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Cover: made by a Human on Planet Earth - 2017


GABBA Welcome Book: a testimony route. Associação ATG - All Time GABBAs 2017




here is not a single route to success. This statement is true for your graduate studies as well as for a career in Science. When we decided to create ATG, one

of our first projects was to write a book that would help students to take informed decisions throughout their studies. We are finally achieving that goal with this book. Please do not expect this book to work like a GPS giving you specific instructions on how to plan and how to complete your chosen route. Instead, we aim for it to serve as a repository of opinions, feelings, stories, problems and solutions. Hopefully, this will help you to navigate through your PhD. more easily by being inspired by those who have walked the walk. This is a live book. We expect it to get bigger, with more testimonies added each year, thus increasing its diversity and value. This is just a starting point of a project that we would like to continue growing for many years. Thank you to those who contributed for this initial version, and thank you to the many more that will add their names as authors in the future. Good luck for your PhD! Porto, December 2017 ATG, All Time GABBAs, GABBA alumni Association



Coordinates the GABBA program - History and Mission.

João Bettencourt Relvas

10 10 12 12 15

1.two: Living in Porto.

Lígia Tavares Pedro Resende

17 18

1.three: the GABBA modules.

Catarina Carona 1.four: how to choose a laboratory for your PhD.

André Sousa Diana Saleiro Teresa Nazareth

20 20 22 24

1.five: Stay in Portugal? Going to Europe? Going to outside Europe? 29

Joana Neves Cristiana Pires

29 32 first impressions - how to get along in your first months.

Ana Luisa Correia

36 36

2.two: The fabulous life of an expatriate or "I miss pasteis de nata". 39

Inês Tenente Filipa Ferreira

39 41

2.three: how to make a good scientific poster.

Bebiana Sá-Moura 6

43 43 “Pára-escuta-olha” - time to assess your project.

Diana Pinheiro

48 48

3.two: How to make a good oral presentation at the GABBA annual meeting. 51

Patricia Lopes

51 Getting ready to defend your final PhD thesis.

Nuno Camboa Ricardo Ataide 4.two: What if I am not ready to defend my PhD thesis?

Inês Sá Pereira

54 54 57 60 60 63 63

5: Reaching the end.

João Arezes "Once a GABBA, always a GABBA", welcome to the GABBA Alumni Association.

André Sousa

68 68

6.two: The next generation of PhD’s: career paths in science (doubts and thoughts). 72

João Curado Bernardo Bollen Pinto

72 74

6.three: Coming back home (or not): what to expect?

Pedro Beltrão


78 78



Welcome to GABBA and first year


9 the GABBA program - History and Mission. João Bettencourt Relvas GABBA Coordinator i3S – Porto, Portugal



I have found about GABBA in 2009 soon after I returned to Portugal from

almost 20 years abroad. But thinking back maybe it was GABBA who found me. I remember that I was invited to teach in one of its Neurosciences courses and became immediately attracted to the philosophy of the program, which used a broad spectrum of different and apparently dissimilar disciplines to address questions in fundamental and applied Biology. I also appreciated the idea of interviewing all the prospective candidates in order to better assess their ability to think independently and to engage with new ideas beyond the scope of their formal academic training or their grades. Selecting for “questioners” seemed like a very good idea at the time, and an even better idea today. The living world is about incredible diversity and change. I firmly believe that interpreting it requires a kind of knowledge that is not contained in the rigid and artificial disciplinary boundaries of our university curricula. Some times and against our most common reductionist held views, complex questions require complex, innovative and “out of the box” answers. One kind of knowledge or any amount of this particular knowledge does not suffice. Meaningful answers need different types


or means of knowledge. Focusing on the questions and not so much on disciplines, forces us to think beyond those same disciplines, to cross, intersect and often reinvent them. It is the question, how we formulate it and its emergent properties that enrich and broaden the disciplines, and not the other way around. Good questions create understanding, and it is often the case that important scientific questions are perennial and their answers only transient. Science feeds on good questions, but finding them is not easy. Good questions evolve, and in the process they challenge and modify you. Ultimately, they will also define your scientific and, to some extent, your life choices. They become part of you. Over the last nine years it has been my privilege to be part of the extended GABBA family. Nurturing questioning and openness to new experiences and different types of knowledge is one of the most amazing gifts that I could at the same time give and receive.


1.two: Living in Porto.


elcome to GABBA’s city: Porto!

Check these websites: o






Lígia Tavares GABBA 9th edition i3S – Porto, Portugal


orto is a picturesque city located in the north of Portugal. The presence of the Douro River and the seacoast confers to it a diversity of sightseeing and

activities that you will enjoy. The city center still encompasses its old habits that you can feel by walking around, listening to the old widows chitchatting on their balconies or at their doorsteps. There are still plenty of old shops and traditional restaurants where you feel the city´s past. But this is not just an old city. In harmony with the more traditional places there is a recent burst of new restaurants, cafes, and shops with a more modern and cosmopolitan vibe while keeping the city’s identity.


At the cultural level, Porto is improving the quantity and quality of the events provided to the public, some of them with free attendance. The main theaters are “Teatro São João” and “Teatro Rivoli” but many other small theatres increase the diversity of plays available. “Casa da Música” is a must see in the city. It offers many concerts ranging from the classical music to more alternative notes. The modern art museum, “Serralves”, another landmark of the city for its exhibitions but also for its beautiful gardens. Every year “Serralves em festa” offers many activities like plays, concerts, and performances all with free admission. For New Year’s Eve people rd

gather in the city center for several concerts; in the night of the 23 of June for São João, a traditional festivity that brings thousands of people to the streets to dance, eat grilled sardines, and hit everybody’s heads with plastic hammers. It may sound strange I agree, but it is a great fun. At midnight the fireworks in the river are one of the most beautiful in the world. Another city’s highlight is the “D’bandada” with concerts in unusual places in the city. These are just a few events but there are many more throughout the year. Porto is worldwide famous for its wine: the Port wine. You can experience Porto wine tastings in Vila Nova de Gaia riverside where you can visit the wine cellars and taste the different varieties of Port wine. Porto’s nightlife has changed dramatically in the past few years. It is now much more diverse and lively in the streets. You can meet friends for drinks in the evening, going out for a meal, and then you can have more drinks while chitchatting in the streets as main areas with bars are close to the traffic. The night ends as the sun rises in some of the late open nightclubs of the city. By living in Porto, you will get in touch with Portuguese and Porto’s cuisine. Again, you have now a great variety of options, going from the most traditional restaurants where you can have traditional food such as “Feijoada” and “Tripas”, tapas restaurants where portions are small and to share, great fish restaurants in the seacoast, but also posh restaurants (some of them with Michelin stars). A very typical


dish from Porto is Francesinha (toasted bread with meat and sausage covered with cheese and a secret sauce) and everybody loves it. Something that you have to do is to discover Porto’s “tascas”. Those are old restaurants where you can have traditional sandwiches. You have “A badalhoca” (smoked ham sandwich), “Venham mais cinco” (beef sandwich, we call it prego), “Conga” (pork strips in a spicy sauce), “Casa Guedes” (slow roast pork leg) just to mention a few. To know Porto you have to walk around. Get lost in the narrow streets that go from “Ribeira até à Foz” (Ribeira to Foz; Ribeira is the riverside and Foz is at the seacoast) as a known Porto’s singer (Rui Veloso) says, listen to the locals, smell the city, look at the great architecture of the buildings, and you will take Porto in your heart, wherever you go next.


Pedro Resende GABBA 11th edition i3S – Porto, Portugal


elcome to GABBA and to the “very noble, always faithful, and invincible city of Porto”. Porto is a traditional city, famous by its deep history, architecture,

and local friendly and diligent people. Porto changed dramatically over the past 5-10 years, with a large aesthetic operation in its old buildings, and an impressive number of new restaurants, hostels, and other small businesses opening. A movement boosted by low-cost airlines and a strong tourism marketing campaign that results in many tourists visiting Porto throughout the year. These days its most vibrant place is definitely “baixa” (downtown). Here you have plenty of very good options for a coffee stop, some are quite recent like the “Base” at the Oliveiras plaza in front of the Clérigos tower, and some are quite antique like the “Progresso” that started serving coffee over 115 years ago. Still at “baixa”, you can walk around through some of the most famous Porto streets: Rua das Flores or Rua Santa Catarina, visit the Lello Library (several times voted as one of the most beautiful in the world in many international contests), or admire the historical tiles at the Sao Bento train station. If a coffee is not enough for your stop and a pastry or bread sounds like a good idea, then Ribeiro is a great option to taste delicious treats for your stomach directly from the oven. During winter make sure to grab some castanhas for your walk (“quentes e boas”), and during summer home made gelatos are also a temptation at “Cremosi” or “Sincelo” or “Santini”. If you’re a beach lover you can also enjoy some sun in Porto: Foz or Matosinhos are good spots. But perhaps, the best thing to do if you want to enjoy some sun is take the train and enjoy the coast beaches from Gaia to Espinho, all in a short distance from Sao Bento train station (10-30m) and all very worth going to.


