News Report / Profile
A 6 people conversation…with the Students of the Pedagogical Board
Punctuality is an innate characteristic that I’ve been finding among the students that I’ve been meeting. They arrive right on time.
As I meet Catarina Bravo, Joana Bastos, João Torres and Guilherme Vilhais, they come in with a broad smile which shows a natural candour. Some minutes after comes Liliana Pacheco and then Francisco Baptista. They are effective students of the Pedagogical Board at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lisbon and ended their term in April, with the exception of Francisco, who was a substitute student during this term, together with Mariana Caetano, Inês Mendo, João Afonso, João Antunes and João Martins, and took office late April 9th with his new group of Students, now as an effective member.
An organ of pedagogical management at FMUL, the Pedagogical Board is composed of 6 teachers and 6 students, and in case of a voting tie, the Board President has the last word.
With privileged access to both worlds, the Student group of the PB networks among the student and teacher universes. In this scale of communication, they represent the collective voice of the students, serving as a bridge to the teachers.
voice of the students, serving as a bridge to the teachers.
With April being the end of the first year in their role, I’m meeting with 5 of the effective Students, as Clara Oliveira was not able to participate. I’ll join them in the annual review of what was done and what they would like to have said.
Used to having only on list of Students in the run, they are defending a work of continuity, though the abrupt transitions of new people are not noticeable. Catarina and Joana have been in office together for three years, while João, Liliana and Guilherme have been two, and Francisco only one.
They have assumed responsibilities and defend that ideas gain impulse when they are discussed, but essentially put into practice. They face every situation, even over the less popular movements, with responsibility and a social reasoning, a mission.
It is interesting to see this consensus that brings them together for everything, and how they never refer to their peers with rivalry. They tell me that even if there were several lists in the run, they would not be rivals, they would be partner lists.
They answered every challenge we threw at them, and helped us in a joint project where they invested their soul with commitment. They gained almost altruistic happiness of learning how to be in another person’s shoes, believing in the common purpose if it serves the needs of the many. False puritanism? Not at all, it’s a sense of responsibility!
Considering that some of you have taken part in more than one term of the PB, you had the chance to work with two different Professors, Isabel Pavão Martins and then Joaquim Ferreira. What have you acquired from this relationship with one and then the other?
Catarina: We had the chance to work with both in different moments of their respective terms. With Professor Isabel Pavão Martins, we collaborated in a more advanced stage of her term, while with Professor Joaquim Ferreira the collaboration occurred at an initial stage. However, we grew and learned a lot from both Professors and finished our terms with a feeling of mission accomplished as Students. In the last term, with Professor Isabel P. Martins, we were able to complete objectives that had been created some time ago, including by other students in previous terms, and it was very important and enriching to accomplish them. We served only on term with Professor Joaquim Ferreira, notwithstanding, it was a plentiful period where we managed to achieve several changes at our Faculty. With the Professor, we learned the importance of defining priorities and focusing on what we are able to change together in the moment, on a shorter term. The Progress Testing was a good example of a change that was made possible in a short term and that provides us with great joy. The idea was presented by the Professor and supported by us, helping it grow.
Joana: Looking back at this year in office, we are aware that we started with a certain mindset, a type of priorities, that were later readjusted. We knew the Professor’s philosophy was more on target, on point, with easily actionable ideas that would provide results within six months. And we were not used to that and had to be more precise and learn, more than ever before, that our battles are not just the Student's, they are the Pedagogical Board's battles too. Only working together were we able to achieve immediate results and, not being part of our own causes, these were things we offered help with and that we felt as ours for the great benefit they brought to the students. Not only the Progress Testing, but also my Fenix App,, the Code of Honour.
The Code of Honour was a recent initiative?
Joana: Yes! Liliana and I were more directly involved with this, but then the whole nucleus considers that integrity, as a certainty for all the students of this Faculty, must exist from the first to the last day of our times as students of this house. The Code of Honour materialises our vision perfectly. It was another idea provided by the Professor. In this term, I feel we had more than just battles. We had victories of synergies that were absolutely fantastic and unexpected.
