Ian Xul Beláustegui
My name is Ian Xul Beláustegui and I am a student of Biology and Mathematics at the Faculty of Sciences of the UNAM, degrees that I did simultaneously, although I started Mathematics when I was close to finishing Biology. When I received the recommendation to apply for a summer stay at the University of Sussex, I had already finished all my subjects and was only in the process of finishing my Mathematics thesis. The stay lasted two months, during which I had the opportunity to work on a research project with a group from the University of Sussex. Before starting, I was assigned to a project directed by Luc Berthouze, a supervisor who gave me advice on everything I had to do. I was the only student within the IJRA program under his tutelage, although he had other PhD students with whom I had the opportunity to interact. However, several other IJRA students from different parts of the world were doing projects in various areas. My research was focused on studying certain properties of a mathematical model that has been used to model the synchronization of neuronal activity; but other students were carrying out projects in Anthropology, Psychology, Electrical Engineering, Artificial Intelligence, etc. Of them, there was another person from UNAM, a couple of students from the University of Chicago, and students from Nigeria, Vietnam, India, and Thailand. All the people I met in those two months were very nice and I formed several friendships, something that I found very valuable.
As for the university itself, it was very interesting to be at a British university. Beyond the aesthetic differences between the University of Sussex and UNAM, something that I found interesting was the fact that they had student dormitories directly on campus. I had never had the opportunity to live directly on campus, surrounded by other students and constantly close to academic resources.
On the other hand, I found the interaction I had with my supervisor very helpful. He told me from day one that he would treat me like a PhD student, allowing me to think of my solutions and research directions, and only providing advice one day a week. I was responsible for managing my work hours and moving the investigation forward. In general, I tried to work 8 hours a day, but some days I worked less to do some activity and I tried to make up for it on weekends. At first, I wondered if I would be up to the task, but in fact, I never felt that the academic level I obtained at UNAM was insufficient, and I think that, in the end, my supervisor was satisfied with the results, even though given the time constraints I was able to fully complete the research I was doing. Apart from what was strictly related to the project, Luc was always very attentive to check that I was doing well, and we had good conversations where he gave me advice on possible ways to continue my studies. These conversations made me feel motivated to want to pursue graduate studies.
But, although several days were a bit heavy work, some other days there was not so much to do, and I took the opportunity to visit some of the neighbouring places to the university, the closest were Brighton and Lewes. Brighton is a seaside city popular with London tourists as it has a beach and a few other attractions. During the summer, on sunny days, many people go out to enjoy the sun and the beach, so there was almost always a lot of movement there. On the other hand, Lewes is a relatively large but quiet town. I really liked to visit it and walk along the river or walk the alleys lined with residences of a style that I thought was very English. I also enjoyed visiting the traditional pubs where many of the locals would gather in the evenings for a pint of beer and chat about the day’s events.
From a more personal point of view, at first, I didn’t know exactly what to expect from this international experience, but I was open to learning. The first week was a bit difficult, because they were very rainy days and I couldn’t adapt to the food (I quickly found myself missing the sauces and spices of Mexico) and the prices seemed a bit excessive, and the thought of staying for two months unsettled me. However, as I got to know people, found diverse international food, and discovered some tricks to not spending so much, I felt progressively happier. In the end, I had gotten so used to it that in the last few days I felt nostalgic about leaving the colleagues with whom I had formed a friendly bond and having to say goodbye to my supervisor.
All in all, it was amazing to have the opportunity to participate in this program. Among other things, it made me appreciate the importance of international cooperation and the value of getting out of our familiar surroundings, learning about other ways of thinking, and other types of academia. Although, beyond the contrasts, my time at the University of Sussex also made me appreciate everything that scientists from different parts of the world share, and that the taste for knowledge has no borders. I would definitely recommend other UNAM students to take the opportunity to go out for a summer stay to expand their horizons. Certainly, this experience broadened mine.