Postcards from Portugal

So we got back yesterday from our trip and we are in the post-traveling cleanup mode - Cleaning up the apartment, the fridge, and the email box. In fact I just received an email from one Coimbra student filled with photos from the past week.

Below the fold are some pictures of our trip + comments about our time there.

I have to say that I really enjoy teaching. This past week I've talked about the history of our eukarytotic cells and how this informs their structure. I was going to record my lecture and post it, but it didn't happen. Maybe next time.

Speaking of ancient, the University of Coimbra is very beautiful and historic. It was founded in 1290 by King Dinis and is one of the oldest Universities in the world.

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I loved the old buildings and all the quirky traditions such as the wearing of the cape - a right reserved for all students of the university. After a student graduates, he/she is chased down by a mob of his or her peers and the cape is ceremonially ripped to shreds. If you happen to visit the town in the late spring, you may stumble upon a poor half naked student running through the streets.

Getting back to the class itself, I was impressed by one fact, the overwhelming majority of graduate students were female, but the instructors were all male.

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In discussions with Edgar and Phong, we all felt that this dichotomy was representative not of some "steady state" (more females enter science and fewer make it out), but of the current trends in the life sciences. I will not be surprised if one day the majority of life scientists at the senior level will be female. Just look at this year's list of Nobel Laureates.

Next point I would like to make is that Portugal is a real mix. Some parts of the country's infrastructure is in need of repair while other parts are ultra modern - better than anything here in North America. I've been told that institutional inertia prevents some of the needed upgrades. But instead of focusing on the negatives I will tell you that we have much to envy.

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(from the restaurant Quinta Sao Luiz)

For example, the Portuguese highway system is very modern with brand new roads everywhere and wireless tolls. This photo of Coimbra with its ultra modern bridge illustrates this point beautifully.

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They have also opened research institutes such as the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência in Lisbon and the Instituto de Biologia Molecular e Celular in Porto.

These new institutes have attracted young scientists, such as Helder Maiato (see photo - Helder is on the left, Phong Tran who runs labs at UPenn and the Curie Institute on the right). Helder, like many other Portuguese where trained oversees and have now come back to help revitalize scientific research in their own country. This model should be studied by any other country that wishes to rebuild its scientific infrastructure and institutions.

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