Working with Professor Joaquim Ferreira was a real challenge.?
Catarina: An extremely enriching challenge. We learned and grew a lot with the Professor.
Joana: Definitely, but it is more gratifying now looking back.
With projections to the future, of course.
Joana: An important legacy left by us is the possibility to humbly enjoy the opportunity for Students and Teachers of the PB to currently have a communication platform that brings great benefit to this Faculty.
And was the Progress Testing able to move forward?
Catarina: Yes, it was one of the Professor’s ideas that we immediately supported. Together, we gave it a name and helped creating the concept. And even if the idea came up in a meeting very close to the date that we considered as the best date for this test (before the start of the first exam season), thinking that we could not let a year go by until we had the first edition and lose a whole year of potential optimisation and improvement for a future edition, we embraced this project together, a Teacher Committee was created for it, and the first edition was born, which left us particularly happy.
Guilherme: It was discussed for the first time in February.
Joana: We had a month to test it. And the longer we tested, the more opportunities we’d have for optimising the process in coming years. So, delaying a month would mean delaying a year to have our first try of this model. This is also a reflection of the Professor’s legacy to us (laughs), to act and accomplish, even if the improvements come after.
Guilherme: This was a mindset that we developed a lot during this term. It’s the idea of "let’s approve now and optimise later, but getting things going". We didn’t sit and wait to correct every flaw before implementing, because that makes the process move slow and delays procedures in several months. The pragmatism we gained, mainly during this term, was a characteristic we achieved in a beneficial way, specially having faced this transition. Because both Professors had very different ways to work, it was an excellent opportunity to explore those differences and to adapt to their different personalities.
Did you ever feel like bearers of difficult news before your study colleagues? Since the Progress Testing is a less “fun” challenge than a student party, or a more recreational workshop... It's a test that demands commitment and exposes individual weaknesses.
Joana: We know that other groups are more popular than us. (laughs) We don’t promote partying, that much is true. I never felt anything specific, even knowing that promoting academic integrity can be a far duller discourse. If there’s anything we got from Professor Joaquim Ferreira, it was to perceive the meaning of representing our peers, to some degree. But there is also an important component in what we see as more beneficial, not only for us, but for the Pedagogical Board and the Faculty. Therefore, we have no regrets over being more serious, because our choices are the most beneficial for us now and in the future.
Catarina: We see ourselves as messengers of points of view that are not accessible to our colleagues and that may contribute to changing their views on several subjects. The teaching assessment surveys are an example of this. We all recognise that filling in these surveys is time-consuming, and if we focused on the effort required and remained unaware of the consequences that this effort may have on improving the teaching at this Faculty (even if these changes are not yet as palpable as we’d like them to be), we would most likely see it as an inglorious effort. But we know that this is not wasting time, but gaining time, because we know the benefits for the School and our learning experience and the learning experience of future students, and that is the type of message we mean to relay.
This role as a bridge between students and Teachers allows you to be the agents of change?
Guilherme: There are three organs representing students, the Association (AEFML), us (Pedagogical B.) and the Students of the School Board, and it is interesting to understand our role in this threefold representation. We share positions and fight common battles in some issues, but we are different. Our job is to understand both sides, having close contact with the teachers and focusing mainly on the teaching at the Faculty. It is then important to establish this proximity relationship with our colleagues.
But I feel that students have less relevance in the School Board. No?
Catarina: It’s different. While the School Board integrates only 3 effective Students, the Pedagogical Board has an equal number of Teachers and Students, a characteristic that differentiates this organ.
I imagine you consider this 6 to 6 parity fair... Do the Teachers feel the same?
Joana: The Teachers are more relevant because the President has a quality vote and the Teachers prevail in the most fracturing issues.
And are there any fracturing issues?
Joana: We heard historical reports but never really felt it.