Porto cultural agenda is also these days much more alive, and make sure you do your regular online search for events such as Festivals (“D’bandada”, “Sao Joao”, “Mares Vivas”, “Primavera Sound”, “Porto Sunday sessions”, and many more), concerts, theatre plays, conferences, etc. Some of these will happen in great venues that you have to make sure to visit at least once like “Casa da Musica” or “Rivoli”. Once you experience living in Porto, it is hard not to feel a deep connection and respect for this historical city, and soon you will be realizing that Porto is more than a city, it’s a “nação” (nation).


1.three: the GABBA modules.


efore you become a Ph.D. candidate, you will have one semester of classes: the GABBA modules. During these 6 months you will have the opportunity to learn

and discover new things about myriads of topics. The calendar is updated every year. At the end of the semester you will have to organize a one-day symposium. You are in charge of everything. This means you will have to agree on a topic, invite the speakers, reserve an auditorium, find funding, organize the coffee breaks, meals and hotels for the speakers, etc. This is an excellent opportunity to train your organization skills and to foster your ability to work with others to achieve a goal. Just be sure that you start the process early to avoid disappointments. Here are some of the symposiums put together by GABBA students: o

Homeostasis: the struggle for equilibrium?


Environome: sequencing the environment


Perspectives on [Bio]Diversity


Patterns in Life: Deciphering the Code of Nature


Breaking Boundaries in Science


Nano 2 Universe


Catarina Carona GABBA Secretariat


he classes are organized in different modules covering a wide variety of subjects. Each module has one or two directors which are entirely responsible

for organizing it in the way they believe is more interesting and productive. This means that there are more theoretical modules than others; although in most modules students have to present small scientific projects or prepare paper discussions. Before the beginning of each year the GABBA Director invites these professors to join the program and start scheduling the calendar for the modules of the next edition. This is not an easy task, because it depends on the professor's’ personal calendar, the combination between modules and other external factors such as academic holidays and other activities that take place throughout the year. Since the beginning of the GABBA program and over the years, there have been some changes on the modules. These were the result of adjustments in the scientific panorama and the availability of professors to collaborate, which is totally pro bono. The students’ opinion and evaluation of the scientific calendar has also been determined in some of these adjustments, leading to the end of some modules in the past. Once the dates for each module are set up, the secretary of the program contacts the responsible professors to start planning their week(s) in advance, estimating what are the expenses will need to be covered have so these can be requested as early as possible to the University (ICBAS-UP). This process follows very strict and bureaucratic rules, due to the public nature of the University of Porto. It’s a


very time-consuming task, which is not visible or understood by most teachers and students. The secretary of the program is the first and main face that both students and professors see and with whom most matters are taken care of. She assures that all daily activities run smoothly, being the link between students, professors, coordinators and the administrative services of ICBAS, i3S and FCT. However, this is only possible when well combined with the decisions made by the program Director. The program Director (with the help and support of the scientific coordination committee) is the person ultimately responsible for all decisions concerning the internal operation of the program, from each student individual file aspects to every single expense request. One of GABBA´s main advantages is its flexibility and informal way of operating, when compared to more institutionalized and academic examples. There is no barrier for a student to contact a professor or one of the coordinators to ask for advices, on the contrary, it is encouraged and very well perceived! Last but not least, the students… Every year there is a new edition formed by a selected group of students, which are naturally different from one another. It lies on their personal interaction and sense of cooperation the measurement of the program’s success. The students’ enthusiasm and participation in classes, the respect among themselves and towards the teachers are some of the most essential factors which define an edition as a “good edition”.


1.four: how to choose a laboratory for your PhD. André Sousa GABBA 11th edition Yale School of Medicine, Yale University - New Haven, USA


y the end of May and the beginning of June, you should have a clear idea of which scientific field excites you the most. It is the time when you should make

a list of laboratories you want to visit. There are several important things you should take into account when selecting a lab: 1.

Research – You will spend most of your next 4 or 5 years researching and trying to find answers for the questions you made. You really need to love what you do. It will be taxing, but rewarding nonetheless. Finding a lab that will help you answering those questions might not be that simple. Sometimes, the best lab for your research is not the one that is working exactly on your question, but has all the tools and enough lab members with expertise that will help you and guide you through your path.


Lab funds and stability – Always, and I really mean always, ask what is the current financial status of the lab and when do the grants expire. Ask what are the plans for the next 4 to 5 years in terms of funding and also if the PI is thinking of moving or not. Also, your FCT fellowship will most probably end before you can finish your thesis. You should always ask the PI if he/she is willing to cover your expenses after your fellowship expires. A negative answer is a serious red flag. Also, for labs located in very expensive cities, ask if the lab can give you a compliment.



City – Don’t forget to feel the vibe of the city during your lab visit. Although you will spend most of the time in the lab, you will need to do other things in order to maintain your sanity. It is important to know if you can see yourself living there for 4 or 5 years. If the answer is no, try to find similar labs in a place that will be more pleasant for your lifestyle. Don’t overlook this aspect. Research quality is very important. However, if you will be depressed all the time, you will not be able to do good research.


Colleagues – These will be the people you will have to work with. Talk to them. Ask them what they think about the lab environment and about the PI personality. Also, how does the lab work? Do they have lab meeting? Is there a lab manager? These will give you hints that will allow you to understand whether the lab functions well or not.


Diana Saleiro GABBA 12th edition Northwestern University - Chicago, USA


ow to choose a laboratory for your PhD? Well, this is probably one of the top 10 hardest choices you will have to make during the GABBA PhD program, if

not the hardest! Not going to lie! Why? Because that will define your research and life for at least the next 4 years. However, don’t be alarmed! No matter what field and lab you choose to pursue your PhD research, I almost can guarantee that afterwards you will find a position in exactly what you want and you will be ready for anything that will come your way! That’s what the PhD experience prepares you for… Based on my personal experience and on that of my GABBAmates and other former PhD students, here is a list of the points I believe you should take into consideration when choosing the lab for your PhD research. 1-

Love the research topic you choose. If you don’t have an idea before the GABBA courses, take this opportunity to be exposed to different research areas and find what gets you excited! Don’t choose the research topic because others doing it are publishing in high impact journals. The fact is that if you don’t love it, you’re probably not going to have fun doing it and have the drive needed to publish high as well.


Find a lab where you can be fairly independent, but where you can learn as many new techniques/methodologies as possible from others. The learning process doesn’t not need to come only from your PhD advisor, but can also come from other labmates, or from collaborators of your Principal Investigator (PI). During the first weeks in the new lab, figure out who is the best at which technique (Western blot, immunofluorescence, cloning) and try to learn that


technique from that exact person or get their protocol or insight when planning your own experiments. This will save you a lot of time! 3-

Find a lab with a friendly environment. You will spend many, many hours in the lab, so it is essential that you get along with the people you’re working with, including your PI, especially if you’re going to have to learn something from them! It also makes it better to have who to go out with on those days when everything goes wrong and you just want a beer or to go out for a walk! Or on those days when something finally works or someone publishes and you want to celebrate! When interviewing, ask lab members if they do dinners, go out for a drink, or do any activities together. Don’t be shy! I believe this is very common for the Portuguese to do, but it is not for many other cultures. You don’t want to end up in a lab or city where you won’t have fun for 4 years, because it will impact your success as a PhD student.


Find a lab fairly well funded. This is your time to have access to the latest technologies, to be able to test your hypotheses and learn as much as possible for your future as a researcher. If the lab is not well funded, that will interfere with the quality of science you’ll be able to do.


Now, one of the trickiest points! You shouldn’t choose a lab just because the PI gets a Nature or Science paper every year. It does not mean you will get a Science or Nature paper. Those labs tend to have many independent postdocs and research assistant professors and the PI is actually always traveling and has barely time for a PhD candidate. Plus, many times these PIs do not care about you until later in your PhD, they are usually happy as long as one of their “postdocs” will publish Nature that year! You need to choose a lab where the PI can meet with you about your project, give you guidance, and teach you important skills such as writing a manuscript and presenting at a conference. Otherwise, you might end up in a very competitive environment and without


any mentorship. Also, in big labs like that, the PI might expect that you take not 4, but 5-6 years to finish your thesis. So, ask in your interview how long do PhD students usually take to finish it. 6-

Now, after finding the “perfect� lab for you, be sure it is also in a city where you will be happy living for the next 4 years, because if not, it will be really hard for you to also enjoy your lab life. For example, if you hate rain, do not choose a place where it rains most of the year! Or, just be open to start loving rain ;) It can also be part of the new experience! The reason why I emphasize these particular points is because I believe one

is more likely to succeed as a PhD student if the environment is positive. The truth is that in our line of work we get probably more negative results than positive ones, we spend a lot of time troubleshooting or understanding why something doesn’t work and trying to fix it, or waiting for the results of a mouse model that take months and then are unexpected! Working in science can be frustrating, but it is also very rewarding when something does work or we find something new! So the goal is to be resilient, patient, never lose hope and have with whom to celebrate when things do work the way we want ;) Good luck.


