Guest blog, My PhD journey.

Guest blog: How to infuse more travel into your PhD

Welcome to my first ever guest blog post!

I’ve been very excited to get different PhD perspectives and experiences as part of my blog so it can become more of an encyclopedia of knowledge for any prospective PhD students out there, or anyone that is curious to be honest!

I have a serious case of wanderlust as you can see from my sister blog Soph talks travel and I long to just be in a different city or country just exploring most weekends! But unfortunately I am finding that studying doesn’t leave much time for travel. But more so, PhDs don’t leave much money to be able to travel, but there is someone who manages. Someone who is in the lab like me but still manages to get all over Europe.

So I thought there would be no better way to start my guest blogs than with this month’s Scientist in the Spotlight in fact. Catia is back! And is chatting to us about how she manages to study full time as a PhD student and still manage to travel to various places so frequently!

My question to her is –  How? simply how do you do it?

Here is her anwser:

Catia from ‘A Pulgarita is back! And writes my first guest blog post on Soph talks science.

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Hi all! It’s Catia here! It’s a pleasure to be back and collaborate with Sophie again for a much awaited post about how to travel more during your PhD – or any other research activity! As you know from my blog, I love travelling and try to make my days count for exploring as much as possible. But first of all I want to ask you the following question:

How do you define travel?

If the answer is something along the lines of making a Round the World trip and having a ton of money, dear friend, let me now ask you a different question:

If you had a friend coming over to visit from another city and wants to know about where you live, would you be able to give them a complete tour of the nicest and best places?

I’m sure for most of us, the answer is no. So, this leads me to my first recommendation:

1. Explore your city!

As locals, we sometimes frown upon the tourist attractions since they are too crowded, or we have already visited them during our childhood. However, remember that you might not live in this city forever, so why not take advantage of the one day you are not spending in the lab and go to a free day at some museum or gallery? Even better, take advantage of a sunny day and just walk! Have you heard of a new restaurant or cafe opening? Get out of work a bit earlier, get off the bus/tram/metro a few stops earlier and explore the area on foot and take lots of pictures. I do this a lot in Lisbon and love it! The city is so vibrant now! It’s also how I’ve spent my first weekend after the big move to Boston for my PhD studies which you can read about here. The plus of being able to explore this way is that you spend much less money and don’t waste precious time that you need for your PhD and it keeps you sane!

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2. Assess what you do with your free time.

Ask yourself why aren’t you travelling more? Is it a time related issue? They key to find the root to your problem is to sit down and assess how you are spending your free time. Are you making sure you are using the holidays you have contractual right to? Or are you using those days to work more? It is perfectly okay if at some stage of our lives the PhD takes over, but this should not be the norm – also for the sake of your mental health. Also, are you not getting out there and exploring because you are spending too much time watching Netflix or on social media? It is also perfectly okay, but reassess if travelling is  really a priority to you. If it is, make a commitment to! Probably once a month, cut back some time on a chore that is taking away from your travel or exploring time and get out there! Get engaged in planning the trip and maybe put aside some time from other activities will bring you some new insights. Everything is manageable.

3. Make a ‘travel piggy bank’.

Have you ever had a piggyback? Did you have one when you were a child? I had one of those clay ones that you couldn’t open unless you broke it! As storing coins is not so convenient (I did it once and the bank didn’t want to let me deposit the money!) and I don’t recommend storing lots of bills or notes in your house, I’ll share with you how I do my travel piggy bank. It works like a charm! I try to pay most of my small expenses by cash only. Whenever I have a small note hanging around in my wallet at the end of the day – usually a 5 or 10 Euro note – I put it in my travel piggy bank and I get disciplined to not touch it until it’s full. Keep it in a safe place and keep on adding. When it’s full, count the money and deposit it. Add this value to some place where you track the total and voila, you know what you can spend on your next trip! And remember, the less you spend on things that only have an immediate effect in your life, the more you have available for travelling. You can sell things you don’t need anymore too and add to your piggy bank.

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4. You have the money? Just book a trip already!

