A Brazilian at heart

Delta nr 36, November 2005

In this week's Q & A we meet TU Delft assistant professor Silvania Pereira. After graduating from university in Brazil, Pereira did her PhD at Caltech, where she worked with Professor John Hall, the 2005 Nobel Prize for Physics winner. On November 29, Pereira will give a lecture on Professor Hall's Nobel Prize winning work. Pereira has also worked at the University of Constance (Germany) and Leiden University.

Why did you apply for a position at the TU?

"My husband is Dutch and already worked at the TU's EWI Faculty. We'd been living in Delft for several years, so when I got the opportunity to get a permanent position at the Optics Research Group, I knew it was the chance of a lifetime."

What exactly is it you do at TU Delft?

"My background is in quantum optics and, among other things, I teach a Master's course in quantum optics. I'm also involved in experimental classes, in which I help assistants assist students. And I do research in areas like optical recording, optics in space and microscopy."

Would you say TU Delft is an international university?

"Yes. Many people here speak good English and everything is in English. I'd recommend the TU to any foreigner. It's a good university."

Is there anything the TU could improve on?

"Visa procedures, but that's more of a nationwide problem than specific to this university. Although of course the TU can, and probably is, pressuring the government to improve procedures."

Why do Dutch visa procedures cause such problems?

"It's generally not easy to get a visa here. The rules are very strict. Some of my students, PhD students as well, have arrived here several months late because of visa problems. One prospective student from Vietnam found getting a visa so difficult that she decided not to study here. That wouldn't happen in the US. There, once a university accepts you, the government issues you a visa. And if you want to stay on longer, your visa is simply extended."

What are some other differences between the various universities you've worked at?

"In Germany, the University of Constance focused on applied sciences, like TU Delft, but offered a wide range of courses, not just technical ones. Caltech in Pasadena, California, was much smaller and the research more fundamental. And the State University of Campinas in Brazil combined technical with general degree courses, making it possible to attend lectures on humanities, for instance, which I enjoyed very much. There's much more interaction between different faculties and research groups, both in Brazil and the US, than there is here in Delft."

And what about Leiden University?

"Because the faculties are scattered all over town, there wasn't as much interaction between various faculties, but the university organizes regular talks on all sorts of subjects and the Lorentz Center regularly organizes workshops and lectures related to science, which allows you to interact with scientist from other faculties and broaden your knowledge. As there aren't many lectures or workshops like those in Delft, I sometimes still attend colloquia in Leiden."

Do you like living in the Netherlands?

"Life's quite comfortable here. And there isn't much violence, compared to cities like Los Angeles or Sao Paulo."

What especially do you like and dislike about the Netherlands?

"I like how there's a certain minimum standard of living here . there's no poverty. What I dislike is that the Dutch live their lives on schedules so much. Even when visiting friends or family, you're expected to call in advance. I wasn't used to that. In fact, the first time I ever bought a diary was when I came to live in Holland."

What Dutch habits have you made your own?

"Unfortunately, I was obliged to take over Dutch eating habits. Before I came here, I'd have my main meal at lunchtime and then eat a light meal late at night. Now, because of my job and because I have kids who are hungry when they get home in the evening, I eat my main meal at 6 o'clock, like the Dutch."

Do you think you'll be staying in Holland?

"That's difficult to say with an academic career. I have no problem with staying here, but am open for change as well."

What do you feel like most: American, Brazilian, Dutch, European or a world citizen?

"I feel Brazilian at heart. Portuguese is still the language that's inside my head the most, and I mainly read Portuguese books."

You have two children. Are you raising them to be Dutch or Brazilian?

"Obviously, because we're living in the Netherlands, they are more Dutch, but they do know the Brazilian way of life as well and adapt to it very quickly whenever we go to Brazil. We've also raised them bilingually: they speak both Dutch and Portuguese."

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

"I'd be a writer, probably. I used to write a lot in both Portuguese and English. I even went to poetry slams in the US. But I don't really write anymore, and I can't do much with the Dutch language."

On November 29th, Silvania Pereira will give a lecture in English on quantum optics and the work of Professor John Hall, the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics. As Pereira has worked with Professor Hall in the past, she will also talk about what it was like working with him. Pereira's lecture is open to the general public. The lecture is on Tuesday November 29th, in the Aula's 'Lecture Room B', starting at 16:00.


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