Filling the gap (year)

Hi all! I haven’t written in a long time. I know that since 2018 my written output here on my blog has been quite dismal, but all comes for a reason. However, this blog brought me so many good things at a certain point in my life that I believe I should also still integrate it in the final months of my PhD. I last wrote in May. Since then, some stuff happened that I need to let out before I explain the title of this post.

I finally have a tentative defense date. November 8th. This date was decided in August after a long process. I know, people find it weird it’s taking so long since I submitted. I submitted in April, so it’s going to be about 6 months and a half until defense. There’s some bureaucracy involved, like receiving feedback from examiners on whether I should proceed for a defense or not, and also making sure all members of my committee can convene at the same date and time for my public defense. My committee has two international members, which makes it a bit harder to coordinate. All the members of the committee are professors, have research projects, other students to supervise, board meetings they must attend, industry collaborations, and so on. Finding an ideal time point for 5 people is not easy! As much as I was quite sad that this took so long for me, one big thing that I learned this year is that, while I can control some things, like:

  • How confident I will be for my defense
  • Submitting my last manuscript before my defense (I have 4 published articles from my Ph.D. under my belt now, which is not too shabby, but the last chapter of my thesis has been a tougher one)
  • What I’ll wear for my defense

A lot of other things in my life and in my career, I won’t be able to control. And I learned this not only from my Ph.D. defense process but also from my job search.

As of now, I’m still on the market. If I have one word for how the process of deciding on a career has been, and sending applications that don’t materialize into an offer, is frustration. So frustrating that I decided I really needed to stop a little. Ever since my Ph.D. began, I thought my academic life would be over after the Ph.D. I found myself lost after seeing so many nice careers I thought I would do well in. I kind of envied these people who say that they are doing a Ph.D. really sure they want to be researchers and teach classes. I liked being a researcher and teaching class too as a teaching assistant. But I have some ideas on why I want to do other things, at least for now. Anyway, after 1 year of telling a lot of people I wanted to try something outside academia, I still like science too much and maybe I might still do something in academia. All the dilemmas because there’s not a simple solution!

This year brought me great things as well. But it has been frustrating. It’s been a year of learning to trust, of learning how to ask and accept help, and of taking it slow. I prized myself for being very autonomous, but life always makes you believe otherwise.

I found myself at the end of July utterly exhausted mentally. Neither the job search or the execution of the last manuscript were flowing. I know this is something most people go through in academia and most people do not talk openly about it, which is a choice we must respect. But now I had the chance to really stop a little. I took the whole month of August off. As I am not in any contract now, and this stop was agreed with my supervisor, this was not a problem. I noticed I never took a full month off since the 3rd year of my Biomedical Engineering degree in 2009. And in 2009 I was going through some challenges, so maybe 2008 was the last year I had peace of mind to rest during the summer, at the ripe age of 19?

It didn’t really feel like a month. So that’s why I took an extra two weeks off in September. I thought often how weird it felt to be taking vacations as I am not earning stable income at the moment. I felt that I don’t need to always be doing new things and tried to just be. Not always easy. I didn’t spend a ton of money on my month off. As for someone who started as a travel blogger, I am quite tired of planning travels now. I spent one week in Germany, and then two weeks in the countryside where my family is from, and the first week in the Lisbon area where I grew up.

So I’ll now talk about the silver lining in this year. I’ll call it a gap year, the gap between thinking I’m almost at the end and then not. I had a lot of interesting events happen ever since I mentioned I had submitted and then traveled to Colombia for a meeting of IEEE Potentials. The trip to Colombia was the start of some cool trips and events:

  • I finally went to Madrid, Spain, and then flew to Germany in May.
  • I was selected to go back to MIT for a workshop on Innovation in June and it was very cool! I’m always so happy to return to Boston, and during the workshop I let my inquisitive mind off the hook. I love inspiration and questioning. It’s so creative to question the process of creating new projects and ventures, I liked it. Innovation is something that my future career needs to involve for sure.
  • I finally went back to Prague in June. Almost 9 years after my Erasmus, I bought a CVUT (my University there) sweater and remembered some of the places I used to go to while I lived there, and got to know new places too.
  • I also wondered more about how to use science for evidence-based policymaking. I met someone who worked in this field and recommended me to apply to Summer CEmp, a Portuguese event organized by the Representation of the European Commission in Portugal. I was one of 40 young students selected to discuss the European project with governors, artists, researchers, journalists and more. It took me out of the comfort zone, the event was very different from everything I had attended and, as it was in the countryside, it had a very local feel to it that brought everyone closer. I learned so much and again, my intellect was so stimulated.

And also, I went on TV for a game show! I like game shows and my parents had been telling me forever to go to one. I even organized a pub trivia once in 2016 and wouldn’t frown upon organizing more. I was a contestant of Joker in Portugal’s national television. I played the game with my sister as a Super Joker (someone who goes in to help in particular points of the show) and we took home some money that is always a good prize for breaking out of the shell. I swear I was so nervous, but I think I did well. Fortunately, I got right the only question about science of the 12 that you have to answer :p

Apart from this, this has been a year of immense self-awareness. I know myself a lot better now. And I am still working a lot on this.

So, maybe having a slow year, like a gap year, is not a bad thing. I just have to keep on moving forward, but respecting my pace and the things I still have to complete from my Ph.D., and going for the projects that excite me! If you’re reading this, wish me luck for these two months, so that I get back on the groove.

I know this blog will end as it is when I finish my Ph.D. I don’t feel much appetite now for keeping it, and I’ll probably transfer some of the best posts to another platform. But, while I don’t finish, I feel I’ll use it for writing some more personal essays about these Ph.D. years.

So yes, 2019 is my gap year. Let’s keep filling this gap.

Cátia

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Lily
    September 10, 2019

    I’ve loved following your journey. Congrats on reaching the end of your PhD! Your story is an inspiration and you’ve worked hard to get here. Although, I will be sad not to read your posts here. Let us know if you start a blog somewhere else! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Cátia Bandeiras
      September 16, 2019

      Thank you so much for your kind words and continued support Lily! I am still thinking about what platform to turn to, I will probably migrate some content to Medium or will even create a new domain under my name to become a writing portfolio. In the meantime I’ll still write here sometimes until my defense and am @catiabandeiras on Twitter and IG 🙂

      Reply

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