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Diversified education

Studying a graduate course at a new institution can help to build a strong academic profile

ZAIREMany students about to graduate do not consider continuing their studies at a different institution. Most are accustomed to their current university, familiar with the teaching staff, and have perhaps already participated in projects with senior researchers, all of which facilitate their application for a master’s, doctorate, or postdoctoral fellowship. For these reasons, it is often tempting to stay at the same institution for one’s entire academic career. But there are good arguments for taking a different path. Starting from scratch in a new environment can be an enriching experience when building a professional career, allowing people to meet new research groups, diversify their scientific and intellectual skills, and experiment with different work routines.

In Brazil, students often have their first encounter with academic research while studying their undergraduate degrees through scientific research initiatives, the themes of which are usually related to the objectives and needs of the projects coordinated by their advisors. The research groups usually involve individuals at different stages of their professional development, with coordinators identifying the strengths and weaknesses of each team member and distributing tasks accordingly. “After joining a research group, students tend to want to focus on a certain subject in depth, choosing to study a master’s and doctorate in the same laboratory, under the same advisor,” says biologist Maria de Lourdes Spazziani, a professor at the Institute of Biosciences of São Paulo State University (UNESP) in Botucatu. “At the same time, professors investing in undergraduate students often encourage them to stay in their research groups,” she adds.

Spazziani is a good example of someone who built her career at a variety of institutions. After completing her undergraduate degree in biological sciences at the University of Guarulhos (UNG) in 1979, she moved to a new city several times. She has a graduate diploma in environmental education from the Federal University of Mato Grosso (UFMT) in Cuiabá, and a master’s degree from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). She then moved to São Paulo State to study a doctorate at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP). She also
took part in various exchange programs at institutions in Brazil, Spain, Portugal, and Cuba, until she was hired as a professor by UNESP, teaching at the Botucatu campus. She explains that she has always been guided by her vocation and her interest in specific subjects, seeking out the institutions best suited to her educational needs.

ZAIRELeaving your comfort zone
According to Spazziani, one of the advantages of studying a master’s degree and doctorate at a new institution is motivation. Staying at the same institution may mean attending lectures by the same professors that teach the undergraduate degrees, and in some cases, this can result in students becoming too comfortable, always approaching ideas from a familiar perspective. By changing institutions, students get the chance to study new disciplines and to discover different ideas, points of view, and ways of working.

Physicist Marcelo Knobel, dean of the University of Campinas (UNICAMP), believes this change is even more important during postdoctoral fellowships, when researchers need to develop intellectual independence and autonomy in order to establish and manage their own research groups. “Individuals need to adapt to the work routines of a new laboratory, familiarize themselves with the research methods, and establish a good relationship with the other researchers so that they can meet the expectations of the research leaders without neglecting their own need to deepen their theoretical and methodological knowledge,” he says. It is always worth looking for the best graduate programs in a particular professional field, whether they are at the same institution or another.

According to Spazziani, the experience of working with different research groups at different universities can promote professional development, making graduate students or postdoctoral researchers more critical in relation to their fields of interest. “This change is very important, allowing people to experience new research dynamics and to learn new methods, procedures, and protocols,” says Knobel. If they travel abroad, it is also an opportunity to learn a foreign language, as well as to establish networks with researchers from different countries and institutions, increasing potential opportunities for collaboration in future research projects.