The PhD voice

I did a photoshoot at my alma mater! Celebrate your graduation

(All photo credits: Catarina Alves de Sousa)

Hi all! So, this month I was very busy with my surprise trip to Portugal, as I wrote on the post about feeling homesick. I have a lot to write about still and a recap of the events of my week there, like being with plenty of friends and being a speaker at PubhD Lisboa. But now, I have something to write about still. How the power of photos can translate to you and how they can be used to celebrate.

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If you read my blog, it has been no secret that 2017 has been the craziest year of my life so far. A lot of beliefs about my work and also about my personal life were challenged and changed. Also, November 16th is the anniversary of the day I graduated from Instituto Superior Técnico of University of Lisbon with a MSc in Biomedical Engineering. I wrote about that experience last year. And I pledge guilty for not being able to follow all the advice I gave myself and to you in that post. But that comes later. I made my presentation wearing a turquoise blue dress I bought in Zara for the occasion and with a blazer and, gasp, with quite high brown pump heels! I never never walk in heels. Anyway, I loved the dress and wore it in more formal occasions in the 6 years that followed. I don’t have pictures of myself alone in the day that I can show, so you’ll have to stick to the 2017 version of me! I’m about the same appearance wise so it’s no problem.

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I had long wished to do a photoshoot that would reflect the ability to be ourselves as women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). I work in the field, so it makes sense. As I spoke last year as well about my life as a woman in STEM, I generally never felt harassed or suffered gender bias. This year sadly it changed a bit. However, I also reflected about not so nice things that happened to me during the 5 years I spent on my way to graduate, and on my way to graduate to become more self confident. I felt that my bubbly personality, loud voice, quirky personal style (including nails painted in yellow and blue), dislike for hardware electronics and clumsy organization were often looked at as not being that intelligent. I think that I mostly felt that myself and maybe other people thought me more intelligent than I ever thought they would. I just made sense of some stares and whispered words. Still, I graduated with very good grades and even made the Dean’s list on the second year of my degree. I also thought that, since I had to work very hard for my grades and sometimes I had to let go of personal time to be very well prepared for my exams, I was somewhat uncool.

I also reflected on how, despite all the effort and sometimes not seeing myself as the most representative Biomedical Engineer ever, I made it, and liked the field as much as I did when I chose the degree. All the small victories, like managing to complete all courses in due time. The ability to enter the college music group (“tuna”) in the latter years and still complete everything with good grades. The chance to go on Erasmus and meet incredible people, travel and change my life. And also my friends, who supported me personally and workwise despite being very busy and in a period of particular personal turmoil (aka the end of my first long-term relationship, which lasted for the first three years of my degree. Who never got hurt out of one, raise your hand).

Cátia Bandeiras IST

6 years after, I needed something to set a point and look at myself as a woman that made it this far and, at the age of 28 years old, going through another period abroad and a much more complete person now. Someone who learned how to be a scientist, but also how to have fun and not feel guilty about it. So, in a serendipity (because I was not going to, I had other clothes in mind), I wore the blazer and turquoise blue dress again (with sneakers now, fortunately!) and went to my alma mater for the photoshoot I scheduled with Catarina, a successful blogger at Joan of July, who does some photography work and has an aesthetic I appreciate a lot.

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Don’t the photos look good? For a long time I didn’t like to see myself in pictures. Didn’t like the way I smiled there. Turns out people tell me I have a very beautiful smile. So, I came to celebrate the fact that all I learned in college and academia built me to where I am and made me learn a lot. That there is nothing wrong to not want to fit the molds. That it’s ok to realize that a career or personal path might no longer serve you and you’re able to go to more valuable things for you. It’s not wrong to not be perfect and you can find your voice. I can dress up sometimes but still be very casual and enjoy sports. I can code but I can also enjoy the idea of lab work. We are all different sides of a coin.

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I’m not telling you every day is perfect. The trip to Portugal made me look at some things that I think are wrong in my life and that I need to work on. But I want to look at these pictures someday later and feel so proud for feeling comfortable with myself and know how brave and gritty I am. Especially by photoshooting in a place where I often didn’t feel like that in the past. But now, I’m on to the future. And hopefully I’ll photograph more at MIT in a more casual style 😉

Cátia Bandeiras IST

I’ve been having very good reviews of the pictures. My sister even said some of them look like I’m a speaker and entrepreneur at events haha. I want to thank Catarina for such a nice moment and shoot! Find her portfolio on her photography website as well. I read her first book when I was in Portugal, called “Licenciei-me, e agora?” (loosely translated to “I graduated. What now?”) and two of her advices for new graduates searching for a job or a career passion are to create something unique and your own that showcases your skills (like a blog), and also to create a personal profile website to describe your skills and professional interests. I will definitely use some of the pictures in my upcoming website and LinkedIn. Do you have one? Share your thoughts!

What do you think of the idea of a “graduation-like” shoot at your alma mater to celebrate your journey? Let me know! In the meantime, don’t forget to follow my PhD journey in the US in FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest to keep up to date!

Cátia

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