Considering we’re dedicating this month to the student versus teacher relationship, and with the perspective of someone who deals with teachers on a daily basis and shares the same decision relevance, what can be taken from this? Is there a strong hierarchy or is the student’s curiosity that moves and motivates the teacher?
Catarina: At the PB, there’s a very close relationship between teachers and students. Student and Teacher empower one another, and from the joint discussion of Teachers and Students, who are peers in a same organ, comes change, which makes this organ so unique.
Guilherme: We are going through a phase of great transition here at the Faculty, there’s a great renovation of regencies and it is visible that the Teachers coming from this older order have a very different way of being in comparison to the new ones.
Does this mean that the weight of the hierarchy is not present as much?
Catarina: At our School, I believe it still bears some weight. We had the privilege of dealing with the Teaching reforms that are now taking form (in the case of the Pre-Clinical Teaching) or finalised (in the case of Clinical Teaching), and we feel the weight of the old School is considerably noticeable when structural changes are necessary. It would be very positive for the School and for our learning to look at these opportunities for change in a more vanguardist way, without the fear of embracing true innovation in Medical Teaching and at our Faculty
Looking at you, I see a group of people who are on their way out and Francisco, representing those just coming in. Why are these places accepted? What is your cause?
Francisco: Most of all, we are responsible in making our Faculty the best Medicine Faculty possible, and we always look for the best solution for every party involved, not only for the students, but the whole academic community. Therefore, if we see the potential for improvement in anything at FMUL, especially in Teaching, that’s what moves us. There are always aspects to evolve and improve. If there is an organ where these changes can take place, instead of keeping the ideas on the table, we have the privilege to present them where decisions can be made.
Catarina: I totally agree. Listening to Francisco, I recall a quote by Einstein that is very significant to me: "We have to do the best we are capable of. This is our sacred human responsibility". If we feel that we can make a difference in a certain place, as part of an organ, within a project, it is our responsibility to do so. What unites us is precisely the possibility of making a difference for our Faculty and leave our mark, and that’s what lead us to building our team during the last term and I believe that’s what lead us to building the current team.
How do you reach your colleagues? How do you listen to and communicate something to them?
Catarina: By paying attention to what’s going on around us, to what we learn via e-mail and what is relayed to us via the course committees of the several years. The course committees are excellent allies, as they have a closer knowledge of the problems of the respective year. They were crucial in this term, including in discussing and searching for solutions to sensitive and fracturing topics like the Teaching Assessment Surveys. The suggestion of providing students the priority on choosing their schedules if they filled in the surveys came from a meeting with the Course Committees. It was proposed to the Pedagogical Board, at a time where we were discussing the possibility of making the surveys mandatory to overcome the low rate of replies, and it was accepted and is currently effective. Moreover, we keep a close contact with AEFML and the Students of the School Board, which we consider to be very important.
João: The electoral campaign is also a very important moment, when we showcase the PB, when we show what we can do as Students and when we’re challenged by our colleagues who bring us problems to solve. Furthermore, we created a moment and a space where students point out the most important problematic areas that they want to have solved. They challenge us and we try to adapt and pay attention to these problems throughout the term.
But that is a very specific moment, are there any other ways to maintain this communication with the students throughout time?
Catarina: There’s our platform, CP for students,, on which we use e-mails to present varied content that we find relevant, trying to maintain this proximity with our colleagues, and also our facebook.. But we are aware that our colleagues’ contact with us is more moment-based, in comparison to the Student Association, for example, that have a broader set of projects, while we focus on the teaching experience at our School, as that is our sphere of activity.
Speaking of sphere of activity, have you felt that, in the position of Student representatives, there were no more ways to defend an idea and had to give up on it?
Catarina: I don’t think that ever happened. We left some ideas in stand-by because we realised it was not the best time to bring them up, but we never gave up on ideas that we believed to be beneficial for medical teaching and for our School. We also know that, most of the times, it's a matter of time until we are able to present them. We have helped give life to ideas presented by PB students from 5 or 6 years ago, which only took form much later. It is therefore always worth it to invest in ideas we believe in, because even if they do not move forward during our term, they will do so in the next ones, and it is very different when there’s already work done by the Students and the seed has been planted.
