as a plus.

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The activities were organized by Espaço Livre, a company specialized in tourist activities and, during Saturday, we went on a cycle of extreme (and not so extreme) sports activities and a long hike. We did rock climbing, rappel, slide, archery, rope climbing,  and some group coordination activities. The activity that spooked me the most was rock climbing but I made it to the top. This will be important later in the post. I am not very talented for climbing since I hit my left knee twice in the rock and this left me in some pain but nothing unbearable. After these activities, we still had time to change to our swimwear and go take a dip at the Vilarinho das Furnas river beach. The weather was perfect and surprisingly the water super warm! It was awesome!

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In the next morning we had group activities in the Hostel which involved team buidling and leadership exercises. We had to pass ourselves through ropes, make some kind of hand coordinated pinball and others. About my leadership style, I understood something that I intuitively knew but got exposed to: I get too stressed giving directions to people and this can lead to confusing outcomes. Since then I have been trying to overcome this and to improve my communication skills in such environments.

I didn’t talk about the night activities yet but we had also a short orientation route and spent the nights at a bar singing karaoke =D

When we left, we were given each an envelope and a blank sheet. This was meant for us to write a letter to ourselves to receive a year after about the lessons we learned in the weekend and then we gave our letters to the organizing team later. I am writing this post now because I received my letter last week and it is super relevant now. From what I want to share, I wrote something like this:

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“In the rock climbing, in some moments it was easy, in other moments you couldn’t climb anymore from how tired you were, you sometimes felt like you needed help from others and even other times you wanted to cheat to get to the top faster. After these trials, you got in the end to a place with an awesome view! Keep in mind that, throughout your PhD, you will have a rock to climb with the same trials and keep yourself true to your moral principles.”

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After about 7 months of PhD thesis work now (read about my first 6 months here), I have felt exactly all these feelings and I anticipate much more trials to come. However I managed to keep my integrity and to climb through all the difficulties thus far. Bear with me and hope that I can reach to the top and see a great view in front of me!

Does your PhD program have these kind of team building and personal development activities, or any scientific retreat? If yes, tell me about it!

Cátia

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