So, it’s the time of the year where we look back at everything and all our achievements and shortcomings. In good blog tradition, here’s the monthly recap of what I’ve been up to. Without further ado, let’s start!
January is a very special month at MIT, due to the Independent Activities Period (IAP). During this month, the whole community is incentivized to take classes on any topic they’d like. I did classes about scientific writing and presentation skills, but also in figure skating and public speaking. The public speaking week was life-changing. I did almost all the classes of MIT Can Talk, a storytelling competition where the best speeches win a quite significant monetary prize. It was during these classes that I discovered that I like doing improv comedy and that it’s very relaxing! I never got to try it again, but it has been on the back of my mind since then. Maybe in 2019, I’ll explore it again? Regarding the competition, I didn’t win any prize, but the experience was very rewarding.
After I started the year in New York City (not in Times Square. It was too cold!), I traveled later in the month to the Southern states. We spent about four days mostly around Tennessee (Nashville and the Great Smoky Mountains), but we also stopped for a bit in North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Kentucky. In Alabama, we got to visit the U.S Space and Rocket Center. This was a great way to get in tune to a year that would bring a lot of news in the space exploration field!
My exchange period at MIT had ended and I was about to head home to get a new visa. I was supposed to start my second exchange period in Boston (this time, connected to one of the teaching hospitals of Harvard Medical School) in March. But life never goes according to plan as we want.
In order to celebrate, I went alone on a trip to Washington D.C. and Philadelphia. Click on the post to find out more! I went back to Portugal on mid-February. During the trip, I was starting to feel very tired and with flu-like symptoms, but I thought it was all normal. Turns out I had mononucleosis and I had to stay home, resting as much as possible, and waiting until I would recover to return to the US. Logically, the second half of the month was quite crappy as a consequence, because even resting or working was difficult with my symptoms. There’s no vaccine to the Epstein-Barr Virus that causes this debilitating illness, therefore I had no possible way to prevent it.
I didn’t do much the first half of the month as I was still recovering from mono. On the second half, while still in Portugal, I celebrated my 29th birthday, submitted my first full manuscript from my PhD, and went back to Boston! I started living in Brookline, a town in the Boston area that I really liked. It was the start of a very different lifestyle.
April was a very intense month. While I was back in the Boston area and enjoying the different culture of Brookline, in comparison with Cambridge, this is when I truly felt culture shock between Portugal and the United States. I have to say the main factor to this was not managing to spend as much time with Portuguese people as usual, due to my new work location. However, this paid off in the end, as I learned so much culturally! Workwise, I was preparing for an upcoming conference and establishing new collaborations with doctors for my thesis. Additionally, I volunteered for the Cambridge Science Festival and attended fun events! Lifewise, I was going to a yoga studio for the first time and I watched one of my favorite events of the year in Boston, the Marathon. It was really cold and rainy but we cheered for the athletes nonetheless!
The month started with a road trip to Quebec City and Montreal, as I was presenting my research at a conference about cell therapies. While I really loved the vibe in Montreal the first time I had been there, this time was not so great as it rained so much all the time. I also got to visit again the amazing Finger Lakes (Upstate New York) region, with a very pleasant day in Ithaca, the town where Cornell University is. The rest of the month was pretty much spent working and adapting to a new life. My motivation was not very high at this point, but things would get better.
In June it’s Portugal Day! This year it was a big deal in Boston for the Portuguese community, with our President and Prime Minister joining the celebrations. Our Prime Minister, Antonio Costa, met with students at MIT. On Portugal Day (June 10th), I cooked a Portuguese dinner for my international flatmates and some friends from other cultures. Everyone became a fan of “caldo verde”, codfish salad and “pastel de nata”. I have to add cooking and baking for others was a huge therapy for me in the final year of PhD and I’m forever grateful for the great moments around the table. Navio Escola Sagres, a tall ship used for navy instruction and Portuguese diplomatic representation, was stationed in Boston and I got to visit it.
Workwise, apart from my regular PhD grind (I have to say it became slightly disturbed at times due to the Soccer World Cup =p), I got to host a workshop on science communication on social media at ComSciCon2018 with the amazing Erin Winick (MIT Tech Reviews). While I don’t strictly do science communication on my pages and focus more on grad school lifestyle, I think I had a good idea of what works in the field and it was great to share knowledge with the students.
July had very funny moments, despite being a month where I worked a lot. I already knew I was going on vacation for three weeks in August, so it was time to finish some projects in time for a conference I would attend in September. First of all, I got to go to a Cirque du Soleil show for the first time ever and it was amazing! The show, Luzia, is about Mexican culture and increased, even more, the interest I have in the country. Then, we hosted a 4th of July BBQ in great American tradition and I went to the Charles River to check the fireworks out. Also, I went on a weekend trip to Chicago and instantly loved the grandiose architecture of the city. While Chicago is huge, it seems to me it’s a more friendly version of New York City in a way. I just didn’t like having to stand 3h in line to climb up the Ellis Tower. Boo.