Teresa Nazareth GABBA 13th edition Institute of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal


ow to choose the lab for your PhD? There are no magic recipes to successfully choose the lab for your PhD. There

are, however, some tips to guiding you through the hard decision process. (i) One important step, and probably one of the most intuitive, is to get information about the Labs that spike your interest: who leads them and what is their main workframe. If you don't have a “Labs of interest” list you may start by writing down your research interests and then search for the main groups that work on those topics. If you happen to know a little bit about a certain topic, then you may have already read important articles about it. In that case, you can find their Principal Investigators (PIs), probably as last author. Moreover, GABBA classes will introduce you to some great PIs that actively work on current topics. Once your “Labs of interest” list gets fuller, it's time to go get information about them. Explore their websites, read their articles and contact people currently working there. Most groups will have contact information on the website and you will be able to reach PIs, Postdocs and PhD students. You can also search within your acquaintances who can put you in contact with PhD students or fellows that work in those labs. Ask them everything that was not clear to you on the website. Apart from talking to Lab members, you may also try to reach out to people who have worked there and/or members of the institute where the lab is located. Someone who is out of the lab is probably more comfortable to talk about the lab,


describing not only what works best but also (and most importantly!) what doesn’t work. Examples of issues that may interest you are: How many PhD students are there in the lab? And how many Postdocs? Does the PI usually supervise the PhD students in what concerns bench work (or are the Postdocs who do that)? And if yes, are all the Postdocs in the lab okay with spending time with students? What are the main techniques performed in the lab? What about technical staff? Will they support you? Which tasks are normally performed by the technician(s)? How are the people in the Lab? Do they collaborate or compete or both? Is there pressure to publish? How does the institute (where the lab is inserted) function? Do different research groups collaborate? Does the Institute promote regular seminars? These are examples of what you would like to know, though not necessarily the questions that you will ask. That you will have to weight and adapt along the conversation having in mind the person and the flow of the dialogue. As there is no proper protocol, common sense and adaptability will be your best friends. Be conscious during this the first contact, especially when talking to the PI. Try to avoid an evaluating attitude regarding the lab while asking questions. First talk about your scientific interests first in order to build empathy and know him/her better. Only then ask the harder questions. This way you would get time to “read” the person who you are talking with and adapt the questions and the conversation accordingly. Always try to be kind and polite. If you succeed to do so, you may ask everything. When asking harder questions (such as, funding opportunities in the lab) try to put “your feet under PIs shoes”, and don’t assume you expect him/her to offer you “a job” but rather that you would like to contribute for the lab funding by submitting projects too. The purpose of these meetings is not to find "the perfect Lab" (a lab where everything runs perfectly probably doesn't exist...), but to know the disadvantages of the Lab you will choose. That way, besides choosing a Lab whose


disadvantages you believe are easily to cope with, you also avoid bad surprises after you have already chosen. (ii) If you made it here, you have done a lot, but not everything. Besides knowing the candidate labs, it is important to get information about yourself! It could sound a commonplace but it is critical for a good decision. In fact, even when you know everything about the labs of your interest, you may still not know which one will be a good choice for you. For example, you find out that your lab of interest is small lab. So what? Big labs are not better than small ones, neither the contrary is true. What is preferable for you may be terrible for others. Obviously, it is important to know how you would fit in: a big group vs. a small group, a relaxed environment vs pressure for publish, a close supervision vs. great autonomy. Only when you know yourself and what you need in this moment of your career/life, you are able to realize which one is better for you. As you can't ask Google things about you, below is a suggestion of an exercise that may help you know you a little bit. 1. Start by reviewing your past professional experiences (if you don’t have scientific experience consider professional non-scientific experience, or academic experience if you don’t have any professional experience) - Review each project/period and note the ‘High’ and the ‘Low’ moments. - Analyze important decisions. What made you decide? What can you learn from them? - Remember what your main tasks were. Note which ones you most like/dislike to perform - Look at the core relationships (Boss, PI, Colleagues, Tutors, etc.) and note relevant aspects 2. Evaluate yourself in some critical tasks.


a) Strategic Planning, b) Daily Planning, c) Global quality of work, d) Precision, e) Speed, f) Deadlines, g) Quality of oral communication, h) Quality of written communication, i) Teamwork, j) Innovation and Update, k) other 3. Ask people who have worked with you and you trust in (ex PIs / ex-boss, ex colleagues, even your GABBA colleagues), to describe and evaluate your work regarding the same a) – k) issues 4. Consider your most important persons and personal projects. Think which ones you would like to keep during your PhD, and take time for them. (iii) You are almost ready for the final decision. In the previous step, more than what you most like, you probably also realized what you most need. You may prefer autonomy, but you may need more close supervision instead (if you have little bench experience, for example). Furthermore, while deciding don’t forget what you need for your work-life balance. A highly productive PhD also requires a happy student. Many students feel demotivated with their PhD (even within a high-production Lab and/or with a great supervisor) given the life restrictions it imposed. Now that you know your Labs of interest and (at least a little) about yourself, you only have to match the gathered information to find the fitting choice for you. Looking to your preferred tasks, strengths and weaknesses and to your lab list try to imagine where you believe you can easily fit and/or where you believe you can be a crucial contributor. You may also include in these “matching exercises”, an honest talk about you and your strengths and weakness with the PI/your future supervisor.


1.five: Stay in Portugal? Going to Europe? Going outside Europe? Joana Neves GABBA 15th edition University of Heidelberg - Heidelberg - Germany


y the end of the 6 months in Porto, you will have to choose which topic you want to focus your research on and which labs to visit. The GABBA program

gives you a lot of freedom regarding this choice. It is of course a very personal decision. The main goal is to find a lab that will provide you with the right work environment. In addition to your scientific interests, you may want to consider factors such as the lab’s funding situation, whether you will have access to different techniques, and supervision that is supportive without neglecting your independence as a researcher. However, I will not focus here on how to choose a lab because there is another chapter in this book dedicated to that topic. Instead, I want to emphasize how important it is to also consider the country and city you are going to live in for the next 3-4 years. Chances are that you will experience ups and downs during your PhD, like all PhD students I have met so far. Having a fulfilling life outside the lab will be of great help when facing those tough times, so choose a country and city that suits your taste (e.g. concerning language, culture, size, climate, food, leisure activities‌)! Back in May/June 2012, once I decided the scientific field I wanted to work on, I started to look for labs. I was quite sure I wanted to go abroad, to experience


living in another country and to be exposed to a different culture. I wanted to have this adventure in my life. But at the same time, the idea of being far away from Portugal was scary. I was born in Lisbon and I had lived there all my life, close to my family and my childhood friends. I couldn’t imagine living a whole day’s trip away from home for the next couple of years. Therefore, I decided to focus my search on labs in Europe. Staying in Europe meant that I could “easily” go home for a weekend and I would not have a big-time difference to Portugal, which would allow me to skype with my family and friends more often. It felt like a good compromise between my desire to experience living abroad and my fears of leaving home. As there are very good European labs doing research in my field of interest, I did not feel I was limiting my career by deciding to stay in Europe. After visiting three labs, I decided to go to Heidelberg, a university city in the south of Germany. I thought it was the right lab for me and, despite not knowing a single word of German, I could see myself living in this city for a couple of years. I didn’t have to take care of any Visa or health insurance, in contrast to some of my colleagues who decided to go to the USA; so less bureaucracy to worry about. Nevertheless, I was apprehensive and nervous about what life would be like in this new country. Now looking back, I am happy I decided to dive into this adventure. Going abroad means you will leave your comfort zone. You will miss those cozy Sunday family lunches and those Saturday nights out with your friends. You will not be present for your best friend’s birthday and many other important events. You will have to start a new life in a new city and in a new country, surrounded by people you don’t know, speaking a different language and facing new challenges every day. It might seem scary (and it is!) but my personal experience tells me that you will soon be happy to have taken that risk. You will end up having friends everywhere, from different nationalities and different cultures. You will be more open to try new things, you might learn a new language, and you might try a new sport you have


never thought you would. You will be exposed to an exciting scientific community that will push you forward and will stimulate you to accomplish your goals. You will have contact with people from different scientific backgrounds who have different ways of approaching the same scientific questions. And once you look back, you will see how much you grew during those years, both as a scientist and as a person.


Cristiana Pires GABBA 12th edition Center for Neuroscience and Cell Biology, University of Coimbra - Coimbra, Portugal


hoosing the place where to do your PhD can be really daunting. Contrarily to the majority of other prospective PhD students, as GABBA student you are lucky

to have complete freedom in this choice. At least, that is how I felt when I was facing that decision. You will have a lot of aspects to consider, pros and cons to balance, and the country itself just one of them. About Portugal, I won’t focus much on the negative side. We are all aware of our problems and limitations, some related to the lack of a clear and sustained scientific policy. In addition, here the access to funding is not always easy. As an optimist, I prefer to focus on the pros, despite some of them seeming quite obvious. - Comfort zone. Starting a PhD entails a good dose of courage and faith. Staying in the socio and cultural environment we already know and understand will help balance against all the other uncertainties and risky decisions. - Most of us have our family and friends, our support system here. (I would just dare to say that during your PhD you will find your own additional support system on your PhD colleagues that are facing the same problems, struggles, and pure happiness when that experiment finally works after 10 or so th

attempts! I found mine in the lab and on my GABBA 12 friends obviously! :) - Portugal is a lovely country with really nice weather! We all know this for years; the rest world is only figuring it out now!


- In Portugal, there are top research institutes with highly qualified and competitive people, capable of obtaining national and international funding. Usually these institutes are also able to attract international scientists, who enrich the scientific exchange. This is definitely a plus if you’re staying in Portugal. - There are also very good groups exploring interesting subjects. Find one where you think you could fit and you will be working on a project that for you is really exciting, rather than just interesting. You will need your selfmotivation! - We certainly have excellent investigators who have proved us over and over again that outstanding science can be done in Portugal. They are able to attract funding and have clear and original scientific mind to guide us through the PhD years. - You will establish a good scientific and academic network in Portugal, which might help you on the next steps of your career.

I think this overall context is the reason that every year more GABBA

students decide to stay in Portugal. I have to be honest. In 2009, I decided to stay in th

Portugal for personal reasons and I felt the “weirdo” among my GABBA 12 friends, who all went abroad. But I never felt the underdog! Thus, I really believe that nowadays we can do an excellent PhD in Portugal. I’m not going to sugar coat it however! I didn’t have an excellent PhD. At least not if we consider the usual metrics to evaluate a CV in the end of your PhD. Regardless of your hard work and commitment during your PhD, problems will arise. Some problems you will be able to solve, others you won’t. But as long as you feel the drive and enthusiasm to fight for your objectives, you will reach the day of thesis submission and defense, and you will experience the wonderful joy of self-fulfillment.


And eventually, no matter how down you felt during your PhD, time will pass and you will be happy, doing the science you love and being a postdoc (as I am) or whatever path you decide to follow. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t really matter the country you are. There will be difficulties, yes. But there will also be joy. So try not to get overwhelmed by the PhD. After all, it’s just the first step!



The second year


35 first impressions - how to get along in your first months. Ana Luisa Correia GABBA 11th edition Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research - Basel, Switzerland


tarting something new isn’t easy, and the beginning of a PhD is certainly no exception. You start somewhere new, you have to learn your role, build new

relationships, and integrate into the culture‌ that is a lot to take in! And yet, you are posed an even bigger challenge: how can I impress my mentor and colleagues from day 1? For somebody born and raised in a humble small town in the Douro valley, being among the 9-12 yearly selected students for the competitive PhD GABBA Program was already quite impressive! Imagine then, when I decided to cross over 9000 km all the way to a top lab in California... I really rocked! Until I set my foot in Berkeley and found no top students anymore, because I was on the top of the world, and there everybody is top! So I soon realized I had to start a new journey of effort and commitment to prove myself again. One of the most important early steps to stand out from the crowd (and an especially brilliant one!) is to be active in your approach to research. Get around and ask your lab mates what they do, what they are working on, and what gets them excited about being in the lab and doing science every day. Expressing your curiosity will show that you are open to learning and eager to fit in the team, as well as


shorten your time finding things and knowing whom you can ask for advice on a particular issue. Being inquisitive and engaging in group discussions will also make yourself noticed in lab meetings or seminars. In addition, spontaneous brainstorms with other researchers are unique opportunities for sharing strengths and knowledge, and can be a great kickoff for collaborations. Equally important for starting on the right foot is to make an extra effort to overcome initial challenges, which often translates to putting in extra time. You have to be able to find time for your research, which includes spending extended periods of time in the lab, analyzing data, and scheduling time for collaborative projects, all at once. And even when you think you mastered the art of time management, get yourself ready for schedules going awry, and be willing to sacrifice certain activities. As I always recall from Mina Bissell, mentor of both my PhD and life, ‘if you want a successful career in academia (or indeed in any professional career) you should work at least 6 days a week’. If you are passionate about research, this isn’t that hard to do indeed! Impressing comes also from being an avid reader of the literature, both in your immediate area and beyond, both the current and the past. Reading is a great chance to expand your knowledge further, and it gives an additional opportunity to initiate thought-provoking scientific discussions with your supervisor or other colleagues. The more perspectives you come across with, the more able you are to see all the angles of an issue, and thus, the more equipped you are to consolidate your own perspective. Remember that scientific discoveries come from seeing things the way nobody had seen before. How else, but knowing what is already in the literature, could you possibly make an original contribution to science? But perhaps the most significant transition to making yourself noticeable is to get involved and take responsibility for your own project. As early as that transition occurred during my PhD studies, and as tough and demanding it seemed at


that time, I later became to realize it was necessary. Owning your project is the only way to develop strong skills in independent and critical thinking, and embrace both successes and failures. By thinking and rethinking about what you are doing, and why, and whether there are better ways to do it, you extend the limits of your creativity, and you will certainly impress. My final remark goes to say that first impressions should be genuine, reflecting all your capabilities but also your limitations. Your PhD is for you, it should feel exciting and fun, and bring you the intellectual satisfaction. More than anyone else, you have to impress yourself! So you might as well just set the bar high, and in the words of my own mentor ‘choose your question wisely, be brave to always question the authority, and think outside the box!’


2.two: The fabulous life of an expatriate or "I miss pasteis de nata". InĂŞs Tenente GABBA 14th edition Massachusetts General Hospital / Harvard Medical School - Boston, Massachusetts, USA “I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world." --Socrates


ere, in the warm coziness of a neighborhood coffee shop, I cannot truly recognize the person that landed in Boston more than four years ago. From

the darkness of the first cab ride to the hotel I don’t recall excitement, but apprehension. All great challenges are a leap into the darkness. This was my first big adventure. And there were challenges and accomplishments: bank account, apartment cell phone, picking what kind of cheese to put into what kind of bread and what kind of coffee is (more) decent for consumption, check. I rode bikes, had accidents; I moved more times than I can count; I visited emergency rooms and got acquainted with a completely new (insane) healthcare system; I met firefighters in my apartment building; I was even close to being summoned to a court of law and... And in those weary days I wished I could seek the comfort of what is known, of those who would hold me and keep me in a warm comfy place that I used to call Home. But the sun would rise the next day, and I would meet Nobel Prize winners and artists and writers and musicians, and I was a singer and a silver medalist judoka.


And I was an avid reader (there is nothing like the immense possibilities that a library and a bookstore hold; the worst vice for curious people and one of the most delicious pleasures of a weekend stroll in Harvard square). But mostly, and additionally, I was a PhD student and a scientist. This was my “Matryoshka dolls” life chapter: a challenge within a challenge. A PhD is a journey in itself, as is Science: a leap into the unknown that must be pursued with perseverance, focus and motivation in order to unveil a tiny bit of the “truth”. It goes beyond the subject at matter and entails the development of novel technical skills, experimental design, and execution, data analyses, reading and writing scientific publications and simply navigating the local and international scientific environment. The process is full of ups and downs, of excitement and uncertainty, obvious interpretations and puzzling clouds, and a feeling that there is no end in sight, as there is no end to our curiosity. And there were weary days in which I doubted myself and wished I could seek the comfort of what is known, of that warm comfy book that I could call Home. Here, in the warm coziness of my neighborhood coffee shop, I now know that I will never be Home. G.A.B.B.A. turned me into a citizen of the world. I now travel the immensity of this country and find home in the little things. In a conversation with a local small-town artist about the beauty of the fall leaves in New England, looking out the ocean or sailing in the Charles River, in the busy subway or at my lab bench. I now ask more questions and turn them into small testable things that I can try to pursue, and I know that I can’t grab the whole world all at once, and that is part of the process. I know now who I am, where I am and what I can do. Where am I going? To the unknown. And as we say, I know I’ll always find comfort in this big G.A.B.B.A. family. Welcome!


Filipa Ferreira GABBA 14th edition UT Southwestern Medical Center - Dallas, Texas, USA


inding comfort in annoyance.

My dream PhD project brought me to Dallas, with a leg in Lisbon. I ended up living here for about 70% of my project, and trust me, if living in the U.S. is a big change; imagine you're moving to Dallas, Texas.

I've lived in London for one year so one would think 'you know what it's like

to be exposed to different cultures, different language, being away from everything and everyone you know and love'. But very little compares to coming to live in Dallas. Yes, you also have those exciting different cultures and languages, but now you're $900 and 10 hours from home and, what you don’t see in the movies is that settling in the U.S. comes with additional hurdles. When you move to the U.S. you're not one of them and they remind you of it: your legal term is Alien. There is a small mountain to climb to get everything you need to settle, like water, electricity, gas, internet and a cellphone contract. Even though there are many great offers and deals, to be able to get any of these one must provide their social security number which will be used to track your credit history - the most valuable score in your life. You can imagine that if one just arrived, no credit history will come up, so only one solution is offered: a deposit held for a year. So you need gas? Deposit. Electricity? Deposit. Internet, you ask? Deposit. At one point, you feel like a mobster with a ledger book to keep track of all


your money. But the most ironic part is that to build your own credit history you need a credit card, which no bank is willing to give you because you don't have a credit history, unless… you’ll leave a deposit. So there you go, with deposits and deposits you'll slowly fake your Americanness. Finally, you're settled. You start having a routine and get to enjoy life, which comes with a bunch of excitement since you're exposed to a vibrant society and scientific community. You follow the news here, the politics, are exposed to the gastronomy variety (Texan BBQ, Mexican, Korean, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Thai, etc.). You become familiar with the American habits, like always having a bunch of options for every little thing (go check how many ways you can get your eggs), you get familiar with the massive portions… And you appreciate the Texan saying - Everything's bigger in Texas. Coming here is great for science, for growing and for your life. But it takes time to adjust to a real American city. There is no walking to do groceries or doing your normal European life using public transportation. I would be fascinated when my friends would say let's go out for lunch somewhere close, and then after 20 min driving from highway to highway we would finally arrive to the place. In Lisbon if you drive 20' on a highway you get to cross a couple of cities. Ah! And the cars you're riding here, those would be some SUV or some big trucks... Really, really big trucks. Living abroad is an adventure. Expect good and bad things, but take the chance to live them. Living in the U.S. it’s basically what you make of it. You can easily get crushed by the initial Alien momentum but be strong and enjoy all the coolness, weirdness and make the most of it, and there’s no way you’ll forget how awesome Portugal is. Just find your comfort in annoyance. Happy Life Y’all (very Texan)


2.three: how to make a good scientific poster. Bebiana Sรก-Moura GABBA 12th edition Heidelberg University - Heidelberg, Germany


oster design 101.

