top of page
< Back

Truth or Dare?

PhD "I'm Lovin' It",

PhD "I'm Lovin' It",

Sandra Bartolomeu Pires is doing her PhD and here she updates us in her third yearly update on the slightly eccentric world of studying and managing a young family

Oopsy-daisy, sorry guys. I know you've been on the edge of your seat, barely able to focus on your own work, wondering what I have been up to. I'll put you out of your misery then.


Ok, so, remember, I moved back to Portugal in the middle of my PhD (Catch up with it here!). My smile faded as we hit 45°C and I felt I was being cooked alive. Not easy to deliver level 8 thinking while melting like Olaf in the sun.


I'll tell you what, I actually had a great 3rd year on the PhD (read this part while playing “I am on top of the world”, by Imagine Dragons). But today I want to tell you the behind the scenes, because what help am I, if I just show you the “makeup front”... Here is the not-so-sexy-backstage:


1. I got my first-author publication, on an impact factor journal of 3.36. The backstage: this was my 4th submission! 4th! It took me one year from first rejection to finally getting the paper accepted. I am definitely making a mug with a print-screen of my paper. "Bartolomeu Pires et al" aaaah, I like the sound of that…

2. I got another first-author paper accepted the same month I got first published! I went from not having a first-author publication to having two, in a few weeks. The backstage: I worked on this paper for the last 2 years (!!!), in my own time, as a “passion project”. Because of course, I rather write a paper on a Saturday or midnight, than watching "Somebody feed Phil" on Netflix. Of course not! But I was really driven by the accountability towards my patient group and clinical team, that made this work possible (thank you to everyone that supported the REACT-HD group).

I tell you what is funny, I got this paper accepted without corrections... No corrections people! This was a service improvement project that I ran and wrote in my own time, and the paper comes back without corrections. Pretty sure those reviewers are angels sent to earth to make doctoral students feel better.


3. I wrote a book chapter for the Handbook Integrated Care right up my alley, focused on the needs of people living with neurological conditions. Backstage: I was pretty much with a month of continuous migraines due to this chapter. Every time I sat to write it my brain was in tears. Creating 10 000 words conscious that I had a PhD waiting to be done added pressure. I also wrote a massive chunk while at the beach. And by "at the beach", I mean I was at home writing while my beautiful sister was taking care of my daughter and entertaining her at the (actual) beach (Thank you, Tânia). I would do it all over again, but it wasn't easy.


4. I got a small grant with the European Huntington’s Disease Network working group (Multidisciplinary Treatment and Care) to run an inspired nominal group technique meeting with experts at the European Huntington Association Conference (and breathe). We worked on standards of care for people living with Huntington’s Disease. I led the meeting in Belgium last October and it was a great feeling to deliver on such a big event. The backstage: I was dying of fear that I would be embarrassed at European level. I travelled 2 days for a 4 hour meeting, nearly lost the train leaving Blankenberge, caught a cold, and was sick with some viral nastiness for the next… 4 months. This embryonic idea will feed into an actual research project, that I am very excited (and equally scared of), and so this under the pump opportunity was incredibly worth it.

Group of six women standing in front of a presentation smiling
From left to right, the marvellous Huntington’s Disease Marvel-like team: Ruth Veenhuizen, Dina Sousa, Alexandra Fisher, (little hobbit Me), Annemiek Helmers and Asuncion Martinez Descals. Missing from the picture but equally awesome: Astri Arnesen and so many more members of the working group.

I've done more stuff, but I'll stop the humble bragging now.


There's something I want my PhD colleagues, particularly the newcomers, to think about. How much you give, and how much you take.


See, every single one of these achievements, came with significant hurdles and personal sacrifice. You will be asked so much, constantly, and the more you deliver the more you will be asked to do. So for your own sake, I want you to think of how you will preserve your wellbeing throughout your journey.


Here are two strategies that work for me.


  • Don't agree to something right away. Ponder on the possibility. "I'll get back to you on that". "Should we schedule a meeting for next week to discuss that?". "Maybe, let me check my schedule".

    Never commit straight away.

  • Asses the cost-benefit. Is it worth doing? What's in it for you? Do you need to give your all 100% or maybe 60% will do good enough?


Think of how much energy and time you give to a task and make a choice on what to take on.

[I had a mentorship session recently, so my mentor’s words are stuck with me (thank you, beautiful mentor).]


I want you to have a good experience in your research journey, which, probably and hopefully, will be longer than your PhD. Set the boundaries you want for life, what are you comfortable living with? And make it work for you.


I'm not sure I'll manage to write to you again, my scholarship is coming to an end, and I have this disease of wanting to save the world through my research… Impressive that on my 4th year I am still this perky. I blame my supervisors who are so supportive that I believe I can do anything (yes, I have the best supervisors, thank you!)


I’m loving it. And somehow, I seem to be hungry at this thought…


How about you? Truth or dare?


Need me? Find me on socials:

Instagram @integrate_hd


Twitter @BartolomeuPires





Sandra Bartolomeu Pires

bottom of page