The training and education here definitely exceeded my expectations!
My name is Angelica and I am from Bogota, the capital of Colombia. I am currently in my final year of a three-year PhD program in the department of Health Psychology. Before coming to the UMCG I had done a Bachelor in Psychology in the Universidad de Los Andes in Bogota, where I then also continued on to complete my Master in Clinical Psychology, during which I gained experience in treating patients as a clinician, as well as furthering my academic knowledge.
When I was thinking about doing a PhD I was offered a Research Voucher by the GSMS, through their Abel Tasman Talent Program, to come and work in one of the departments of the UMCG for two months on a project, and the idea was that they would see how it went, and I would see how it went and then if both sides were happy they would see if they had a PhD position suitable for me. And actually, as we had a really good research team and a good working relationship, the two supervisors I was designated for those two months, they are in fact now my PhD supervisors as well. On my part, when I arrived here for the first time I had no idea what to expect,, but everything was so nice, the people, the research. And for me it was not even a decision, I knew immediately when I began here in the research project that I wanted so much to find a PhD position here.
Now, for my PhD I am researching self-compassion and mindfulness; these practices came originally from Buddhism and then moved into western psychology. Many interventions began to be developed around mindfulness, meaning being aware of the present moment, often through the practice of meditation. Then, more recently, self-compassion also began to be the focus of interventions.
Many people think that doing a PhD you are just isolated, doing your research, but it’s not like that.
In the UMCG, as a PhD student you are not just doing your research, as you also need to share your research with others and with the scientific community at large. Firstly you have many colleagues you are working with and many people that you will share a lab with. On top of this, you will also have frequent meetings with your supervisor and your department so that you can present the progress of your work as you go along. Furthermore, you are expected to show your research to the scientific community, so this means enrolling for international conferences, so you will be travelling! For example this week I will go to San Francisco to a conference to present my research! So doing a PhD is certainly not sitting alone in a room just researching!
While doing your PhD, the UMCG encourages you to take courses of your choice alongside your research. The UMCG offers a lot of different types of courses, on specific research techniques, and more general courses, and you are also able to choose from courses offered by other Dutch universities and even from abroad. From all of these options you can decide yourself what courses you would like to take and then discuss with your supervisor the possibility of taking them. What is special about doing your PhD in the UMCG is that everything is focused towards making you a good and independent researcher and scientist, not everything is strictly focused only on your specific research, and the courses you can take reflect this all-round approach. I took courses in statistics, in scientific writing skills and also more general courses, and recently I took a very cool new course that is part of the Graduate School of Medical Sciences (GSMS) called ‘Entrepreneurship and Valorization in Medical Science’, in which we learnt how to bring our research into the business world, because of course one can be a scientist but one could also choose to take the business route. I really enjoyed taking this course and learned so many new things, it was awesome!
Now that I am in the last year of my PhD I have started to think about what I will do once I finish and actually I realize now I am not at all limited, I think I can go in any direction I wish, that is why I don’t want to close any doors. If I find a interesting project to research then I would like to do a post doc on that topic, but I am also thinking that I would like to do some more practical work, maybe in an NGO, because aside from your topic in your PhD, you learn a variety of transferable skills that can be put to many uses. You will notice that when you do a PhD you will grow so much, when I compare how I used to approach things before, to how I approach things now, I see a big change. You gain a lot of personal strength and organizational and leadership skills, as you have to be your own leader, so you learn a lot about management as well.
Also, during your PhD you need to publish, and the UMCG emphasizes that it is not about just doing some research and publishing, it is about doing the best research and publishing in the best journals. And maybe at first you think you can’t reach that high a standard but with their encouragement you realize that you just need to take the best out of yourself and be confident that you can do it.
The training and education here definitely exceeded my expectations, when you begin you don’t fully know what to expect, but then as you go along you realize there is so much more you are capable of than you thought, you learn so many wonderful things about yourself and it is really a mind-opening experience.
My supervisors have always been 100% supportive of me, though that doesn’t mean that they would give me all the answers of course, otherwise I wouldn’t learn. But they were always there to give me direction and ideas on how to go about things that I was maybe having difficulty with, and always they directed me in a way that meant my skills as a researcher would develop and grow.
All research takes place in English, so the language is not a problem. And as for Dutch, everyone here is happy to speak English with you, even when you just go to buy something in the market people will speak English with you so there is never a problem if you don’t know Dutch. However I have learnt Dutch, because I wanted to learn the language, but what is nice is that when you learn Dutch you do it because you want to, not because you need to.
Overall, the UMCG itself is an inspiring place, actually they call it ‘the smartest kilometer of Holland’! There is just so much high quality research being done, there are so many excellent facilities, the working environment is very nice, it is relaxing, there is a nice space to work, great colleagues and open people to talk with.
Another real highlight of my time here has been getting to know so many different nationalities, when you have maybe lived in your home country for most of your life and then you meet so many people from so many different places, it really changes your perspectives. Groningen is such an international city, you will find yourself sitting at one table chatting with people from India, Australia, United States, Finland, Pakistan, all over the globe! You can share beautiful and enriching stories with each other that will make you grow both personally and intellectually; it opens your mind!
The city of Groningen itself is another highlight of course! I have in fact no words to describe it, I am in love with this city! I love every corner of Groningen, and I know this is the same experience of all of the international students here.
Also, it is very easy to find your way in the city. When you arrive, the University of Groningen welcomes you with a market where you can sign up for all of the nice things going on in Groningen, sports clubs, student associations, cultural groups and more. There are a lot of facilities for international students, for example there are many international student organizations, there is ESN (Erasmus Exchange Network), there are also African, Indian, Turkish, Indonesian, Chinese Associations and also one for Latin America, and in fact I am currently the president of the Association of Latin American Students (ALAS)! We hold weekly dinners with about thirty people each week, not just from Latin America, but from Holland, Germany, anywhere! They come and practice their Spanish, make friends, have a nice dinner and enjoy Latin culture. I would recommend that students get involved in many different types of student groups, and you will definitely find ‘your people’.
There is always something going on, any day of the week; there are bars, theatre, music jams, dance, and a lot taking place for free. I arrived for the first time in Groningen on a Friday and by the Saturday I was already partying in the city, I had many new friends, it was Queen’s Day – this is the lovely thing about Groningen, you would not expect it from such a small city but opportunities to get involved in things just come to you! Groningen really makes you feel at home very quickly.
For anyone thinking about whether or not they would like to do their PhD in Groningen, I would say, stop thinking and just apply and do it! You will not regret it!
Do you want to contact Angelica? Feel free to do so via email.