How insane am I for planning a California and Iceland trip on the exact same trip and having to pack a backpack for three weeks and visit a scorching hot location and a quite cold country? Well, I am. I extensively posted on my Instagram for the Pacific Coast Highway road trip (two weeks and a half from San Diego to San Francisco) and my Iceland road trip (about four days, not enough at all for this unique country!), and I hope I’ll be inspired to tell more about it here on the blog. In good Catia’s Thesis Writing Tradition, I went to my family house in the Alentejo region (Southeast Portugal) for the last week of August. I had done this for writing my Master’s Thesis in 2011 and it was amazing to be in a quieter environment. While I needed Wifi often for Skype meetings with my supervisors, I feel I made significant advances while I soaked in very important amounts of vitamin D, tapas in the nearby city of Badajoz, Spain, and also eat sericaia. (Note: Sericaia is a cake/pie/pudding, originally from Elvas, and it’s one of my favorite desserts. It’s very hard to find it anywhere else in Portugal, so if you end up visiting Elvas, eat it. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage city and all).
The beginning of the month was spent preparing for the conference I would attend in Lisbon, related to biochemical sciences and engineering. I think I did a good job and both my primary work and work in collaboration with another student ended up being submitted later as research manuscripts. I returned to Boston for the final three months of my stay (and of my PhD fellowship) around mid-September and I knew around this time that my first submitted manuscript was very close to being accepted. My manuscript ended up being published online in November! If you have any interest in cost-effectiveness analysis of culture media (aka food) for stem cells, just search for my name on Google Scholar and it will pop up. Oh! For “travel”, I visited the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Birthplace, right in Brookline.
I had the chance to be a guest lecturer at MIT, so I spent a long long time preparing for this lecture and generating new results for one of my journal manuscripts. To me, the biggest lesson of the month was to ask for all the help you can when something this important happens in your life, which I did. October is also when the Fall Foliage in New England goes crazy, so I did a few detours in the Boston area to witness these amazing foliage colors. We went to Lexington and Concord, and also to Middlesex Fells. Other remarkable moments were watching the Head of the Charles Rowing Regatta, the Red Sox World Series win, and another Halloween in the US. This year, I dressed up as a hipster farmer and hosted trick or treat.
Now that I look at my phone, I have few photos of November! I tried my best to write a lot for the thesis and for my research manuscripts that were due on early December. I joined the Academic Writing Month (#acwrimo) challenge and that really helped. So, not that much happened outside work. Anyway, since November it’s marked by Thanksgiving in the US, I gladly baked two pecan pies (I can’t wait to get my family into Thanksgiving) and ate so much on the day. However, to get fit before that, I ran the Cambridge 10K on mid November and it was so fun! I completed it in 1h9min. It’s quite slow, I know, but I feel so good when I run and I’m so happy I finished the race 🙂 Finally, I watched College Football live at Boston College. I now got to watch live the four main American sports (Football, Baseball, Basketball and Ice Hockey).
Initially, my goal was to deliver the full thesis draft on December 14th, right before I would head back home. However, due to additional work commitments, I decided to let go of this deadline. However, still pushed hard, and I had to pack my life of almost two years in the Boston area and head back home. I have to say, these last weeks were quite the bomb in terms of stress. I still didn’t have much time to experience reverse culture shock, as my life has been quite busy with the holiday season and preparing my goals for 2019. Of course, goal #1 is to graduate. Goal #2 is to find a post PhD job. But there’s time for that. Ah, and I took part on the first Portuguese STEM Squad Meetup! It’s great to be with like minded women and share our goals and ambitions for our personal scicomm spaces and STEM journeys.
The post is long! It’s nice to recap these moments. For the final year PhD student, like me, these are the lessons I gathered from all of these things I did:
1 – When you’re between two countries and two universities, it’s amazing, but it can scatter your routine massively. Find an attainable way to reach a new routine.
2 – Engage into some therapeutic activity to wind the stress down. For me, it was going to the gym in the morning and cooking/baking as much as I could for people and having fun conversations around the table. Also use mental health resources in your campuses.
3 – Nothing is worth sacrificing your health for. Even if it’s a small flu, respect your time off.
4 – Try working from different locations often if possible. Outdoors, without WiFi, could do wonders.
5 – Don’t fret so much over deadlines. Odds are you’re seriously burnt out at this point, so be kind to yourself.
Thank you so much for having been there and reading my posts during my PhD! I decided to renew the domain for one more year, while I think of a new strategy for the blog. But I’ll only think about it after my PhD is done. Anyway, the goal is to stick here until I defend. 2019 will be a career transition year, so I won’t promise I will be very regular. Feel free to reach out though. Happy 2019!