International student gains new perspective at VIMS

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in World Minded, a once-a-semester publication of the Reves Center for International Studies at the College of William and Mary.

Ask anyone who has lived abroad and they will likely respond that the impact of that experience is evident in various aspects of their life. The experience may have led them to appreciate cultural differences more intentionally, to pursue study in a field they had not previously considered, or, as in this story, to refine their own understanding of their career.

VIMS Ph.D. student Ana Verissimo.Ana Pimenta Verissimo Ph.D. ’11 came to the U.S. in 2005 to pursue a doctoral degree at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. A native of Portugal, she had always yearned to live and study abroad for an extended period. The strong reputation of U.S. graduate programs and scientific research in general made the U.S. especially attractive. When she was selected for a scholarship under the Fulbright program, coming to VIMS was an “easy decision,” she says.

Long fascinated by the diversity and complexity of the marine environment, Ana’s interest in the biology of the unique deep-sea habitat was sparked during her undergraduate program when she had the chance to study the Portuguese dogfish, a species of deep-sea shark. At VIMS she has pursued this interest further through her dissertation research, which employs population genetics to help us understand how deep-sea species survive in such a harsh environment.

Reflecting on her experience studying in the U.S., she notes that “the relationship between faculty and students is much more informal.” This, she says, “leads to an easier transfer of knowledge and experiences.” She adds that the overall openness of the environment in which faculty work here leads to a more fluid interchange of ideas and easier collaborations than she has witnessed in other research settings.

Ana’s experience at VIMS has not only shaped her view of how scientists should relate to each other but also how their work relates to society as a whole. She used to regard research as a sphere somewhat isolated, reserved for scientific or academic audiences. “During my years here,” she says, “I have been able to appreciate research as the pursuit of answers to relevant questions with an impact on society or on the advancement of our global knowledge.”

To incoming international students, she offers the following advice: “Work hard and work well. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind and to discuss your own ideas, and take advantage of all the opportunities to meet your peers and to work with others.” Ana still plans to return to Portugal to continue her research career, and will take with her a changed view of academic culture and the relationship between science and society. Her stay in the U.S. has definitely helped to shape that view.

—Stephen Sechrist, Director of International Students, Scholars, and Programs, Reves Center