By the end of your first year as a GABBA student, you will be asked to present a scientific poster at the Annual Meeting. The poster session provides you with the great opportunity to present your data in a more relaxed, informal and interactive setting. This is really important for less experienced researchers by allowing them to practice their presentation skills with a smaller audience. Furthermore, the poster format creates room for a more in depth and lengthy discussions than oral presentations would, increasing your chances of feedback as well as of networking. So, take your time to prepare your poster, as well as its presentation. Your poster should be a clear and concise snapshot of your research, including the description of your project, the methods you used or plan to use, your results and a conclusion stating clearly your major findings and their relevance. Here are a couple of guidelines for the preparation of a poster for a meeting: o


A research poster is generally divided into a few sections.


Title: Often scientists go through the abstract book of any conference and select the posters to visit, based primarily on the title. Make it assertive and interesting! It should convey the overall main message. Font size should be large enough to be read from a couple of meters away and avoid all caps. Authors and affiliations: Traditionally this section is placed under the title. Should include the names and affiliations of all the authors. Introduction: Should be brief and include relevant background information about your project. Be concise and to the point, avoid large blocks of text substituting them for bullet points, if possible. The rationale behind your project and the main objectives should be stated clearly in this section. Try to keep it to a maximum of 2 paragraphs. Methods: Should cover the procedures you used and/or the experimental design of the study. Avoid as much as possible blocks of text, substituting them for figures, drawings or even photos that might help the reader to understand the methods. Avoid unnecessary detail. Remember that for further information you will be right next to the poster, ready to answer any doubts your viewer might have. Results: Typically, the largest section of your poster. Select the most important results that support your conclusions. Figures, tables, or graphs should be as large as possible, clearly labeled and easy understandable. Conclusion/Discussion: This section should include the main conclusions from your work as well as its possible implications, stated in a brief and clear manner. Your


main conclusions must be supported by the results you show in the poster. This section can also be used to discuss future directions for your research. References: Should include a short list of the cited literature. Acknowledgments: In this section, you should include funding agencies and grants, as well as the name of people (without academic titles) that contributed for the project. o

Layout and formatting

Software: For the design of your poster you can use multiple programs like Microsoft PowerPoint, Adobe Illustrator, LaTeX, amongst others. Powerpoint is by far the most widely used and easier option with many free templates available online. Poster sizes: Most conferences will have predetermined dimensions for the posters, as well as the right orientation, so just follow their instructions. Background: Choose your background color carefully. Avoid dark backgrounds they make your poster harder to read. Also stay away from busy backgrounds that can be distracting. Colors and fonts: Colors can help make your poster more attractive, but do not overdo it, stick to 2 or 3 colors. Remember to select font colors and background colors that maximize contrast, be careful with the colors you choose, and remember that a big percentage of the population is color blind. When choosing font, make the title a sans serif font (e.g. Arial) and the body text a serif font (e.g. Times New Roman). Do not use many different types of fonts.


General tips: Less is more. Select wisely the information you want to convey remembering to keep text to a minimum. That is the most common mistake when preparing a poster. Make it simple and easy to follow, providing visual clues that will guide the reader through your poster. Label your images and graphs in a clear way, making them self-explanatory.



The third year


47 “Pára-escuta-olha” - time to assess your project. Diana Pinheiro GABBA 15th edition Institut Curie - Paris, France


rom the comfort of an already concluded PhD and in the face of the exciting and slightly terrifying prospect of becoming a postdoctoral fellow, it feels natural to

look back on my years as a doctoral student and offer some, hopefully useful and relatively unbiased, advices. To set the tone, I should give you some background on where I was by the third year of the PhD. Initially, as with many other students, my progress felt rather rapid and data quickly accumulated in the hard-drive, so I felt excited and reassured that I could actually aspire to conclude my PhD with some degree of success. By year two, I had realized that accumulating data is not necessarily an accurate measure of progress, since my first terabyte of data was essentially a pile of mostly “negative results”, which, in the current publishing world, is more or less the equivalent of stinky trash. Nevertheless, at the end of the second year, I had finally grabbed an exciting lead and so I went off for Christmas holidays and for another GABBA meeting feeling rather optimistic. Year three started off with th

frenetic work divided between grant applications (to hopefully get paid for a 4 and last year) and experiments, to compensate for the lost time. Once again, the prospects looked good, since I was awarded the desired grants and my data was finally taking the shape of what looked like a “nice story”. So, by my mid third-year, I organized my data, prepared some figures and some kind of plan for a paper-to-be


and went off into a long meeting with my supervisor and our collaborators. This was my “Pára-escuta-olha” moment and, as often is the case, almost everything fitted in nicely with the theoretical hypothesis, except one really annoying and stubborn piece of evidence that had just came a few days before. I was worried and unsettled, and so were my supervisor and collaborators as to the meaning of this new information.

This moment turned out to be the “eureka” moment of my PhD project and,

even though it certainly didn’t feel like it, the start of the paper-to-be I was hoping for. Although I could count on the support of my PhD supervisor and collaborators, as well as on a great lab environment, I felt like swimming in very troubled waters – after all, there was only a year left and no clear hypothesis to test! So, I shifted gears and worked towards finding an alternative hypothesis and the data to back-it up, which thankfully came rather quickly. By then, one has already mastered the experimental model and topic, and is able to successfully perform a much higher number of experiments in parallel. Therefore, if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, keep in mind that you are simply moving back a few, extremely annoying and frustrating steps, rather than being pushed all the way back to the start line. This continued effort put my project back on track and a year later we were submitting a first version of the paper to a scientific journal. It took us much more work, an intense review period (during which I also wrote and defended my PhD), the precious help from some of my great lab members and almost a full year before our work was finally accepted for publication. In retrospect, I was extremely lucky (i) that everyone involved in this project considered equally the data that supported our initial hypothesis, and the observations that did not; (ii) to have had the support of my supervisor and the backup of an awesome lab; and, (iii) that final stroke of fortune to find that there was an exciting answer for the initial question posed four years before. During this process, I also realized that the scientific process rarely follows a clear and expected


path and that, most of the job is actually spent in the cloud (see Uri Alon’s incredible TED talk). Thus, my only advice, which is in no way original nor ground-breaking, is to continuously spare time to read, to think and to calmly evaluate the full dataset at hand and, always, test your favorite model as directly as possible. Credits:


3.two: How to make a good oral presentation at the GABBA annual meeting. Patricia Lopes GABBA 11th edition University of Zurich - Zurich, Switzerland


- Know Your Audience: And by that I mean: are you giving a presentation to the general public? First grade students? A group of engineers? The great thing

about the GABBA meeting is that you actually KNOW a lot of your audience - you have met and interacted with lots of the people there and have substantial information on their expertise. Use that knowledge to tailor your presentation. While you shouldn't have to explain what DNA is, you may want to explain how and why you use CRISPR-Cas9 for genome editing... (In two years, this sentence may be obsolete - is it already?) 2 - Sell Your Ideas: While it may be absurdly obvious to you how your research is going to change the world or revolutionize your field, it may be a little harder for some of us to appreciate it, so spell it out by telling the audience explicitly why the work is important and how you are advancing scientific knowledge by diving into the unknown. 3 - Tell a joke! Nothing obnoxious or too scandalous, but making people laugh wakes them up and revives their attention. We all spend days listening to presentations and moreover, several of us might even be jet-lagged from travelling from distant


locations. It is normal that attention drifts away, bring us back to the presentation at hand! 4 - Choose Your Message Carefully: I know you've been working so hard and you might have so much to show, but very frequently, less is more. These presentations are short - you can't expect to explain your entire PhD in 10-15 minutes! Choose one story and tell it well. 5 - Practice! You will feel more confident about any presentation by being familiar with it. And it shows "on stage" - practicing reduces the number of intermissions caused by "ahmmm" and "what's the next slide?� The more fluid your presentation comes through, the more comfortable you will feel and the easier it will be for the audience to follow.



How did this go so fast?


53 Getting ready to defend your final PhD thesis. Nuno Camboa GABBA 10th edition University of California, San Diego - San Diego, USA


ow do I know I am ready to defend? On a first impulse, the answer seems obvious: when I publish at least one first authorship paper and have finalized

putting together my thesis. In real life, however, the answer can be way more complex and, in my view, you are ready to defend whenever professional and/or personal events make you realize it’s time to turn the PhD page and move on to your new career or life goal. In addition to being a phase of learning and development of a scientific mind-set, your PhD should also be a period of introspection in which you analyze your personal priorities and define your short and long-term career goals. In some cases the question isn’t really when should I defend, but rather should I even defend? We all make wrong life choices and the best way to minimize their consequences is to assume and face them. Many graduate students will realize, sometime during their PhDs, that they do not wish to pursue a career in science (in either academia or industry). If this is your case, my advice would depend on how far down the PhD road you are when this realization takes place. If you make this decision during your first two years, my advice would be to quit right away and focus your efforts and time on what you really want to do. Many would consider quitting a PhD a sign of weakness, I prefer to see it as a sign of determination – if it isn’t your goal, you shouldn’t feel ashamed for deciding not to pursue it! If this realization happens during your third or fourth year, then I think you should capitalize the time already invested and get your degree. Stop doing experiments, focus on putting your


data together to create the most coherent story possible, get it published (no matter the journal’s impact factor) and defend as soon as you can. If you do want to stay in science (I’m hoping this applies to the majority of people reading this text) and feel like you have an interesting story in hands that can potentially lead to a relevant paper, then I’d suggest not being in a rush to defend. When you get admitted to GABBA, you automatically receive a four-year doctoral fellowship from FCT. Four years might sound like a lot of time, but it is not! Due to classes, lab visits and the challenges imposed by a move to a new culture, most of the students who chose to do their PhDs abroad don’t get to do any proper bench work before the beginning of their second year and, in nowadays biology, publishing a strong paper in three years is an extremely difficult task (even more if your work involves animal models). As such, if you’re excited about your research and lucky enough to have a supervisor who is willing to support you after your FCT financing runs out, don’t let this deadline prompt an early termination of your project, likely jeopardizing the impact of your publication(s). It’s worth going the extra mile to get a strong first-authorship paper from your PhD, as it will greatly boost your short-term career for two main reasons: it opens the doors to “top-of-the-league” labs, in which PIs are usually more selective when it comes to hire new personnel, and it greatly increases your chances of receiving postdoctoral fellowships. If you do prolong your PhD past the four years of FCT founding and you are affiliated to ICBAS, please keep in mind that there is a limit on the number of years you can be enrolled as PhD student in University of Porto. When you reach that limit (contact the ICBAS secretariat to know exactly the legislation that applies), you’ll have to graduate or your registration will be cancelled. In some situations, it might be tempting to defend your thesis when your FCT fellowship ends and then stay in the same lab, as a postdoc, finalizing your ongoing project(s). The advantages are obvious – you avoid paying tuition fees and get a better salary – however, before you decide to do something like this, keep this


important fact in mind: a very important countdown starts immediately after you graduate, as many junior investigator grants (first step of the path to independence after your postdoc) exclude all candidates who have been a postdoc for more than 4 years. However, please don’t misinterpret my words. I’m not trying to encourage all GABBA students to prolong their PhDs, nor claiming that a successful PhD must be long! I’m just defending that, if after evaluating your options, you face a situation where adding a couple of years to your initial plan would be beneficial to your career, you should not be afraid of doing so. I joined the GABBA program in January 2007 and since then I’ve learnt some important lessons from my own experience and from observing the scientific path of my colleagues. In this text, I tried to summarize these lessons the best I can, however, my analysis only covers the scientific component of your PhD. There is a lot more in life than science and no opinion article, no matter how exhaustive it might be, will ever be able to incorporate the impact of the unpredictable life events each one of you will face. As such, it will always be up to you to determine the exact moment to move on to your next challenge, but I sincerely hope the topics here explored might help you on your decision-making.


Ricardo Ataide GABBA 10th edition Burnet Institute - Melbourne, Australia


t the moment I’m writing to you from Melbourne, Australia, almost 5 years after my PhD defense. I will answer the main question of the text, but bear with me for a moment. I want you to try and imagine the scene: I am at my

computer at home. The digital clock on the upper right corner of my iMac shows 10:13 pm. My 2-year old daughter is sleeping next door and my wife is reading in bed. After I finish writing this text I have to go back to writing a grant application that is due in 2 days. I have a manuscript to finalize in 4 days and a travel grant report due in 4 days also. My computer keyboard is surrounded by old batteries (from the wireless mouse), CDs, pens, stickers of weird animals that my daughter pastes everywhere, and a ton of legal papers for our tax returns and because we have just recently bought a house and we had to apply for a bank loan. I sometimes look at the guitar sitting in the corner of the room where I am and wonder if I can still play it (but there is no time to verify, and so I convince myself that yes, of course I can still play it!), or at the more than 100 books I have about the Maya civilization and wonder if I’ll ever have time to read and take notes like I used to do (or even open the last 5 books I bought but haven’t read yet!). Do you know what that means? It means that ready or not, you are going to defend your PhD and then life goes on! Now, when did I know that I was ready to defend? To be honest, my case was more a case of ‘I want to defend” then an ‘I’m ready to defend’. When the time came to worry about being ready or not to defend it, I was more focused on the fact that the FCT had already stopped paying me, I was living in Australia (where I did my PhD) and I had to pay another year of University enrolment in Portugal (and that was


not cheap). On top of that I had already been offered a position in Edinburgh as a postdoc. I wanted to finish my PhD! So, I wrote and re-wrote chapters furiously at an astonishing pace. I left the lab and went to a place where I could just focus on my writing. It is incredible how much you can achieve when your focus in all on one single goal. I just wanted to write enough of a story to make it coherent. I sent everything to Portugal and my mum delivered everything. This could have been time for me to think about the big question, right? Was I really ready to defend? Well, the question didn’t even cross my mind because I had no time for it. I guess that for me it was more a question of I was ready to move on. I had to focus on looking at accommodation in Edinburgh and finish writing papers and pack to go back to Portugal, and take my wife with me (oh, yes‌ I got married in Australia). Once in Portugal, with the date set and everything ready to defend I was busier trying to pack things for Edinburgh and making sure my wife got to know my family and friends. The day came. Was I ready to defend my PhD? I never thought about it. I went in, saw a few friendly faces, joked around with friends that came to watch (behind the scenes, because on stage serious business is required), defended my PhD and went out for drinks. Only then, later that day did I fully realize what had happened. I had been ready to defend my PhD all along, but in all honesty I did not defend the PhD I wanted to defend. This may be more common than you think. You are so focused on moving on that you forget to enjoy the moment. I was ready to defend my position in Edinburgh, my will to start studying a new field of research, and I think I forgot to really focus and appreciate the work I had done. I ended up not including things in the thesis that I should and that would have complemented the story really well (easy to say when looking back, of course). In any case, my personal experience is: How did I know I was ready to defend my PhD? Well, with hindsight, if


I was busy planning for a life after the PhD, then deep down, I must have known that I was ready.


4.two: What if I am not ready to defend my PhD thesis? Inês Sá Pereira GABBA 15th edition CEDOC - Chronic Diseases Research Center, Nova Medical School - Lisbon, Portugal


ou spent all those years doing your PhD, doing your experiments, studying all you can to move your project forward, and asking the right and/or the wrong

questions (and trying to answer them): “No one knows more about your work than you do”. This is what I was told, but I was always afraid of that question that would make me look at the examiners and say nothing. There was always the thought that I should have studied a bit more and done that extra experiment. However, I was sure that I had done my best. This is what I write to you: Just give your best and you will be ready. It’s true that you never know how the defense will go, but you need to know that the examiners are not there to fail you. They want to make sure you have done your work, that you know why and how you did your experiments, and what the relevance of your findings is. Probably, there will be questions that you won’t be able to answer; don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”. From there, you can suggest a possible answer based on your data. Actually, some of your “don’t knows” bring interesting discussions. Remember: “No one knows more about your work than you do” and this is me telling you after my PhD defense.


Here are some tips for your preparation to the defense: 1) Go through your thesis, take notes and make schemes (I really like schemes, you can summarize your entire thesis by using arrows and colors, and study it at the same time); 2) select those papers that support your initial question and read them again; 3) Read the crucial papers that support (or not) your main findings; 4) Read some of your examiners’ papers and try to integrate your work into their interests; 4) Write down questions and try to answer them; 5) Practice your defense with your supervisor and colleagues, and ask them to suggest more questions; 6) Most important, have some breaks where you can relax and do things you like that do not involve work. Enjoy and good luck!






5: Reaching the end.

João Arezes GABBA 15th edition University of Oxford - Oxford, UK


ongratulations! You’re about to reach the end of the long and winding road that is your PhD. You’ve worked hard, gained skills and expertise in different areas,

answered exciting scientific questions, and decided it’s time to graduate. Now you just have to write what you’ve done and explain your work to an audience. Easy, right? Well, it’s not that straightforward. This stage can be quite frustrating for two main reasons: 1) you realize there are still various situations you have to deal with before defending your thesis and 2) you feel like you are very close to finish this stage of your life but those “small” things keep getting in your way. To explain what I’m talking about I’ll tell you about my own experience, from the moment I decided to graduate to the actual PhD defense, while giving you advice that may (or may not) help you. Writing the dissertation. First of all, I have to say that I had plenty of time to write my dissertation, as I had already published a paper and still had funding from my scholarship. This situation seems to be highly unusual, most students find themselves in a situation in which they have to write the dissertation while preparing articles and/or doing experiments, with different deadlines approaching rapidly. Regardless of where you stand, I believe you should allocate a period to exclusively write your thesis, rather than writing in between experiments or while you’re doing


something else. This allowed me to focus on writing and to keep a writing pace that made the process very efficient. If you have time constraints, I would say it’s best to save some days for writing, and other days for experiments. I struggled to start writing, but after finding my rhythm it became much easier. However, there were those days in which I suffered from the “I hate writing” syndrome. It will most likely happen to you too at some point. It took me some time to understand that the solution for that was just to take breaks and do other things: making figures, indexes, list of abbreviations, reading, watching movies, learning a new “bacalhau” recipe (not included in my thesis), or whatever else made me step away from writing. Sometimes you just need a clear head to reacquire your drive to write (just don’t take a 2-week break from writing, I’m talking about a couple of hours to 1 day breaks!!!). Also, make use of any published papers or manuscripts you’ve written. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel; those texts have been carefully written and revised. I had 50% of my thesis written even before I decided to start writing. Finally, select the data that should go in your thesis. You don’t have to include every single experiment you’ve done. It will keep your dissertation more focused and flowing better, make your examiners happier (no one wants to read a tome with 500 pages) and saves some money on copies: win/win/win situation! The unexpected gap. Thesis written, now time to start preparing my thesis defense. I handed the dissertation to the University (ICBAS), completed all the paperwork and started getting ready for my defense which happened… 4 months later. Fortunately, by the time I handed my thesis I had already found a postdoc position that kept me busy, but be aware that there may be some off time between writing and defending your thesis. This gap has mostly to do with the difficulty in finding a date that suits you, the examiners, and your supervisors. My experience in coordinating everything was immensely facilitated by my co-supervisor Graça Porto, with whom I discussed the possible examiners and dates. She even found a beautiful


room at Hospital de Santo Antonio after she was informed that the rooms used for PhD defenses were unavailable (both in the old and the new ICBAS!). Therefore, I think it’s important that you discuss and coordinate with your supervisor all the details regarding your defense, in particular with the one affiliated with the University that will give you the degree (University of Porto in my case). Regarding the examiners, I don’t believe there is a secret formula to choose the best ones. I invited two researchers that I admired, and whose research accomplishments were significant and recognized in my field of work. If you’re not sure about your options, ask a GABBA. There are GABBAs everywhere, so the chances that one GABBA knows the person you’re thinking about inviting are fairly high. Preparing the defense and getting it done. The big day was approaching and I had to get ready to finish this stage of my life in the best possible way. I decided to spend two weeks preparing my presentation and discussion. Even though the defense may be intimidating there were several things I kept in mind throughout my preparation and that may be useful to you 1) no one knows more about your work than you do. As long as you revisit your thesis before the defense you’ll be able to answer everything regarding technical details; 2) you don’t have to know everything. Otherwise what would be the point of being a scientist? Don’t get me wrong, you have to be knowledgeable about your field of research, but there’s no shame in saying you don’t know something; 3) your examiners want you to do well. They have been in your shoes, they know how it feels. They may push you, but that will do you better than bad! And don’t forget to have a look at their papers and figure out how their work may be related to your thesis. You may guess some questions that will arise. 4) Your thesis is not flawless, which means that there are potential hotspots for questions. Identify them and prepare your answers accordingly. 5) Perspective. It’s great that you know by heart all the mediators of a signaling cascade and how mutations affect the pathway, while relating it to the epigenetic status affecting the


transcription of a key gene… but why is your work important? Is it relevant? How did it bring the field forward? What needs to be done next? Don’t forget the big picture. Be ready for those questions. Finally, relax the day/night before the defense, invite your friends and family (if it’s a public event), and be confident in your capacities. You’ll find yourself enjoying the discussion. Congratulations, you’ve reached the end of this journey. Off to new adventures!



Is there life after GABBA?


67 "Once a GABBA, always a GABBA", welcome to the GABBA Alumni Association.

André Sousa GABBA 11th edition Yale School of Medicine, Yale University - New Haven, USA


TG – All Time GABBA Association was officially created on the 18th of December of 2014. We started this process after receiving an email from Professor Maria de

Sousa about including GABBA’s affiliation in our publications and stating that it was the time for creating an alumni association. In July 2012, after a brief exchange of emails, Bruno Fontinha and I decided to pursue this, gathering pertinent information from many sources. After several emails, web conferences, and meetings with Bruno, Pedro Resende (who joined this endeavor shortly after), Maria de Sousa, and the lawyer who helped us shape the by-laws of ATG, we achieved an initial idea of what our alumni association should be. The spirit we tried to implement is reflected in the purpose of our Association: the ATG was created to develop a community spirit expressed in the motto “Once a GABBA always a GABBA”, where responsibilities should be shared, an active team effort should be in action to foster GABBA’s growth, and ultimately benefit all its members.


I cannot resist sharing with you a short text written by Maria de Sousa in one of our first interactions regarding the creation of an alumni association, when we were yet to fully define our purpose: “I can see immediately three layers of action: o

a simple one of everybody feeling happy to know where everybody else is: Portuguese style, cod fish type, happy but no money;


a more elaborated layer where people will be asked if they are prepared to contribute a regular, modest fee for running expenses in addition to cod fish-type interactions;


a real Alumni Association, American Alma Mater style, or words to that effect, where contributions will be substantial and will enable to illuminate the path of others.” Although this might sound trivial, it was rather important because it allowed

us to deepen our understanding of what we really aimed our alumni association to be, and what we wanted to achieve by creating it. The first layer is very simple, yet not very rewarding. We could easily do that without an official alumni association. The second layer is slightly more interesting, requires a stronger involvement of all of us, but, in the end, will not achieve much more than the first plan. Finally, the third type of association is what we have been striving for: an association in which all members realize how important their contributions are for the wellness of all members and, more importantly, “to illuminate the path of others”. I think most, if not all of us, see GABBA as our Alma Mater. It has influenced our lives tremendously, and we will always feel indebted to the Program for the


incredible journey it allowed us to start. Currently, we have more than one hundred alumni and we feel that it is time to give something back, particularly when science funding is getting scarcer every year. We can observe around us how hard it is to convince funding agencies to invest money for the sole sake of creating knowledge. Furthermore, science is clearly becoming more and more of a collaborative effort, which should place GABBA and the ATG in a very good position to attract funding. One of our main goals is to improve networking among alumni. We are always being reminded that in the current environment, “networking or not working” is becoming a rule. With the active participation of all, we will have experts covering the entire range of biological sciences, science communication, grant writing, technology transfer, mentoring, etc. This sets us aside from most of the other groups of people, and we must be able to leverage that! It is of the utmost importance to know who we are, where we are, and what we do, to be able to use ATG to the benefit of all. In addition to networking, we also aim to attract funding. We all know that Portugal is not a country famous for its philanthropy, but it is our goal to start changing that and the change can begin from within the ATG. Lastly, we are committed to improve GABBA connections with society, improving our image, spreading our knowledge more efficiently and in a more open fashion, respecting a global transition to a citizen science. Our voices can now be regularly heard in public newsletters, in our website, and in our social media channels, and we have been organizing annual sessions included in our traditional December meeting. We have launched two initiatives to improve scientific knowledge in the younger generations: GABBA Ciência-Viva Awards and GABBA Summer School through the Maria de Sousa Summer Research Program. We are proud of what we have achieved in the past three years, but we are conscious that we can and should get better and do more in the next three. For that,


we need your help. We have always behaved as an organization with a horizontal management, but for this philosophy to succeed we need more and more active volunteers and contributions. Welcome to GABBA, welcome to the ATG family.


6.two: The next generation of PhD’s: career paths in science (doubts and thoughts).

