Ana Rodrigues, PhD student from Portugal: with more of us the environment will change

Important | 2021-01-19

“One thing that I enjoy at KTU is how approachable the lecturers are. I never felt embarrassed about asking ‘stupid’ questions and most lecturers try hard to teach clearly and engage with students”, says Ana Rodrigues from Portugal, who is graduating from her PhD at Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) this spring.

Ana came to Kaunas for an internship at KTU Biomedical Engineering Institute in her bachelor’s and liked it so much here that she decided to stay for master’s and to continue with doctoral studies.

“Unlike in Portugal, in which some studies are funded while others aren’t, all accepted PhD students here have a monthly scholarship that allows us to live comfortably in Lithuania. Besides, the university usually supports our research, and we have the opportunity to visit scientific conferences, study modules abroad, and go for Erasmus+ scientific visits. We even have dedicated funds for buying certain materials we need to conduct our research”, Ana is convinced that KTU research environment is full of opportunities.

The only thing that could be changed, according to Ana, is having more opportunities for international researchers to develop their academic careers (most of the possibilities are available to Lithuanian speakers). However, she is convinced – this will change with more researchers from other countries joining our academic community.

Although the student, originally coming from Porto, misses Portuguese food, coffee and the ocean nearby, she feels Kaunas is her home now.

“It’s quiet, full of parks and most places are easily reachable. Also, people here smile a lot more than they used to”, say Ana Rodrigues, who has been living in Kaunas for several years.

Read the full interview below.

How did you choose Kaunas University of Technology?

I first came to KTU for an Erasmus+ internship here at the Biomedical Engineering Institute. I developed my programming and signal-processing skills quite a lot during that semester so I decided to continue my studies here. I felt seen by my lecturers, and I thought the Biomedical Engineering Institute’s research projects were intriguing, so it was only natural to choose KTU for my master’s. After I graduated from master’s in Biomedical Engineering, my current (and back-then) supervisor, Prof Vaidotas Marozas, convinced me to pursue a PhD degree here.

What is most exciting about your studies? What do you feel KTU is doing right?

One thing that I enjoy at KTU is how approachable the lecturers are. I never felt embarrassed about asking “stupid” questions and most lecturers try hard to teach clearly and engage with students. I also enjoy that the given homework tasks are challenging enough to make students think but not overwhelmingly difficult. Having attainable homework challenges was especially gratifying for me. It helped to decrease my anxiety and made me feel confident and competent enough in my learned skills. The learning experience was overall pleasant and modern, and far from the traditional (and conservative) memory-based and standardized approach still implemented in the Portuguese universities.

As a PhD student, I also think KTU offers very propitious conditions for those seeking to pursue a PhD. Unlike in Portugal, in which some studies are funded, while others aren’t, all accepted PhD students here have a monthly scholarship that allows us to live comfortably in Lithuania. The university usually supports our research, and we have the opportunity to visit scientific conferences, study modules abroad, and go for Erasmus+ scientific visits. We even have dedicated funds for buying certain materials we need to conduct our research. Even better, most research groups at KTU are usually thrilled to receive international students because they seek international cooperation in their research projects. Another advantage is that PhD students also have a chance to start teaching or co-supervising final degree projects of students, which is an essential first step for us who wish to become faculty members in the future.

What are not so great features, what do you think we could improve?

Unfortunately, I think international students and researchers still face many challenges. One thing I would enjoy having would be more advanced Lithuanian language classes for students are researchers that are here for the long-term. So far, KTU offers classes only for beginners.

Another major challenge, which I think is more of a systemic problem within Lithuania and not necessarily at KTU, is how little opportunities we have to develop our academic career as international researchers. Most contests, grant applications, research projects management, and teaching must be made exclusively in Lithuanian. I often feel left behind compared to my Lithuanian peers because I cannot collaborate in grant writing or participate in certain meetings due to the language constrictions.

How do you like living in Kaunas, Lithuania?

I think Kaunas is my home now and I very much enjoy living here. It’s quiet, full of parks and most places are easily reachable. The city is quite different from the Portuguese ones, not only in the architectural sense but also culturally. Portuguese are more extroverted and talkative and go out more often. So, the streets are frequently vivid and loud, which is both good and bad. As much as I miss that environment, it feels nice to enjoy a city walk without so many people around. I think Lithuanian and Portuguese cities are quite distinct.

What do you miss from home?

I definitely miss the food, coffee, and having the ocean nearby. As much as I like bulviniai blynai (potato pancakes, EN), nothing can beat Portuguese food. I also miss coffee and the environment around cafes. Portuguese tend to chit-chat when they go for a coffee, even with strangers, and it is something that still feels weird not having here. The Portuguese friendliness is also something that I miss dearly.

However, I find that every year Lithuanians are becoming friendlier and friendlier. I think people here smile a lot more than they used to.

Would you recommend KTU to your friends? If yes, why?

Yes, I would recommend KTU to a friend. I think the environment for bachelor and master studies is very supportive and captivating. For research, I’d still try to convince other international researchers to come, just because I feel with more of us, the environment would surely change.

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KTU offers 19 PhD study programmes. Choose yours and apply from March 2021.

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