So you gathered some money and there are some days you can take off work. The best day to ensure that you will not use these days to work thinking ‘I won’t go in case something happens in the lab’ is to book a trip! On a plane! As far away as possible! Why? Because having the trip booked and the money invested! It’s an insurance and a commitment! And when you have the trip in sight, and knowing how fun it will be, you will force yourself to work harder in the lead up to those goals. Whether it is writing that manuscript sooner, or spending more time in the lab, you will have the extra motivation. Of course, discuss first with your supervisor if it’s okay to take these days off, but a full weekend of 3 days won’t hurt your work! For instance, I booked my tip to Norway 3 months in advance of the actual date of the trip. I knew I would be there with very limited internet connection and I wouldn’t want to take my laptop. Also, Norway is one of the most expensive countries to visit – so if I went there and I kept working instead of seeing the fjords, it would have been better just to stay in Portugal where it’s cheaper. So, I had a couple of work deadlines to accomplish at that time. I started using some weekends that I knew I wouldn’t use for travel to work harder. Also, I was working after work in a library to put more work, and guess what? I delivered all the work before I traveled and I had one of the best experiences of my life.

5. Are you currently on a trip? Don’t feel guilty!

Most of us in the science world are perfectionists to a fault. I also share that trait. So, you got on the plane for the trip of your dreams, but are you still worrying about the results of your work and how that experiment didn’t go as planned? It’s okay and it happens, but remember that you’re doing this trip for yourself. To have fun! To relax you mind after all the hard work you put in. After all, you will have a great PhD, but isn’t it better to remember it as a positive time in your life, where you managed to keep doing your passions to some extent? So relax and soak in the experience. Work is always waiting for you when you get back anyway.

6. Go to conferences, or an exchange period abroad.

Could your project benefit from a stay in another laboratory abroad? Does your supervisor support it? Then go for it! I was quite lucky in this regard since my project had the collaboration with my MIT supervisor already, so my Portuguese supervisor just said ‘Enjoy the MIT experience!’. Also, if you already have work to showcase, assess with your supervisor if there is money to send you to present it at an international conference. Conferences are relevant for networking and also for practicing your presentation skills from my experience, but you get the added bonus of the travelling. Even if you don’t have much time outside of the conference for sightseeing, something always sticks in your mind. In 2013, I went to the Congress of the Society of Biomechanics conference in Marseille, France – and let’s just say despite having to cart my luggage, a conference bag and a poster, I still explored the city as much as I could! Tip number 1 also applies to conferences. I am lucky to have already traveled to some fantastic locations due to conferences. So make sure you take advantage of these opportunities to develop your CV and more importantly your travel CV 😛

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Catia at a conference in Marseille but still taking every opportunity to explore a new city

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Thanks to Sophie for letting me write the piece for her blog and I hope you like my tips! Do you have any to add? I’d love to hear back from you. I’m always eager to learn!

But I’ll leave you with this thought: Travel and my PhD – what does it mean to me?

I have already traveled to five different countries since the beginning of my PhD 2 years ago. The holidays I’ve spent and also the small getaways in my hometown and nearby area helped to refresh my mind and make me more eager to work after resting. It also made me a happier individual, since I am following my passion for travel while I am acquiring skills that will be relevant for new work journeys. Finally, now that I’m in the US as a visiting student, I truly believe this opportunity abroad will complete my PhD research and bring me insights on an area that I wouldn’t have much supervision on in Portugal. So, whatever form traveling may have for you during your PhD, I encourage you to strongly think about it, if that’s your passion. Everything will fall into place!

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Well now I feel prepared to tackle my wanderlust! Those are some great tips – thank you Catia! I will start saving now and booking that next trip as soon as physically possible! The conferences for me are not an option right now, but hopefully my publications will be out there soon so I can spread my research around the world. Remember to follow Catia’s blog for more travel tips on so many different places – so there will probably be something for you on there!

Find her blog A Pulgarita here and follow Catia and her blog on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and more!!!

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Please don’t forget to keep up to date on all my new blog posts, all the latest news and more! Find me and Soph talks Science on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Or if there is something you want to write about on my blog then please get in contact – I would love to hear from you!

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