João Curado GABBA 12th edition Flomics & CRG - Barcelona, Spain


s your defense’s date approaches and you start feeling a strong aversion to Academia you start looking for alternative career paths. This is just a normal

pre-PhD crisis that many of us endure. Unfortunately, you slowly realize that a PhD title doesn’t open many doors in the pharmaceutical industry. With this frustration, you also re-discover that life in Academia is not so bad and maybe you go for a first post-doc and postpone this decision. This is the standard procedure and there is nothing wrong with it. Well, maybe except for the reduced number of tenure-track positions when comparing to the number of PhD students. But there are alternatives. I decided to persevere. When the doors that I was looking at didn’t open, I decided to create my own doors. I decided to walk in the entrepreneurship path. It takes courage and persistence, maybe it’s not for everyone (especially if you are risk-averse), but I still think it was the best decision that I took. During my PhD, I was always very interested in translational research, in my case for the use of the transcriptome analysis in diagnostics. Therefore, and in parallel with my PhD project, I started pushing my ideas further: developing a plan, looking for partners and even looking for funding. Yes, I was completely lost, it’s very difficult in the beginning, because you feel completely unprepared. But you need to start because if you’re waiting for everything to be aligned, probably you will never


do it. Entrepreneurship is considered cool nowadays and everywhere in the world there are business accelerators and incubators that offer free mentoring, workshops and networking opportunities that will prepare you for the next steps. Science-based entrepreneurship, which focus more in developing projects with strong impact in people’s lives than dating apps, is a bit special because the results take much longer and normally require bigger investment amounts to reach the market but it’s certainly generating some traction due to the first big acquisitions and also the social side. I started applying for some idea competitions and accelerator programs that helped me developing the business side of my project and that enabled me, at some point, to access public funding and to start the real operations. The most important thing is to become exposed to the local ecosystem, to meet the KOLs, prepare a good elevator pitch and to learn from experienced serial entrepreneurs. Or maybe this is just the standard entrepreneurial bullshit that you hear everywhere and puts you off but, at least, you need to understand what all this jargon means. And believe me, it’s much better to learn it with the hands-on than to buy a book from a “guru” and memorize it. Don’t feel afraid, just join the crowd, take some risk, make some questions and try to tell your story as much as possible. Every time you do it, you’ll be one step closer to success (whatever that means to you). And you’ll realize that most of the people are as lost as you are, but they keep moving. In the beginning, I just had an idea. Now, I have an idea, a project, a minimal team and some money to put it into practice. Can I talk about success? Of course not, if we don’t get a nice breakthrough soon, the project will be dead in less than one year. This means I am still very far from getting a stable job, but that’s not something that keeps me awake at night. I am learning a lot, working a lot and having a lot of fun while doing it. It works for me, if you think it might work to you as well then just remember: “fake it until you make it”.


Bernardo Bollen Pinto GABBA 12th edition Department of Anaesthesia, Pharmacology and Intensive Care, Geneva University Hospitals, University of Geneva - Switzerland


hree hats.

If you are reading this text, it means that you are a GABBA student and that

you likely managed to make it to a part of your PhD close to the its end! Well done!!! I finished my PhD nearly 5 years ago. Since then I have split most of my time working half time as an anaesthesiologist and perioperative physician and the other half as a researcher in the field of myocardial injury, in states of acute illness and stress (as sepsis or after major surgery). For the few of you who are, eventually, still interested in what I have to share below, I must say this is the closest I could imagine having the dream job I hoped for when I started GABBA in 2009. But it’s a dream with lots of different colors and a whole range of shades of grey! When I applied to GABBA I was a medical doctor in Porto for nearly 5 years and I was in my second year of training as an anaesthesiologist. As I guess for many of us starting a PhD with GABBA, the excitement of entering the program and being given the chance to start this adventure, clouded all considerations about the future post-PhD. At the time, I guess I just assumed that I wanted to resume clinical work and finish my specialty in Porto. The decision to try and do “science” in the middle of my specialty training had been greatly driven by curiosity and gut feeling and not to enhance my “career”. If anything, as some “wise voices” told me at the time and I realized myself later, it only delayed many of the “good things in life” associated with being a doctor – a secure steady job, owning a car, a nice flat… ;)


I went to London to do my PhD with one of the most brilliant intensivists in the world. During 3.5 years, my contact with patients resumed pretty much to occasional ward rounds and conversations around a cup of coffee. I was so absorbed with all that I was learning with my experiments, my rats and my cells, plus all the excitements of life as a PhD student in London without night shifts, annoying surgeons and paperwork (and a whole lot of other stuff that make clinical work boring) that I didn’t worry much with this. But towards the end my life this changed dramatically! I wasn’t caught cheating experiments nor did I get a Nature paper! But I fell in love and I met my future wife (and Mum of our 2 kids)! Cheesy, but true. And since she wasn’t Portuguese and had no will whatsoever to live in our Invicta, where, how and when to finish my clinical specialty became great unknowns. I needed to make some decisions and quick (also because funding was ending soon)! I was missing patient care too much to be without clinics for much longer, but I was also convinced that I didn’t want to “waste” all the time, effort and frustrations (and believe me I had a few!) to abandon research all together. So, I set to find a place where I could do both at the same time. And to my surprise (or ingenuity) it wasn’t that easy. The career path for “clinician-scientists” (whatever this is exactly I am not sure!) in anaesthesia and intensive care is highly variable from country to country, and in most places it’s conditioned by finding money to pay for your research time. At least in Europe, hospitals, even University hospitals here in Switzerland, are willing to pay people that take care of their patients and “make the machine turn” and are not that interested in paying people to do experiments, run trials, analyze data or write papers. At the end, we ended up in Geneva – the head of the Department at the time seemed very enthusiastic with my 50-50 idea of clinical work and research, my wife had some work prospects, the city seemed nice to raise a family and we both kind of knew French (working in a country whose language I didn’t speak wasn’t a possibility since I wouldn’t be able to do clinical work). Till now I have been lucky


enough and found a way here, and to pay for my research time. Sadly, I have no big secret to share here… But as time went by and I was happy with my “medical doctor hat” back on I started to feel two new problems that, yet again, I hadn’t really thought about in the beginning of my PhD and not even towards the end – my other 2 hats! Common sense says that to be good at something you need to work hard, dedicate yourself and do it time and again! So, if you are trying to be good at doing 2 things and your day only has the same 24 hours as everyone else’s, something must be wrong! For scientists, my research is not clever enough and for clinicians I don’t see enough patients! I am obviously exaggerating a bit, but the feeling and the occasional comment does come here and there. For the past 5 years, I tried to get the most synergies from the 2 worlds as possible to optimize my learning and my work but it’s not always straightforward! And this might mean some re-adaptation of commonly used “success milestones” in the post-PhD world as having your own research group, publishing 10 papers per year, getting big grants… If wearing 2 hats looks funny in most people, try using 3. Every day, I fight myself with finding enough time to be home with my family! Till that day, I am writing this text, it’s still worth it! I get the same enthusiasm when I am writing a new research project or analyzing exciting data (less so when I have to respond to annoying peer reviewers…) as I do with a planning care with a challenging patient before surgery or when something goes wrong in the operating room. Moreover, my research focus on problems that affect most of my patients which is very gratifying and allows me to be more efficient and perform more translational research, from bench to bedside (at least in theory)! The 4 of us at home stick together as family and I hope I am critical enough of myself to realize if one day my head is not big enough for the 3 hats!


So, if you are in a similar situation (whatever hats you use) my advices are that you keep true to yourself but accept a certain uncertainty at times and always try to have fun. You are what you are not the hats you wear!


6.three: Coming back home (or not): what to expect? Pedro BeltrĂŁo GABBA 6th edition European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) - Cambridge, UK


have faced this question of going back to Portugal twice now and times I opted to continue abroad, moving from Heidelberg to San Francisco for the postdoc and

then to Cambridge UK to start a group leader position. I cannot tell you what it feels like or what to expect when you go back to Portugal. I can share my experiences in moving across 4 countries, the gain in opportunities and the impact that it had in my social life. To be frank, I didn’t even think about doing a postdoc in Portugal. When I started looking for positions after the PhD I contacted group leaders I had met in conferences that I thought I would like to work with and went to interviews. I thought it would be better for my career to work outside of Portugal and I also wanted the adventure of living in another country. Professionally it ended up being the right thing to do since I had the resources and collaboration opportunities to do whatever I wanted to do. The end of the postdoc was probably the most stressful period of my life so far. I had done well with decent publications and had still some difficulty in getting called for interviews to group leader positions. This is expected given that there are so few positions available but this was certainly not something I was aware of when I started a PhD. At this point I considered going to Portugal although since I really wanted to continue in academia I was very open to end up in different places. In


Portugal I visited IMM, IGC, Biocant and IBMC but only had a formal interview at IBMC. I was disappointed with the recruitment process in place at the time in IGC and I hope they have made it more transparent since then. I ended up interviewing in a few places abroad (UCLA, MDC Berlin, EMBL Heidelberg and EMBL-EBI) and was offered a position at EMBL-EBI and informally at Biocant. I think if I had felt that the positions were more or less equivalent I may have chosen to be in Portugal but they differed in many ways. For personal reasons, at the time, moving to the UK was also the best solution. As before, professionally I have no doubt that I picked the right choice. The resources, national funding rates, connections and access to talent that I have as a PI in my current institute are overwhelming better than what I would have in Portugal. Professionally I still think that staying abroad is almost always the right decision. What is the drawback then? My social life has been both enriching and painful. While living in 4 different countries I made many friends and experienced different cultures. However, every time I have moved I feel like I have left a piece of me behind. Every time I had to start over, without roots and in a different cultural context. It has been increasingly difficult to build up a social group of friends to belong to, to feel like I am home. As with many other life choices there is a tension between the practical ease of staying within the same routine and challenging yourself, in potentially painful ways, to gain long term fulfillment. Happiness can come from both of these and you don’t always know which one is right for you. Having kids or not, starting a different type of job, taking a gap year to travel, etc. Deciding to move to a new country during your academic career is one these types of choices.



GABBA Welcome book  

This is the first edition of the GABBA Welcome book, directed to our PhD students, to help them get through the different challenges we face...

GABBA Welcome book  

This is the first edition of the GABBA Welcome book, directed to our PhD students, to help them get through the different challenges we face...