Taking on a PhD abroad is a challenge. Studying at an intense level in a language other than your own whilst also coping with having relocated to one of the world’s busiest cities might be too much for some. But for Hernani Oliveira, a Brazilian Ecology student completing his PhD at Queen Mary University, London, the experience has been anything but.
We spoke to Hernani about his studies, his experiences living in London and why he chose to come to the UK to complete his PhD.
Hello, Hernani! Could you tell us a little bit about the study of Ecology? What exactly is it, and why did you choose to study it?
‘Ecology is a field of Biology that studies the interaction of different life forms and the environment they’re living in. I decided to study it because by studying and understanding the way life forms interact with their environments is a way of better understanding the world that surrounds us, and how it works.’
What would you say the real life implications of Ecology are? How would you say it affects our everyday lives?
‘Ecology is a really broad and important field inside Biology! By studying and understanding Ecology, you can predict and understand how the environment is changing, and the implications of these changes for the climate, water resource supplies and wildlife. So, for example, you can understand the impacts of climate chance on the supply of water or the rise of the ocean.’
What are some of the differences between living in Brazil and the UK?
‘I think one of the biggest differences that I've noticed from moving to UK is that public transport is much better organised, and there are no big discrepancies between salaries of people living here. Whilst London has a subway with more 400km of extension that can drive to almost anywhere, Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, has almost none. And whilst my scholarship is just 2 or 3 times less than what a professor at my university earns, this difference can increase to as much as 8 or 10 times in Brazil, for example.’
What has been the hardest thing about moving to the UK, and how have you managed to deal with it?
‘I think one of the hardest things about moving outside my country is being away from my family, girlfriend and friends. You belong to where your roots are. So, until I find and dig my own roots here, I think I'll miss Brazil. I deal with that by trying to be as easygoing with people as possible, and make as many friends as I can, so I do not miss them so much.’
Are there any differences in academic cultures between Brazil and the UK? Are there any differences in the way students are taught, or encouraged to learn?
‘Yes! There are some huge differences. To start with, in Brazil we usually have a lot of classes during the PhD, whilst here in the UK you have a lot more time to focus on your project, which is really good! In Brazil, you also face a lot of hard times because the scholarship is really low and it's not possible to pay your bills with it, depending on the city you live in. Professors here in the UK are also much friendlier than in Brazil, which encourages people to have good conversations that better boost our learning experience.’
What is Queen Mary University like? What do you like most about studying there?
‘Queen Mary is a very good university! I like studying there a lot because you feel comfortable that there is always someone taking care of you and your learning and development. They also have a good campus with a lot of possibilities to have fun, study and go to classes.’
Is there anything you think international students should know before coming to study abroad in the UK?
‘I think that to come here to do a PhD you have to be very mature academically and emotionally because you don't have classes, and your supervisors are not there to push: they are there to follow and support you learning process. You also spend a lot of time by yourself working on your projects and ideas or with your colleagues in the lab, who can make for very good friends because they are usually not in their home country and so are open for friendships, and just want to make you feel comfortable in the place you work. In my experience, people from London and the UK are really nice! They know how to deal with differences and how to get along with people from different cultures.’
Tell us about the area of London that you live in. What is it like in terms of people, culture, and things to do?
‘I live close to the Stepney Green station (District tube line). I think it's not the best place to live in terms of things to do in London. I live here because it's close to the university, but you can always go to Victoria Park, which is really nice, or to a walk around the Thames, which is really close. A curious thing about living here is that this is one of the areas where Jack the Ripper used to murder his victims, but no worries; most places in London are very safe!’
What are your plans for the future?
‘My plans for the future are to become a professor in a good university. I want to have a good career so I can give attention to the education of my students, and help to inspire them to pursue their dreams in Science and in life.’
How do you think having studied abroad in the UK will help you achieve these goals?
‘Studying abroad, and especially at the University of London will add very good experience and a lot of knowledge to my work as a biologist and as a professor. It will also add a lot to my CV, and help me learn all the necessary skills to become a good professor.’
What’s one British phrase which students from Brazil (or any international student), should know to save them from confusion?
‘They should always know the words ‘please’, ‘sorry’, ‘thank you’ and ‘you're welcome’. These magical words can save you from any trouble in your life. You can also always try to be polite as people in UK and in Europe are usually very polite.’
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