Careers don’t always follow the plans you set, as Gina Maffey is currently experiencing whilst in Brazil.
Contributor Gina Maffey
I shut the door behind me and walked to the end of the corridor. Unsure what to think of what had just happened, I dropped my bag on the floor and leaned on the windowsill. I felt like I’d just found the final piece of a puzzle under the sofa, except it didn’t quite fit into place.
My meeting had concluded in a positive but unexpected way. After a lengthy discussion with colleagues on a developing project, one of the professors had asked if I had heard any news on the postdoc that I had applied for. I told her that I was not expecting news any time soon because of the strike that university staff were engaged in. The strike had begun the day after I submitted the application, and the campus had been a very quiet and desolate place for the previous month.
“Oh,” she responded, “but it is good news, the postdoc has been approved.” She turned to the rest of the room and added, “Gina is now officially part of our department!”
A round of “Parabéns!! Congratulations!!” and a series of hugs followed. The excitement lasted for a few seconds before the surreal twist came in.
“There is one problem,” my now supervisor continued, “we do not have any money for the project.”
The confused expression on my face obviously spoke volumes and she tried to explain. “The university and the funding body have approved the project to go ahead,” she said. “But the government has decided not to give any more money to research at the moment. But, it is still good news, you are my postdoc.”
Looking out across the campus, I ran through this conversation again, wondering if I had somehow managed to miss a vital piece of information somewhere along the way. How can you secure a job without getting paid? My supervisor had assured me that we would find a way to get funding another way, but the system baffled me and I suddenly felt very far from what I had assumed was a universal academic bubble.
Unsure whether to celebrate or commiserate I tried to take stock of the past few months and make sense of it all. I had set out with the intention of shaking things up, trying to grow personally and professionally in an alien environment. I had landed in Brazil and started running straight away. I had said yes to all opportunities that came my way, attended meetings, delivered lectures and accepted every offer of coffee. But, such seemingly simple tasks were made doubly difficult with language, cultural and social barriers thrown in to the mix.
It was draining, and I had begun to question whether I had made a mistake. The ache for familiar faces, lecture theatres and debates was stronger than I thought it would be. Trying to juggle work on continuing UK projects and establish myself here sometimes seemed to be a mammoth undertaking. One that was punctuated by different time zones, intermittent Internet connections and long lunch respites that just didn’t quite quench my craving for a 3.30pm tea break.
Despite my longing for such things, Brazil undoubtedly has its perks: the opportunities to travel, to meet inspiring people and to pursue an understanding of new, stimulating and varied topics. While it has maybe lost the shiny novel appeal from when I arrived, the people continue to surprise me through their warmth, generosity and excitement in helping to try and navigate all aspects of daily life.
I realised I needed to stop trying to push the final piece into my own puzzle and accept that I was beginning to build a different one. One where the academic pieces were familiar but the picture was entirely different. So here’s to a project (without funding). Here’s to navigating the next hurdle and here’s to the continuation of this adventure.
If you’re new to Gina’s adventures and love them as much as we do then here are the first three parts to her story: