MIT Portugal Visiting students Patricia Fortes and Luis Martinez in front of the MIT dome.

Cambridge, Mass. --- With the launch of the MIT Portugal Program's new academic courses this fall in Portugal, the MIT community has welcomed visiting PhD students on this side of the Atlantic.

A small group of Portuguese students arrived on campus in September and spent three months to work with professors in their research area, collaborate with other students and attend lectures and presentations.

Luis Martinez and Patricia Fortes were two of the Portuguese students who visited MIT this fall. In December, the MIT Portugal Program sat down with them before they returned to Portugal to uncover their impressions of MIT and to provide them with a chance to share their experiences.

Their interactions at MIT gave the students new insights and opportunities for advancing their research and introduced them to the culture of MIT and the U.S.

MIT Portugal: What are you studying and why did you apply to the MIT Portugal Program?

Luis Martinez: I am studying for a PhD in Transportation and I am a student at Instituto Superior Tecnico in Lisbon. The focus of my research is in public transportation and the interaction between public transportation and land users.

At IST, my supervisor was involved in the (MIT Portugal) program and my supervisor thought the research topic was important.

Patricia Fortes: My focus area is energy -- long-term energy scenarios and green house gas emissions.

A professor in my department [at Nova University of Lisbon] has been to MIT and has studied here. Normally, he sends some students here and my advisor suggested I come to MIT as a visiting student.

MPP: What did you like most about being at MIT?

LM: The research environment is different from Portugal. First, the scale of people who are researching in the same area and the number of professors you can contact and ask questions of is greater. There are a lot of professors who have cross cutting research. In Portugal there are fewer professors. That scale, and my supervisor [at MIT] Prof. Chris Zegras, helped me a lot in developing my research.

PF: You read papers on your research topics and then you can come here and  talk to [those authors]. You go to the journals and see papers and then you talk to the people who wrote those papers [when you are at MIT].

We talked to a lot of people in Portugal, but there are only one or two people who are working in your area. Here there are several students and professors.

MPP: What was the most surprising thing you learned about MIT?

LM: Free food everywhere.

PF: The people. You think at MIT they are going to be geeks, but no. They are very nice and spontaneous and funny. We went to a lot of parties. The social life was very nice here.

MPP: What is one thing you will pass on to other students about your visit here?

LM: To get help, it's as simple as sending an email [to professors and researchers] and telling them what you are working on or asking a professor to introduce you to people. Don't be afraid.

Also, the personal experience of being outside of Portugal and my home was important. People should work a lot and take advantage of being here and also take advantage of being in a new country and meeting new people.

PF: They should plan what they want to do and look at the MIT website and define the people they want to talk to. It's very important. You learn much more from talking and people are very willing to talk.

Then, have fun; meet people and....try to  go to happy hour.

-- By Michelle Gaseau, Director of Communications, MIT Portugal Program