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Ana Paulina López (ESR2)

Hello everybody, I would like to focus on how the PhD at Nowelties has enhanced the quality of my life.

Sixteen months ago, I started the doctoral pathway very excited after meeting all the talented fellows of Nowelties during our training at the University of Santiago de Compostela. I am grateful that we could share experiences and activities in person at least once! From that time onward, everything has been in constant change, as Nikoletta explained in her article. I am convinced that most PhD students face ongoing challenges from day one, and even if it is hard to stay positive all the time, we can choose to grow through this pathway. After all, personal growth may enhance our life quality in the short or long term.

Life quality: before vs after

The life quality of a person is determined by multiple factors which intervene in the blossoming of the individual. As a doctoral student, I would like to briefly describe the impact of my PhD in 4 different fields that define my life quality: emotional, physical, personal development and social relationships.

Mental health matters

Before becoming a PhD student, I could see how doctoral candidates struggled with uncertainty, work overload, and lots of stress and anxiety. When reading here and there, I was intimidated by the fact that graduate students present more mental health issues than the general population. After experiencing a grasp of these emotions during the master, I was sure that I did not want to repeat the case during the PhD. In the end I can say that we are likely to face all those emotional challenges through our life with or without doctoral studies. Controlling our reaction (as Francis explains here) and having a positive mindset (as Barbara explains here) are useful to overcome this. Thanks to my doctoral studies, I could access workshops to learn to detect the signs that point to seek for help for myself and others, do active listening to help others, and develop mental strength via mental training. I was amazed to live the power of visualization with a simple stretching exercise. Don’t forget to take care of your mind too! This is influencing your physical health (Sabrina wrote about mind caring in her last blog article).

Boost your fitness

Unfortunately, a PhD will not get you slim nor healthy. So you may wonder how it enhanced my health after these months. I can mention two things: commuting flexibility and the healthcare system. During my bachelor studies, I lived in Mexico City. It is crazy the time that a person can spend commuting when living in a megapolis; the daily journey from my former home to my Institute at UNAM included taking two buses, two subway lines, and walking, summing up ~2.5 h transport one way. This meant investing 4-5 h a day to reach your studying/working place…even thinking of it makes me tired. Fortunately, when you start a PhD like Nowelties, you move to a new country to aim to live near your Institute. And I did this! Having the chance to reach your workplace in 30 min by foot or 20 min by bike enhances your physical condition. On top of this, the healthcare system of Germany promotes prevention. It facilitates regular checkups to detect and treat diseases as soon as possible. This preventive culture has led me to regularly check on my health and tackle diseases early.

Shaping a Research Scientist

My impression of personal development through academic studies is that we are constantly acquiring new knowledge and probably new skills. Before Nowelties, I had a focus on toxicology and environmental sanitation. However, my PhD project involves new fields of expertise: microbiology and analytical chemistry, which will broaden my knowledge and skills. The main difference that I perceive is that as PhD student, I can access a broader diversity of courses, seminars, and workshops. They can be categorized as core training and soft skills courses. They do not need to be strictly related to the doctoral project, and this allows to personalize your scientific formation. In the end, all the training will facilitate employability after the doctoral research. All the courses and skills that we learn can be transferred to our CVs when applying for work positions in the future.

I want to share a phrase that my supervisors told me at different stages during these 16 months: “the purpose of the PhD is to form and train a Scientist”. This reminds me that the main goal is not the diploma nor the articles but the training process itself.

Strong bonds keep your back

Danilo explained that it is not always easy to establish lasting social relationships as a foreigner. Despite cultural adaptation, the flow of the new social interactions may be different from what we were used to. I witnessed that Latin Americans may struggle to establish warm relationships with locals in European countries in my personal experience. However, it helps to have a social circle with other internationals. Building healthy social relationships has a positive impact on our wellbeing1. To my surprise, Nowelties enabled me to improve my social relations. I have a nice group of fellows interested in each other beyond academic purposes. Although we can only socialize virtually, it brings me comfort. Besides that, I feel fortunate within the research group in Germany, which is friendly with foreigners. This opened my vision and forged a new experience that made me feel welcomed by local people.

1 . Maguey, H. (2018). Las relaciones sanas producen salud física. Las malas relaciones de pareja afectan la salud. Gaceta UNAM online. Website revised on 24.2.2021 (https://www.gaceta.unam.mx/las-malas-relaciones-de-pareja-afectan-la-salud/)
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