Perfectly imperfect: a personal reflection on the road to a PhD

“Success is not final; failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts”.

Winston S. Churchill

About myself

My name is Marco Silvano. It’s been nearly 3-years since I first stepped into the Cell-based Vaccines Development Lab, where I am a PhD student at Instituto de Biologia Experimental e Tecnológica (iBET) in Portugal. Just a few months away from the finish line, I take time to reflect on my experiences and the journey of the past 3 years.

If you ask me

I’ve always felt admiration for those who spend years pursuing doctoral research. It’s a journey of extremes. Through the struggles and the acknowledgments – when you develop a deep bond to your project through commitment and self-motivation. Before my adventure began, a former colleague of mine told me: “It’s the best and the worst time of your life.” While I immediately understood his point, the duality deeply intrigued me.

Something that is necessary but unspoken is that you know what you leave behind, but you do not know what you take. A reason why I was perplexed by the idea of leaving a safe job and my comfort zone to start over somewhere else. However, my concerns were quickly replaced by excitement and the urge to prove myself. I was enrolled in a top-quality consortium – the promises and ambitions were immediately high.

My expectations have been partially met. Just when my work required a significant effort and networking between research institutes, the Covid-19 outbreak began to gain momentum. Unfortunately, for this reason, I have the feeling that I have not fully benefited from my position. It’s left a slightly bitter taste in my mouth as I am a few months away from the completion of my research. Nevertheless, I am blessed and glad to have been part of this journey. It doesn’t matter if things did not turn out the way completely as planned  – things do not always go as expected, though it is a hard and beautiful truth about life.

Trip out of town with colleagues and friends. Algarve, Portugal, 2020.

I have been blessed with the good fortune to be surrounded by amazing people. They have been my strength and have definitely added value to my PhD experience. I have a core group of friends who, although interested in my work, are far from my research area and can take me away from work-related thoughts. In the end, it’s all about the balance between carrying on the research project successfully and knowing how to enjoy life. Though it’s not always spontaneous and often comes with experience. I cannot say I am there but I know I am getting closer. Something which has guided me from my first day: the awareness of wanting to live these years to the fullest, while striving to improve myself both as a person and scientist. As long as doctoral studies may seem while participating in the program, these experiences are short in the grand scheme of life and will pass in the blink of an eye. In no time you think about what you did and what you could have done – yet one cannot be everything and be everywhere. Nevertheless, it’s important to live so that there will be fewer regrets when all is said and done.

But the “end” word has not yet been pronounced. On the contrary, more than ever, it’s time for the final push to complete my work in the short remaining time. Recently, the days seem to run and chase each other. I often asked myself “how will I make it out of here alive.”  But all jokes aside, these years have taught me to never back down and that, with the right attitude, things will fall into place. It will be challenging, but the satisfaction will be undoubtedly great.

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