Family history is something that always interested me… I believe we are an accumulation of the experiences, values, and principles of the previous generations. Throughout life, based on our own experiences, we have the opportunity to reflect on the family history and filter what we would like to pass to the next generation. I would like to pass this interest to my daughter, and that was the greatest motivation to write this first post about the academic background of our family.
Let’s start from the beginning. My grandpa, the father of my father, was one of the first graduates as an Engineering Technician at the Industrial Institute of Lisbon (which would later become a highly regarded technical faculty in Lisbon, Instituto Superior Técnico). In the 1930s Portugal was in the middle of a dictatorship that oppressed education, but with the help of a much older brother-in-law who saw some shiny light in the youngest of 9 siblings, my grandpa left his little village in Algarve towards the big metropole and joined the military school at the tender age of 15 years old. I do not know the details but it was there that my grandpa had the opportunity to become an Engineering Technician. Unfortunately, my grandpa passed away when my father was a little child and most of the details might have been forever lost. What I know is that my grandpa spent his life working as responsible for large public works in the old Portuguese colonies in Africa (Sao Tome e Principe, Angola, and Mozambique), where he ended up catching a disease that cost his life at the age of 45 years old. A few documents found online mention his name as the person responsible for public buildings in Sao Tomé e Principe in the late 1940s and beginning of the 1950s. This was the first generation of graduates.
Moving thirty years forward, my father, born in Mozambique but living in Lisbon since his father passed away, joined the Medical School of Lisbon full of determination and is the first of four brothers to graduate, as a medical doctor. After some research assistant roles, my father steps away from research and until today he dedicates his life to the clinical practice.
Let’s now move to my mother’s side. My mother was 17 years old when the colonial war started in Angola. She flew to Portugal with her family and fighting on all fronts, joined the Business Administration graduate program in Lisbon. With a lot of struggles and thanks to a couple of dear friends who helped to fund the end of the studies, she finished her bachelor’s and started working in the banking industry. She reached quite high management positions in international banks like Lloyds and Barclay’s and even became Resident Vice-President in the Citibank. However, when faced with the need to become an informal caregiver of my grandparents in her early 30’s and with two little girls at home, my mother decided to move her career to academia as the demands of the banking world did not fit the family demands. And that was the start of the academic career… I perfectly remember my mother leaving the house in the evening to attend the lectures of, first the Master, and afterward the Ph.D. program. I have deep admiration that she completed her master’s and her Ph.D. next to a full-time job, being an informal caregiver, and having 2 young children/teenagers at home. My mother’s Ph.D. defense was the first one I attended; I was 15 years old. At that moment I thought “awesome but this is not for me! Never ever!”; now I cannot deny that it also shaped my career. And this was the second generation of graduates and the first-generation of PhDs…
And then there is me, the third generation… I am extremely privileged to never have even questioned about going to university. I even had the chance to do the first year of my master’s program abroad, which led to the Ph.D. and my current position as a researcher. At this moment I don’t see an academic career as a ‘must’ but I also never thought about doing a Ph.D. so who knows?
And during my master thesis research, I met my husband, who was doing his doctoral research in the same research organization. He is another privileged kid, also a second-generation Ph.D. His father, with a background in mathematics and computer science, completed his Ph.D. degree and became an assistant professor at the university until his retirement a few years ago. Both my husband’s and my Ph.D. dissertations have Easter eggs to the PhDs of our parents. This is our simple way to show our profound admiration.
What I admire the most? Neither my mother nor my husband’s father have/had the ambition to become full professors. My mother came from the banking world, worked for many years as a consultant on the side, and ended up in academia to be able to conciliate professional and personal life (what a joke right?). At this moment actually, she is away from teaching and researching activities and is the Scientific Director of the faculty. My father-in-law, on the other hand, is for me what a true Professor should be like it. He shines with the contact with the students, he is truly passionate about knowledge, learning, and teaching constantly. A true example of what an academic should be.
So to finish, it is indeed a privilege to be the third-generation of academics and to have figures in our life to look up to. We are also absolutely lucky to have the most supportive parents and never have felt any pressure to pursue an academic career; everything came naturally. And thinking about our little daughter… She might become the fourth-generation of academics. Will we force it? No way! I sincerely believe that not everybody must or should go to university. But it wouldn’t surprise if she, by herself, decides to follow the path of the parents and grandparents.
By acknowledging how privileged I am, I have deep and sincere admiration for first-generation academics and for the struggles they fight. In particular, I would love to help people who come from underprivileged backgrounds and wish to pursue an academic degree. To this purpose, I recently joined a Portuguese program called “Letters with Science” (PT Cartas com Ciência) which connects scientists to students in underprivileged areas. Additionally, as a member of the Board of Directors of the International Society for the Measurement of Physical Behaviour, I volunteered to be part of a special group on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to support underrepresented researchers. Any other initiative, small or big, is always welcome.