Believe it or not, that’s life

Who'd have ever guessed it?

I am not going to talk about my story here, I am going to talk about my luck.

As it happens sooner or later to every student, I as well went through a period of indecision in which dropping out of education seemed the most reasonable option. In my case, this happened at the beginning of my third year of college. Although I was studying Biomedical Engineering, which eventually turned out to be one of my passions, back then I was highly demotivated and numerous alternatives seemed to fit my being better.

It goes without saying that I was not planning to give up two years of college so easily, at least not without seeing what the subjects of the third year were about. But as time went on, the decision was increasingly clear.

And yet, I had the chance to meet Prof. Chema Ferrero, lecturer of a subject called “Bioelectricity”. I will return to Prof. Ferrero later, but from now, I will just say that I would not hesitate to say that he has been one of the most influential persons in my academic life.

At the same time, I was presented by an incredible opportunity. Students of Biomedical Engineering at the Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV), at least those with good grades, are eligible to be trained as interns in one of the leading research centres of the university. As I said, back then I was highly demotivated, so at first, this opportunity seemed like nonsense. So, here, another important person took part in the story, my mother. While I cannot remember the exact words, it went something like this:

  • (me) I am not taking part of this programme. I can hardly focus on the compulsory subjects, let alone optional work.
  • (mother) Just give it a try, it will not hurt you. You can always step down. Yet, if you choose not to, you will never know what could have happened.

I was not going to discuss with her, so I agreed to it. But since I did not even want to think about it, I chose the centre without knowing my options, the research topic that was addressed there or even the people involved. I just chose randomly.

I could not believe my luck, therefore, when I saw that I had been assigned to the department of Prof. Ferrero, who I knew from no more than 3-4 lectures, but had already made a great impression on me. He introduced me to Computational Cardiac Modelling, the field in which I have based my research on for the last three years, that I will continue working on for another three (during my DPhil) and that I have no intention of leaving.    

Computing in Cardiology (CinC). Singapore. Sep. 2019.

But my luck did not end there. Actually, it was about to start. During my internship, I was under the supervision of Prof. Ferrero but also of Prof. Beatriz Trénor. Within less than 4 months, not only had they made me abandon the idea of dropping out of education, but also, they had made me realize that I wanted to finish my bachelor degree, pursue a master’s one and start my own research project as a DPhil student.

So, during my third and fourth year of college I worked with them as hard as I could and the results came along. We submitted our work to an international conference (first and segond Figure). Following acceptance, Prof. Trénor encouraged me to be the presenter of the work. Although speaking in front of an audience full of experts in the field, in Singapore (first and segond Figure), seemed terrifying, her trust in me made the difference, so I accepted. Among the wonderful experiences I had in my first international conference, mostly due to fact that I travelled with Prof. Ferrero and Trénor, I would like to highlight here two:

  1. I heard for the first time about the Marie Skłodowska Curie training network and simply felt in love with the idea.
  2. That trip escalated my desire to study and be trained around the world.   

Determined to achieve the second point, and increase my chances to get the first one, I tried to apply for a Master’s programme in Leuven, Belgium, but I somehow missed the deadline. I, therefore, applied for a Master’s degree in the same university as where I conducted my undergraduate degree, although a bit reluctant about the idea, since it meant not being trained around the world.

But then I heard about the Erasmus programme, which was even a better option, since it only implied doing the Master’s thesis abroad. The available destinations were not of my particular interest, since I was not able to find a strong collaboration in the field of computational cardiac modelling between the UPV and the abroad universities. But then, Prof. Trénor convinced the international office of the UPV to include the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) as a possible destination.

It was the same Prof. Trénor who told me about the Marie Skłodowska Curie fellowship offer in Oxford, who wrote an excellent reference letter in my support and who helped me preparing to my applicant interview, even though she was in Valencia and I was in Karlsruhe.

I first said how important Prof. Ferrero has been in my academic life.

Prof. Trénor has been decisive.

As it is obvious at this point, I conducted my Master’s Thesis at KIT, where I met incredibly skilled professionals, such as Prof. Olaf Dössel, Dr. Axel Loewe and my supervisor, DPhil student Tobias Gerach, among many others. They have been an important part of my training too, and I hope not to lose contact with such an incredible research team.

It was in Karlsruhe, in the library of the Cardiac Modelling Group, where I had the first online interview with my current supervisor, Prof. Blanca Rodriguez. But I will talk about her, along with the rest of members of my current group in following posts, since I yet have to find the way to explain in few words the amount of research and ongoing projects that are carried out by such an indescribable team.

Annual Conference of the Spanish Biomedical Engineering Society (CASEIB). Undergraduate competition. Santander. Nov. 2019.

Computing in Cardiology (CinC). Singapore. Sep. 2019.

Sometimes I go back in time and think about how different could have been everything:

I could have dropped out of college and never met Prof. Ferrero. I could have ignored my mother’s advice or been assigned to any other research group in the UPV and never met Prof. Trénor. I could have declined to go to Singapore and never heard about the Marie Skłodowska Curie training network. I could have gone to Belgium and never started my Master’s in Valencia. I could have finished my relationship with Prof. Trénor after graduating and never done my Master’s Thesis in Karlsruhe or been awarded the fellowship to pursue my DPhil.

There are a thousand things that could have happened differently. But luckily, they did not… and that’s life. 

So, believe it or not, three years ago I was thinking about dropping out of college.

Now I am a DPhil student at the University of Oxford.

Albert Dasì