Guilherme: We learned to manage our efforts. There are challenges that we know we won’t accomplish them in useful time and that the time is not right. So, we focus our efforts on other points that are closer to our reach and that are equally important, and we forgo a stage of a fight that requires management despite its significance.
Joana: Sometimes this management is difficult. Because we consider things with a term of a year and a year is really not that long. It goes by really fast. And it is not bad to face some resistance because we then look back and realize it was maybe not the best time. But it’s true, it hurts a bit. We realised that had we not postponed certain projects we would create antibodies of our relationship that is clearly atypical, because there are as many students as there are Teachers, both working towards a common objective. And it is logical that the points of view and priorities are not always the same. We need to have some perspective, which also exists on the other side. We keep things in a “little box” for a year and maybe at a different time we can open this “little box” and the idea can come to life. This has happened before!
Francisco, how is this responsibility handed over? Catarina grabs a document and delivers it to the hands of Francisco and asks him to do his best in fulfilling all of the ideas that were left unaccomplished? Surely there’s more to this...
Francisco: A facilitating fact is to have only one list running for office, which allows for a continuity among elements. This way, part of the members have integrated previous workgroups and are aware of the work being developed. At the end of all terms, a reflection takes place to consider what has been accomplished, an official document that has already been sent to every student, the Term Overview. On the other hand, meetings take place with the students of each workgroup, the ones leaving and the ones taking office, so that the main information is transmitted, together with priorities being assumed in the short and long term
The expectation for those starting is very high, no?
Francisco: It is! And I must add that the Effective Students of the previous term left an excellent platform on which to work with the Teachers. We’ve also had our first PB meeting and the working environment is excellent, which is something that leaves the whole team very happy. With this horizon, possibilities are wide and I believe we can achieve a lot together.
And for those leaving? How do you feel? Do you leave a part of you in the project you’re coming out of?
Catarina: This is a very personal response, as each of us has different periods of time dedicated to the project and their own point of view. But I feel a nostalgia and some strangeness, because I participated in 3 terms, meaning 3 years, and I've been at the Faculty for less than 5 years. Joana and I are currently in the 5th year and we got into the PB in our 2nd year. So, the PB was part of our routine and our lives at the Faculty for so long and this impacts the way we look at the School. (Laughs) And even my e-mail box will suffer a drastic reduction... (Laughs) But I’m finishing my term with a sense of enormous happiness and gratitude for having had such a great opportunity for growth, on an academic and personal level, with a feeling of mission accomplished and assured that the next team has the same large sense of commitment and responsibility, and that they’ll do an amazing job.
João: I feel that we fulfilled our duty. When I integrated the PB, I felt very “small” for defending such great banners, and little by little we broke through. This makes us very happy. The PB is an expectation and priority management school, with management being a skill that I did not have before and that I’ll now use for life. In the future, we will work in teams, be it at the nursing wards, or even outside of the Hospital and Health Care, so this skill makes us stronger.
Joana: I totally agree! It’s just like a school, the Students are a School! More than changing the world, it is important to change our world. We came to offer a little bit of ourselves so it is strange to leave now, it feels as if we are incomplete, but we shall have other challenges ahead of us. We gave a little, but received much more. We learned how to deal with different people, of varied degrees, and we must know how to communicate, from the student that just came into the Faculty, to the M.D. Professor that manages a course and that everyone “fears”. We have to know how to be flexible and that is a very useful skill. This relates to João’s idea, as the Joana that went into the PB is absolutely different from the Joana that now leaves.
Guilherme: We all gained and developed several personal skills. To be able to express and defend a personal idea when you’re talking to a Professor who is above you, and you're fighting for what you believe in while maintaining a respectful approach, is a skill that one learns. And to perceive the internal dynamics of the Faculty provides a greater sensitivity to understand what is going on behind the scenes. I’m leaving with a feeling that this is the right time to hand over the responsibility. It was gratifying, but also tiring because we need to keep the motivation at all times and we cannot quit when things do not go as planned. Furthermore, it is important to have a renovation of ideas, because the same group will be stuck on the same mindset and remain conservative in the face of new ideas. It’s a good idea to have someone new who can question a previously moulded vision.
Liliana: What we learn in this path is to be on the side of the informant, learning to distinguish the roles of the informant and the informed. These are different roles. To be on the side of the informant is to be a part of the cogs that make things move little by little, and to share various frustrations amongst ourselves and other colleagues on the outside. We also learned that it is difficult to move very heavy “rocks” (that still exist in our School), but we were a very tight team, and we had an enormous capacity for listening and learning. At this time, exiting feels good, despite the nostalgia. We feel a different energy from those who are just arriving, and that is a positive feeling. The team coming in is just as dedicated, but totally different from ours, which is great because it brings different beliefs. I feel particularly good about leaving and seeing that we left the Code of Honour institutionalised, together with the establishment of Progress Testing .
Guilherme: Allow me to add that during our term we had some victories that were received from prior terms, but only achieved their expression now. The approval of the new Optional Branch Regulation at the Faculty was a process that started in 2011. At the same time, we laid the first stone towards the Reform of the pre-clinical years. In a few years, there will be another group of Students in office when this Reform is finally implemented.
Have you ever represented a collective idea that you personally didn’t believe in?
Liliana: I think that it is important to mention that consensus usually comes naturally between us. What you ask happened only once with me and Joana. Despite the group vote against, our opinion would have taken us to abstention. In all fairness, the final result would not have been influenced by our vote and that was, in fact, a fracturing meeting, and one of the first meetings we had. I had a personal and interpersonal dilemma that was difficult to overcome, but after a team discussion, we voted unanimously. And why did we do it? First, because our abstention would have been a personal vote and not a collective vote, and second because that vote would not have influenced the final matter: even if we all voted against and the Teachers in favour, the President would break the tie by voting in favour. Historically we were unaware of any “personal vote” among Students of the PB in a meeting, maybe because the natural course had been a consensual opinion among us in every situation we had been through. We were caught off-guard on this occasion. This was when we started reflecting that we could sometimes have a different opinion, because in some situations when it is not so important to have a consistent position, it might make sense to have a diverse vote. This happened during this term, we had a diverse vote in the last meeting which made Professor Joaquim Ferreira very proud. I must admit it made me proud too, because if it is important to have a strong and consistent vote on major discussions concerning the School (which again happens naturally), in the tuning of fine details it makes more sense to make way for personal opinions, since it enriches the discussion and may even better reflect the global opinion of the colleagues we’re representing.
Joana: That we know of, it was the first time that we did not have a group vote on a subject.
What made this group of Students vote differently and question vote coherence for the first time was the matter of completing the assessment surveys. We felt we had fulfilled our role by voting with different opinions, as the opinions of the students are also different concerning this particular matter.
The Professor probably saw for the first time in this group of Students of the Pedagogical Board what he had been fighting for all along, that we had more than one voice even when thinking of the collective. And he did it!
Moving forward, Professor Joaquim Ferreira serves 2 more years of his term, completing the usual 3 years; the next term of the PB President will be 4 years long.
For Francisco and the new group of Students, the path starts now and they promise to not let go of what was left unfinished.
I ask them for a group photo, Francisco says it is best to not take the focus away from the team that is now leaving, which I disagree, as they all belong in the same place as a team, some with an established legacy, others just about to start writing it, but together with the same principle. We all leave the room. They ask to get back to the Boards where they always meet. They compose themselves in the large meeting room and take a discrete peak at the mirror, fix their shirts and their hair. The smile was never lost from the first minute they came in the room for our conversation.
They compose themselves and bring out the smile, always natural. The photos are taken.
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We say goodbye hoping to see each other again. Speaking to groups like this one shows that there are people willing to make things happen. A will to change, for us all.