Category: Career Path & Scientific Teaching

September 19, 2016 Filipa


Sometimes you feel that your supervisor should be more supportive, that he/she doesn’t listen to your ideas, that he or she likes your colleague better than you… and on and on and on…. I have been there.

These are common feelings for people in all areas of academia − Masters, PhD students, Postdocs, Researchers etc…. And the academic community is a nest where these feelings are nurtured and fed. It is very competitive and sometimes gets nerve wracking. I am not saying this is not common in other sectors, but I am writing about what I know and with what I am more familiar.


From my experience during the last 10 years while working in Academic Environments,

I can tell you how emotionally destructive it can be working in this area.


There was that time during your PhD when you spent an entire hour complaining about your supervisor or your colleague, right? I truly think that we have to channel our frustrations and get support among our peers. But please tell me the truth…

How can 4h/week complaining about unfair work place help you finish your thesis? Or write that paper?

The amount of time we lose complaining is something that is destructive, gets us out of focus, and diverts us slowly from our goals.

This need comes from the constant feeling of isolation and insecurity students have, but we have to realize we are not teenagers anymore whining about our colleague in high school.

Some academics are not trained to be mentors; some do it better than others do. Students are not trained to be mentees. There is nothing wrong with that but one thing I learned from the US is that you don’t have to know it all, you just need to identify what you need to learn and proactively seek that training.

You have to think about what you want from your mentor.

  • Is it publishing?

  • Help with paper writing?

  • Getting grants?

The majority of the supervisors should be able to provide this kind of support.

  • Is it emotional support?

  • Solutions for your career?

  • The meaning of life?

For these last topics, you have to think about what are you asking from your mentor. This kind of support should not be their responsibility.


Your supervisor does not have all the answers (thankfully we are all humans), and won’t be able to give you all the support you need during your research work.


I know that every once in a while we need a supporting shoulder to listen to our complaints about how that experiment did not work as expected, how our colleague stole our project, or how no one listened to our ideas during the lab meeting. Try to time these conversations and try to gradually reduce them to a minimum.


My postdoc supervisor was one of the greatest mentors I have had in my life so far. He was supportive, encouraging and gave me all the tools to be successful in the lab. However, I decided to pursue a career away from the bench. When I told him I wanted to pursue a career in education and career strategy, his answer was simply: “You’re crazy.” I knew that I could not ask him for any help with networking outside academia; he did not know about this area, so this was too much to ask from him. So I sought mentors in the Teaching Center and in companies wherever I found people working on the subject that interested me.


To build a good mentoring network, ask yourself:

  1. What do you want to do next?

  2. Do you need more information?

  3. Do you need training?


If you need some help to explore possibilities about your future, be proactive and find the mentors you need in each path in your career. Some of the myths involved in mentoring are very well described in this article from Amy Gallo. Here you will find additional tips to help you figure out who to turn to and how.

I found that having a mentor to whom you can relate is very valuable, in addition mentoring is important, not only because of the knowledge and skills students can learn from mentors, but also because mentoring provides professional socialization and personal support to facilitate success in graduate school and beyond.

Keren Witkin at National Institute of Health, in United States gives some guidelines  to help you getting the most out of your mentoring relationship. 

Life is a continuous learning journey and you should not give the choice to others about who should mentor you. It is your life, and your choice, not only rights but duties too.

  1. Amy Gallo. Demystifying Mentoring. Harvard Business Review. February 2001
  2. Nancy Dunham. The mentors you choose shape you. 
  3. Keren Witkin. Thoughts on Choosing a Research Mentor.




May 31, 2016 Filipa No comments exist

Tips to write your PhD thesis without being afraid.


I believe that everyone should be able to get to the PhD finish line in due time. Writing your PhD thesis when your financial support runs out is miserable and this is clearly not the right mindset for success.

Sometimes you feel, that you have to quickly find a job to support yourself and if you eventually find some source of income, you might have so much stuff to do, that your thesis writing gets postponed.

It happened to me, I ran out of funding when I had to finish my thesis, I had a huge problem with the “scary blank page” and I got petrified.


I got so insecure about the future, questioning if I ever should continue doing science. I was miserable and as a solution I started to rent spare rooms at my apartment to earn extra income. Being a “business woman” helped me to feel useful again, but removed me from what should have been my number one goal: finishing my PhD thesis.


