The Other Side of Being a PhD student

...Because not everything is about research...

I have realized that being a Ph.D. student is more than only doing research. In this post, I will talk about my experience with all these parallel activities. I worked on my research project but I have also attended online courses and lectures. Moreover, I participated in meetings with other institutions to discuss possible mutual collaborations. Finally, I started with my teaching responsibilities assisting professor Olaf Dössel with his course in Electromagnetics and Numerical Calculation of Fields.

My favourite part... working on the research project

I worked on creating the mathematical framework of the model that I will investigate. A big part of the first weeks of my project consisted of reading tons of papers about the state of the art in the field. In the beginning, the equations of the existing models seemed a bit long and overwhelming. After reading them again and again in multiple contexts, they finally started to make sense in my head. Furthermore, I came up with a few ideas to upgrade those models to tackle my research question. I showed my ideas for the mathematical framework in pen and paper to my supervisor and he thinks that it is reasonable to start the computer implementation of my model. The exact way how to put the theory on the computer is still in discussion but I am thrilled with the idea of putting my ideas into practice.

Mathematical formulas on pen and paper. Computer with research articles. On top Post-it notes for each time I have an idea I don't want to forget

Starting discussions about potential collaborations

Another exciting part of the last month was the meeting with my supervisors in Barcelona and Maastricht to define possible collaborations during my secondments. The first one will last three months in Maastricht where I lived for two years during my master’s degree. This makes me happy because I truly enjoyed my time there. I will be under the supervision of Dr. Stef Zeemering who was already my professor for one of the courses of the master’s program. In the second year of my Ph.D., I will spend two months in ADAS3D in Barcelona under the supervision of Dr. Lluis Serra. They are a company that will provide software for segmentation and fibrosis identification in MRI images of patients with atrial fibrillation. Then I will spend additional two months in Barcelona in IDIBAPS a biomedical research center under the supervision of Dr. Eduard Guasch. There, I will get access to patients’ clinical data that I will incorporate into my model to assess how good is my model to predict the risk of arrhythmia in those patients.

A lot of learning and training

In addition to the activities related to the project, I took part in different training courses. I acquired new skills or reinforced old skills that I will be able to apply to my project. The courses covered important subjects such as machine learning, open research, information search, imaging and signal processing, cardiac modeling, and of course German language. I had a bit of experience with some of those topics but some others were completely new to me and I had to pay a lot of attention to grasp some of the ideas behind each lecture.

Teaching is also part of the PhD journey

A figure that I made for my students to explain them how to plot a vector field using MATLAB
Finally, my role in the Electromagnetics course was to prepare exercises, meet students every two weeks to solve the exercises with them, and then upload the solutions to ILIAS (the student portal at KIT). I did something similar when I was a medical student in Colombia, so I have always enjoyed being a tutor or teacher. However, this was my first time doing it in English, with international students, and online. Interaction with students under these circumstances can be very hard. I have to record the tutorials to upload the videos to the student portal. However, for privacy issues, students’ voices or faces cannot appear in those videos, and so I have to pay attention to pause and resume the recording constantly. This was hard when I started because I had to focus on two things at the same time. Nonetheless, after three sessions I have gotten used to it and I feel a lot more comfortable with the dynamics of online teaching.
Chrismass vibes in Karlsruhe

November was a very busy month. However, after all that work, I have the satisfaction that important steps were done. Even more, considering all the additional challenges that the pandemic brought upon us in these uncertain times. I feel that in a few months as a Ph.D. student I have grown a lot personally and academically. Christmas and New Year’s Eve are around the corner which means I will have a very well-deserved rest very soon.


See you next time!