PhD Is More than a Title

Camilo Sánchez (ESR8)



Hi everybody, it is my turn to contribute to the blog, and this time I want to share with you a little about my PhD experience and how I end up in Zagreb.

Since I was doing my bachelor’s, I was enrolled in a research group where I could work with PhD students and learned many things about sciences. At that moment, I realized that I want to pursue a PhD title in my professional career. As usual in Colombia, to start a PhD, people must have a Master, i.e., five years of bachelor plus two more years for the Master. However, doing a Master’s in Colombia sometimes is more expensive than abroad. Therefore, my wife and I decided to start an International Master in Germany in cooperation with Poland. Apart from the knowledge we got, it gave us an incredible life experience. We knew new cultures, traditions, and more importantly, we met amazing people and made friends worldwide.

After the Master’s, we returned to Colombia, where I worked in the industry while my wife started her PhD. After some time, I decided that it was time to continue with my PhD dream; therefore, I began to apply to every opportunity in water treatment technology. By coincidence, I found the Nowelties project. Among the different individual projects that the program offered, I choose the one at the University of Zagreb for two reasons. The first one was the topic because I have a clue about it from the bachelor experience; the second was to visit a new place and learn about it. Regarding the second reason, I feel happy to have chosen Croatia as a destination.

Before travelling, I had many doubts because it represented a significant change in my life. Mainly because it was the first time I would be away from my wife in 14 years. In the beginning, I experienced different and contradictory emotions. On one side, I felt excited about knowing new people, landscapes, and cultures. On the other hand, it was challenging to adapt to a new way of thinking and work. I used to be in a hurry all the time, and here people take things in a more relax and enjoyable way. Also, a feeling of loneliness grabbed me, especially when I got home.

During the first year of my PhD, let’s say that my research was going as planned, which kept me busy and motivated, forgetting about sad emotions. However, the Covid-19 pandemic started, and to make matters worse, a strong earthquake hit Zagreb. I never experienced such a crazy situation. At that moment, I just wanted to drop my PhD and return home. I didn’t feel satisfied with myself, and I lost in some way the purpose of my job. Seeing everything so hopeless and frustrating made me reflect on my life itself. This created an inflexion point, in which I decided not to worry too much about the future or no regret the decisions I made. I should just enjoy every day no matter what happens.

After this inflexion point, I started to do many things that I wasn’t used to doing because of “lack of time”. I began to read more, exercise, eat healthily, and enjoy the little things of life. After I experienced all these emotions and even similar problems that my colleagues had experienced during the PhD process, I could conclude that the PhD’s final purpose is not all about the title. It is more about the journey and personal and professional growth we get. Every situation and every decision that we make defines us. As a final message, I want to tell you that to overcome any complex issue, we just need to have a positive mindset and keep in mind that nothing is forever.

 “If your problem has a solution, then why worry about it? If your problem doesn’t have a solution, then why worry about it?”  

Image source: