Orientation Day in Portugal  

Bringing Together Dual Degree Ph.D. Students and Alumni

od1  On October 25, 2014, more than 30 students and alumni of the CMU Portugal Program participated in the annual Orientation Day in Lisbon, Portugal, where the goal was to welcome newly enrolled students and the students arriving in Portugal for the first time. The event allowed students and alumni to get to know the most recent achievements of the community, as well as promote networking moments while enjoying the city.

Lisbon, the Beautiful 

 Praça da Figueira, one of Lisbon’s most famous squares, was the meeting point on the morning of October 25. The students then took the tram to one of Lisbon’s most iconic places, the Castelo de São Jorge (São Jorge Castle), which they visited with the help of a tour guide. At the Castelo de São Jorge, a medieval site overlooking the city center and the River Tejo, the visitors were surprised by the amazing view over the city and the capital’s fantastic weather.

In the middle of the visit, it was time for the first introductions and talks: João Claro, national director of CMU Portugal, welcomed the group and Leid Zeinlovic spoke of his experience as a recent dual degree Ph.D. graduate in Technological Change and Entrepreneurship (TCE).

Later, the group walked to the Museu de Artes Decorativas Portuguesas (Decorative Arts Museum), where they had lunch and afterwards participated in the workshop “CMU Portugal Program: From Graduate Education to Innovation Challenges.”

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A Community of Excellence
The workshop started with a presentation by João Claro, who gave an overview of the CMU Portugal Program, as well as some facts and figures. The national director went on to describe the various initiatives that the CMU Portugal Program is currently promoting, including the Entrepreneurial Research Initiatives (ERIs) and inRes – a very early stage acceleration program, as well as other programs for students and faculty, such as the Undergraduate Internships Program (UIP), the dual degree Ph.D. and the Faculty Exchange Program, respectively. According to João Claro, at this stage the Program aims to strengthen the collaboration with industry and build a formal industry affiliates program, while engaging with companies involved in the Program.

OD3  The CMU Portugal Program community has over than 550 young and senior researchers from all over the world, who together contribute to the Program’s mission of creating new knowledge in key focused areas of ICT by means of cutting edge research, world-class graduate education and a close connection with the Portuguese industry, aiming at placing Portugal at the forefront of Science and Innovation.

Sara Brandão, executive director of the CMU Portugal Program, spoke about student matters, including administrative and visa-related information that students need to be aware of when they become part of the Program.

The next presentations featured Paulo Casanova, a dual degree doctoral student in Computer Science (Universidade de Coimbra and CMU) and consultant at Novabase, and João Semedo, a dual degree doctoral student in Electrical and Computer Engineering (IST-UL, CMU, Champalimaud Foundation). While Paulo Casanova focused on automatic diagnosis, his area of expertise, João Semedo focused more on the student experiences and their roles as drivers of innovation.

The Perspective of an Academic that Became an Entrepreneur
After that it was time to listen to the perspective of someone who participated in the Faculty Exchange Program, and that is now an entrepreneur. Bruno Cabral is an assistant professor at the Informatics Engineering department of the Universidade de Coimbra (UC), and in 2011 he started teaching as part of the dual degree professional master program in Software Engineering. He is currently CTO at Sentilant, a startup created as part of the CMU Portugal Program.

Bruno Cabral talked about his path from academia to the creation of a startup, explaining what Sentilant does and commercializes. According to the CTO, creating a product from technology is not very easy, but the know-how obtained and the help provided by the Program have been pivotal. In his opinion, the AEMINIUM project, carried out in the scope of the Program, was fundamental for the startup. Carried out by a multidisciplinary team of Universidade de Coimbra, Universidade da Madeira and Carnegie Mellon University, together with Novabase, this project aimed to shape how concurrent software development will be performed in the future and to strengthen Europe and America’s capabilities in this important area.

The Ph.D. is a Growing Process

The Orientation Day was concluded with a roundtable session with the alumni Carla Costa (Ph.D. in TCE), and Miguel Duarte (professional master in Software Engineering), and moderated by João Claro. Carla Costa started by describing how her life changed after the Ph.D. as in two weeks she defended her dissertation, participated in the commencement ceremony at CMU, and was hired by Maastricht University, in The Netherlands. 

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What surprised her most was the fact that she learned she loved to teach. The most rewarding thing was her expression of gratitude to the CMU Portugal Program experience. Due to the experience within the Program she can be a scientist, teach and also work with entrepreneurs. According to Carla Costa, doing the Ph.D. as part of the CMU Portugal Program really paid out.

Miguel Duarte, on the other hand, stressed that working with people from different cultures really made a difference, as well as the fact that he was supported by Portugal Telecom, where he worked at the time. Miguel Duarte is currently working at Feedzai, a startup created within the CMU Portugal Program. According to this alumnus the professional master’s changed his perspective of how software should be developed. He also tried to draw the audience’s attention to the CMU Portuguese Alumni chapter, a community that keeps track of and connects the Program’s alumni, encouraging them to join and carry out activities after they graduate.

November 2014