It’s not easy for sure, but it’s definitely rewarding!
My name is Genaro Alberto Paredes Juarez and I am from Mexico. Right now I am in my fourth and final year of my PhD at the Department of Pathology and Medical Biology at the UMCG. Before I came to Groningen I did my bachelor studies in Biology at the University of the Americas, Puebla, Mexico during which I then chose to specialize in Biotechnology. Once I had completed my bachelor I decided to continue on to do my master studies in Biotechnology and for my thesis I began to focus on Physiology, working with rats with Diabetes Type 2, studying dysfunctions in calcium regulation in endothelial cells of rats. After that I worked for two years teaching some lessons and laboratory classes in the university where I studied, which was really enjoyable.
After my masters I began looking for a research team with whom to continue my studies and for an interesting project to work on. I then discovered that here in Groningen is one of the best places in the world to do encapsulation, which was a technique I was very interested in learning. After researching the university and the city I decided that I would apply for a position here. Fortunately, the grant I receive from the Mexican government allows me to do a four-year PhD here with the tuition fees waived, which is great as it allows me to concentrate entirely on my research, which focuses on Diabetes Type 1.
“ The UMCG as a place is truly a world all by itself! ”
On the training here, some things are different from what I was used to while doing my master back in Mexico! The system is very different; during my master it was more usual that you would do everything alongside the professor and that they would be there with you each step of the way, which teaches you different skills and a different way to perform experiments. Here, the big difference is that you are more free; you learn a lot about how to self-manage, you need to order your own materials and are fully in charge of your own project and so the responsibility for its success is yours alone. Here you really learn how to manage your project. The rhythm of work in Mexico was also very high, so luckily it wasn’t too big a shock for me to get used to the pace of work here, but it was new for me to be in sole control of all of my experiments and materials and research, and the process has taught me a lot.
The UMCG as a place is truly a world all by itself! What is really nice is that by doing your research here you still get to see the patients all the time which acts as a good reminder to us of why we are doing this research in the first place, because yes, we do basic science but it reminds us that it has a very practical goal and that is very motivating.
The contact you have with your supervisor here is also really nice, because you can have a one-on-one chat and it is all really straightforward. If you have a problem you go and speak to them and you will try to find a solution together. Of course it depends a lot on your particular supervisor as some will have less time than others, but in my case my supervisor has been spectacular. I can even call him on the phone and if he has time I can come by his office, he will make a call, send an email and together we can figure out a solution.
“ If you want to test yourself and gain experience and allow yourself to open up a broad new panorama of life, then it’s the perfect place! ”
Working here there is real cultural integration. I was used to it being 90% Mexican students in my class, and here it is almost the other way around with many different nationalities working together. Having such a multicultural team also makes for really interesting discussions; you think your own culture is so normal until someone else says ‘What?! You really do that??’. You realize the word ‘normal’ is so relative!
As for language, in the hospital everything is done in English especially because you are in research, and in the end all of the results will be expressed in English. As for learning Dutch, I have done so, but it can be hard to get started; all day you are focusing on work work work and it is all in English, then you can go out and practice a little but even if you learn all of the grammar and the vocabulary, you must find opportunities to practice it!
There have been many highlights of my time here, but one that stands out has definitely been learning the technique which I now work with which is encapsulation; the fact that you can make an artificial ‘organ’ so to speak (to give it a big name!), just by encapsulating islets, it’s amazing! It is really great to have learnt it here. Also, I have been able to get to know a really large network of people working on encapsulation from attending different congresses. Each of the congresses are a unique experience; you get to know new places, new information, new people, and of course sometimes see the same people again which is nice too!
As far as you have good results you are allowed to attend the congresses and present your research, you just have to talk to your supervisor and they can tell you ‘ok this congress is good because you can make good connections and gain some good experience, or maybe meet other groups who you might work with or collaborate with in the future’. Then, as long as you have that approval you can go ahead and are free to choose the congresses you would like to attend. And your supervisor will also of course encourage you to go and attend and to present as well!
Once I finish my PhD there are a lot of things I would like to do though I think I will continue in academia for some time, it is something really nice to be involved in and allows you to still combine research with teaching. I will also continue looking for other groups and interesting projects perhaps to become involved in just to know what other opportunities there might be in my field.
As for moving to Groningen, at the beginning it is always a little bit hard moving anywhere completely new, but after while you start to make your own group of friends, discover what things you like to do in the city, find your favorite places to go,; you learn how life here works and you just find your own way! Also, once you start to get to know the Dutch people it is really really nice and the number of Latin American students is always growing and growing too! When I came, in my department I was the only one, and now there are a lot, which is nice!
Having the experience abroad, it opens your panorama for many things, for the study, for ways of working, everything. I have had many different experiences, here in Europe, in the United States, and in Canada, and I would like to go back to Mexico eventually for sure, but not just yet!
I would definitely recommend the PhD program here to other students, but you need to be aware that you will be put out of your comfort zone! But this is something good as you will learn so much, and although it is a tough process you will be so proud of yourself when you finish. You can also be really excited that you managed to do something that is so worth it and so good for you. So, if you want to test yourself and gain experience and allow yourself to open up a broad new panorama of life, then it’s the perfect place. It’s not easy for sure, but it’s definitely rewarding!
Would you like to contact Genaro? Feel free to do so via email.