Eventually I finished my thesis but it was with so much pain and frustration much of which could have been avoided. It is important that we remain aware about the traps that could remove us from our goals.


In Academia it is commonly accepted to postpone the ending of the PhD.

Sometimes, the supervisor (Principal Investigator – PI) needs the student to finish lab work or maybe sometimes the PI is not available to provide the support the student needs.


During my professional life I have often discussed, with other academics, strategies that help students complete their dissertation before the $ runs out. In one of these conversations, a professor told me, “ this is academia not a company”, meaning that it is perfectly normal for students not to finish their PhD in due time. The problem is that should this happen, the supervisor should be very clear about their willingness to support the student until the end of the PhD. By support I mean: provide financial support. This does not always happen.


“Academia is not a company” this sentence resonates with me and reveals how most academics see themselves as above mere commerce. Whoever wishes to make a steady living is labeled as a sellout.

If you look at Oxford and Cambridge the standard time to finish your PhD is still considered three years, although four years is not unusual. Well I believe Cambridge and Oxford are not companies and they encourage students to finish their PhD in 4-5 years.

According to Joseph Berger of the New York Times, 10 years ago, the average length of a dissertation program (sometimes Msc & PhD)  in USA took 8 years.


Consequently, universities in the United States, Canada, and UK have been exploring different ways to decrease the time their students take to write their thesis.

Some Institutions are incorporating writing training on their doctoral programs, others tend to change to an “integrated format” where the student can incorporate her or his published publications to avoid writing all the thesis from scratch (1). In addition, most universities in North American and UK are setting stricter timelines and demanding that faculty advisers meet regularly with their students.

Some Ivy League Institutions provide and fund a 5 year doctoral program where the student is excused from teaching during the PhD studies, however this is not the rule and the way USA students fund their PhD studies is to teach regularly undergraduate classes (2). In addition some labs have their own funding to pay students until they finish their thesis. In Europe, it is slightly different where students have their own fellowships (around 4years) and these are provided by European funding.


It is not uncommon to see fellowships running out and the supervisors not being able to financially support their students.


There are some tips to avoid the trap of running out of funding.


  • Plan ahead: Explore what you want to do after your PhD. When you have a plan for the future your thesis writing gets easier. More about career planning here
  • Discuss with your supervisor the timelines and goals and what you should accomplish in both: If you are stuck in an experiment and if the experiment is going nowhere, establish a plan when to finish that experiment (e.g. “if in 4 months we don’t get these results we drop it”). This should be discussed with your supervisor.
  • Get used to writing: This can be done by writing a blog or by starting to write your methods section or table of contents, small steps at a time.

Yes, academia is not a company but academia would benefit immensely if Masters and PhDs students as well as postdoctoral Researchers could have the same tools as  those corporate employees use on a daily basis. Project & time management, scientific writing, leadership - these are some of the most valuable skills you can have today.

  1. Joseph Berger. Exploring Ways to Shorten the Ascent to a Ph.D. The New York Times. OCT. 3, 2007
  1. Paul Jump. Last Era's Model. Times Higher Education Ed. 2, 204. 21-27 May 2015
May 19, 2016 Filipa No comments exist



“Ciência Clara”means “Clear Science” in Portuguese. I wanted to put together the word “Science” with the idea of lightness, transparency and smoothness.




Why? After all the years working in Academia and after many conversations with students and colleagues, I realized we all shared similar struggles, such as planning the next career move, writing a final dissertation, or even creating a good mentoring network.

I really enjoyed building supportive communities with colleagues and with my students, as a result I decided to get training in Teaching, Mentoring, Career Strategy  (Yale University, USA) and Coaching (Academy of Coaching Excellence, USA) while finishing my Post-doc at Yale University.

In 2015, I moved back to Portugal to develop this work in my country. At the time this was just a dream, but now it is a joy to see it growing. Credits to Ziddini who designed a beautiful lettering for Ciência Clara.

Ciência Clara training programs give you tools to smooth up the bumpy road of academia, whether you need help finding the right path for your career or you just want to improve your transferable skills.

Stay tuned with our blog, there will be more updates soon.