One year of MIT

mit killian court

February 3rd 2017 seems such a distant date now. Back then, I was boarding at the Lisbon airport on a TAP Air Portugal flight to Boston. I knew I was going to stay there for a year, but I never thought it would be so life changing. If you already saw some of my previous posts about my stay at MIT, I did a few of lessons overviews that still hold. And now, for something completely different, I will do a more narrative post.

I went on the plane with 5 other students. 4 of them were from my year of PhD so I already knew them, which eased the integration process. I lived with an American girl for the whole year and learned about differences in lifestyle and culture. Being in Central Square, a vibrant neighborhood with plenty of cafeterias, restaurants and pubs, only 20 minutes away from MIT, was the best choice since the snow makes public transportation difficult and I really don’t mind walking with snow. The gear that I bought back home held up pretty well, despite the fact that my outer jacket, when in is pouring rain instead of snow, yields a little water.

cambridge massachusetts a pulgarita
This was the view from my room in the morning after I arrived. My flatmate had not given me my keys yet, it was 5:30am, I was jetlagged, and I wanted to explore the beautiful neighborhood of Cambridgeport.

When I first started at MIT, I was surprised by the variety of cultural and formative options. I went to so many workshops initially. Then, I started to get to know my research group, all composed of international students. The difference in style to my own research group meetings back home in Portugal was striking. This is not a critique of which one is better, because I was not so used to having that many meetings. At MIT, I had a weekly meeting with my US supervisor, plus a weekly group meeting. The group atmosphere was very friendly. We had one presenter each week looking for feedback on their projects, and a round robin where everyone said what they were up to each week.

It-s no wonder why I was the infinite agenda. Having had an important connection at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, I was able to go with my supervisor to have meetings with researchers and companies about my work. We tried to establish a partnership with a company we had in mind since day 1 of my project, however that did not go through. Surprisingly, another company approached me during the poster session of ISSCR2017. They were interested in collaborating with me to use my model to have an economics analysis of their growth data. I was working on a similar case study to the one they wanted, so it all happened very naturally. I have my first research article ready and the next one is in development, cheer for me that they get accepted fast after I submit them! 🙂

isscr2017 a pulgarita
Me by my poster at the Annual Meeting of the International Society for Stem Cells Research, a conference where I met incredible people and started a new collab for my project

During the Spring semester, I had the chance to engage in group projects on decision making in life sciences. Having met people who had to deal with these decisions, venture capitalists, and even the process of simulating an acquisition deal between a major drug company and a startup was so invaluable. Another group I engaged with was Code-IT, a program that teaches code to middle school girls once a week. I taught the girls to use AppInventor and supervised a few projects. A very challenging project but inspiring!

There were plenty of activities for having fun on campus though, not only outside. O campus, we had the Muddy Charles pub, a regular stop on Wednesday (and not only) due to their free chicken wings nights and very very cheap beer. They have plenty of board games and our favorites were Cards Against Humanity and Jenga. Also on campus, but in the Ashdown dorm, I went sometimes to the Thirsty Ear pub on Mondays for their $2 10 chicken wings. Then, we also had the monthly free brunches at the Ashdown and Sidney Pacific dorms, coffee hours at Sidney Pacific, parties and movie nights on the rooftop of Tang Hall dorm. And what about so many Summer barbeques, particularly on the 4th of July, and the moonlight sailing? And theatre exhibitions, classical and jazz music free concerts? I feel so cultivated now.

mit a pulgarita
I kid you not. MIT even had a petting zoo on the final week of the Spring semester. Here’s my little pony :p

After having traveled in the Summer by doing Route 66, I returned in force for the Fall semester. All the initial meetings were gone, most conferences already presented at, and it was time to produce work. I was going to less events, but had the chance to learn plenty of things. At this time, the MIT Portugal events became more active, with a few workshops that the program offered to us (I really liked the Designing your Life workshop which I will write about still) and the chance to make a 3 minute PhD pitch presentation to both directors of the program. It really helped me to become better at communicating my PhD to a lay audience. Surely it was a good practice for the PubhD presentation I held in Lisbon on November (that I also still have to write about. Oh Gosh).

