My PhD Journey: From Brazil to Australia

By Dr Bianca Molinari

Article Read Time: 974 words about 8 minutes.

I’ve often been called brave for doing a PhD so far away from home, I don’t know if it’s bravery, but it’s certainly rewarding. As a Brazilian, I couldn’t have picked any country further from home to complete my PhD than, Australia. Taking on a PhD in a language and culture that isn’t my own has its challenges, but what’s life without a challenge?

Melbourne trip. Photo: Bianca Molinari 

Moving to the other side of the world

Moving to a different country with a different language can be very exciting and also very scary. My first impressions of Australia were great, the landscapes are beautiful, and the people are very friendly. However, trying to understand the Australian accent was indeed a challenge. When I arrived, communication was not always easy. Adapting to a new country and being far away from home is difficult, but it is also very special to be immersed in another culture. After a while, I felt at home in Australia, and I couldn’t imagine completing my PhD anywhere else in the world

After a while, I felt at home in Australia, and I couldn’t imagine completing my PhD anywhere else in the world.

A new adventure: my first field trip

I am a graduate in civil engineering that has now completed a PhD in environmental science at the Australian Rivers Institute. Usually, when I tell people that I am a civil engineer they’re often surprised. Generally, most people don’t correlate civil engineering with environmental science, they usually think of the construction industry. However, the truth is that civil engineering has many branches and the environmental sector is just one of them.

Planning fieldwork can be difficult, and it can be even harder in a remote area with lots of crocodiles, such as my study area, the Mitchell River.

Even though I’d been in the environmental science space for years I’d never been on a field trip. For this reason, when I was planning my PhD I asked my supervisors to include a chapter where I could plan and go on my first field trip. I had no idea what I was applying for. Planning fieldwork can be difficult, and it can be even harder in a remote area with lots of crocodiles, such as my study area, the Mitchell River. I had never camped before, and my first field trip included bush camping and nature toilets – these were interesting to say the least.  You can imagine how hard initiation into field work was, but I did it, and I grew so much as a scientist and as a person because of this experience.

Field work on Mitchell River floodplains. Photo: Ben Stewart-Koster. 

International Conferences: my first, definitely not my last

My very first international conference I attended was the Society of Freshwater Science. Many people tend to believe I am not a shy person because of my nationality, because I am Brazilian. But truth to be told, in the beginning of my PhD I struggled a lot with public speaking, especially presenting in a language that is not my own.  I was really afraid to attend my first international conference. However, when I attended and listened to people talking passionately about their research, and met so many new people in my field, my confidence grew. I learned so much about public speaking, networking and ultimately, about being confident in yourself and your research.  

Since my first international conference, the science communication has bitten me. I’ve had the opportunity to share my love for science through a huge range of opportunities.

Since my first international conference, the science communication bug has bitten me.  I’ve had the opportunity to share my love for science through a huge range of opportunities. I went on a boat trip to Moreton Bay (STEM Horizons for High Achievers program) with year 6 students to perform some field analysis and talk about my research career. I also helped in the science booth at one of the biggest music festivals in Australia, Splendour in the Grass, with the Science on the GO team . In August 2019, my oral presentation “Aquatic primary productivity and its drivers in a tropical river floodplain” received 3rd place at the annual Australian Rivers Institute Annual Higher Degree Research Symposium. Finally, I also started a Twitter account to share my findings and interact with other researchers in my field, and to share some of my struggles too.

Bianca presenting at the Australian River Institute Symposium. Photo: Carolina Olguin-Jacobson

Coping with a Global Pandemic while finishing my PhD: help is always there

Finishing a PhD is already very challenging on its own, but during worldwide pandemic, it can make things uniquely difficult. When your home country struggling to deal with the pandemic, and you have no idea when you will be able to see your loved ones, it can be hard to cope. The last few months have been an emotional roller coaster trying to cope with everything. Fortunately, I had a very understanding team of supervisors and Griffith University was also very supportive during this hard time – which I am very thankful for. While many PhD students have had a hard time in the last months writing their thesis’, I believe it should not be normalised. I found Griffith very supportive, if you are a PhD student in a place of poor mental health, don’t be afraid to reach for help from your supervisors or PhD colleagues. With the right support I was able to keep working on my research and finish my PhD with the Australian Rivers Institute. All of this is just a small sample of everything I’ve been learning and living since I begun my PhD. Doing a PhD can be very challenging, and at times I questioned myself if it was the right choice for me. But, remember why you decided to do science and stay strong. Finishing my PhD and getting the Dr. title was one of the most rewarding periods in my life. I can’t wait for the new experiences yet to come in the research world.


Twitter:

You can follow Dr Bianca Molinari on Twitter here @molinari_bia.

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