mit portugal catia bandeiras a pulgarita
This is me (front right), some of my colleagues and friends from MIT Portugal Program and the program directors and assistants. On this day I presented my 3 minute PhD pitch. And you see the badge? I had a conference that day in downtown Boston. Infinite agenda indeed. Photo credits: MIT Portugal Program
mit portugal program a pulgarita
Another MIT Portugal event with a lecture on the visit from a professor from University of Minho. Photo credits: MIT Portugal Program

As I said, I went home for a week in November. There is a short post about that week, and I managed to surprise my parents. Most of my friends and my sister knew. I taped my parents reaction when they saw me walking into our apartment at about 7:45am on November 3rd and it was so funny! It helped me to keep in touch with my roots. When I got back to MIT, I knew I still had a lot of exciting times to come, like Thanksgiving and Christmas.

After all the holiday season was over, IAP was kicking in and I prepared ahead of time. I managed to write an interview that is currently under review and, if it gets published, you will know about it for sure! I also got very interested on the MIT Can Talk week, a series of workshops held by MIT Museum about public speaking. I learned about vocal variation, rhetoric and argumentation, placement on stage, storytelling, how to prepare TED Talks and improvisation exercises to loosen up. Since I am quite a risk taker on going for competitions, I applied for the final competition last Saturday, on my 1-year anniversary at MIT. The theme was Taking Risks. I didn’t win any of the prizes (all of them were pretty good money), but the experience made me find out that I quite enjoy improv comedy and I am so eager to join a group and keep on doing it! And for the first time doing public speaking, where I chose to talk about a very personal topic, I did quite well I think.

It all seems awesome, right? But I had some pretty upsetting moments. The girl that used to go to the gym (MIT has two gyms that we can use for free) like 5 times a week couldn’t do it anymore and was having pretty uninspired times at work. Also, I was dealing with personal issues and had to seek help. I fell sick a few times and, in one of the occasions, due to a badly treated infection, I went to the ER with an acute kidney infection and had to call 911 to take me on an ambulance. I have to say MIT Medical is an amazing resource and the health plans they offered are great. Also, MIT has free mental health counseling and conflict management resources. All are confidential and were the ones I used to solve the situations I faced. I feel a bit shy when admitting this, but real talk is needed. I had an adjustment disorder, which is related to abnormal stress caused by major changes in life. Despite this, I largely view my time at MIT as positive. I just want you to know that, if you are feeling overwhelmed by a change in your life (especially during grad school or moving overseas), you are not alone and can chat with me! Also, having very supportive supervisors who put your own well being and career development above the short term goals was encouraging. I was advised by my Portuguese supervisor to take time off before I did Route 66 since he didn’t want me to burn out and I felt so grateful. My American supervisor is a true role model in life. I want to do everything I can to keep on deserving the unwavering trust they have in me.

mit all nighter a pulgarita
Well, having all nighters to deliver things before deadlines are not exactly fun, but sometimes they are necessary. I miss my desk 🙁

Thank you to everyone who made this experience possible and better! From family, friends, funding institutions, supervisors and people I met. I couldn’t be more grateful. Now that my year at MIT ended, I started my digital nomad adventure in Washington DC. I arrived on Sunday (February 4th) and saw the Patriots lose the Super Bowl (and the Eagles won. I’m visiting Philadelphia later in the week, so hopefully the party spirit is still on!). I have tried to combine work with leisure and, now that I wrote this post, I can keep on visiting this city that is surprisingly me very pleasantly. In about 2 weeks, I will return home wearing my MIT sweatshirt. Because that’s how we do, and I’m a bit of a beaver now too.

a pulgarita mit
Could I take a profile picture for LinkedIn in front of the dome? Yes, but a profile picture for the blog is a better idea 😀

Stay tuned for updates about my trip in all the social networks: Facebook, Twitter, and especially on Instagram! Will I manage to be a digital nomad and still enjoy the city? You’ll find all about it in a post soon. But next week, it’s Valentine’s Day week. So, can you guess what next week’s post theme will be?

See you,

Catia

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *