News Report / Profile
The professor who breaks the ice with the students - Prof. Maria José Diógenes
Professor Maria José Diógenes, in addition to being a teacher at our institution, was also responsible for the organisation and implementation of the Candidate's Day, which took place on 30 April. We took advantage of this month's theme on News, as well as the proximity to this event to talk to her about what it is to be a professor, to explore the relationship she establishes with students and the importance of Candidate Day. Talking to Professor Maria José Diógenes is not at all a moment of work. It was rather an enriching moment of learning with lots of smiles thrown in the mix. She is a demanding person, but mostly empathetic, always intending to offer the best of teaching to our students.
- We would like to know more about your classes and the relationship you have with the students.
- I love to teach! In the subjects of pharmacology and neuropharmacology we have two types of classes, the theoretical ones and the theoretical-practical ones, also known as TPs. In theoretical classes there is no possibility of establishing a very close interaction with students. However, in the TPs, since we teach small groups and spend many hours in direct contact, those are the moments that I use to interact, exchange impressions and get to know them.
I have some difficulty in memorising names, but if the name comes with a set of characteristics, it becomes easier for me to recognise the students, to establish a close relationship and even to assess them. So, at the beginning of the year I introduce myself and share with them some personal information: my path, my hobbies, my tastes, and then I let them follow the same example. This exercise facilitates interaction between students and between students and professor. I get to know them better and this helps me to understand the context of each student, it allows me to understand the difficulties / needs of each one. Moreover, my view of these classes is that they must be dynamic. There must be some ease in the classrooms for these moments to become productive. It is important for everyone to feel in an environment of tranquillity rather than hostility - dreading the assessment. In my opinion, you only learn when you forget that you are being assessed. It is necessary to assess the students, but the most important thing is to ensure that they learn. This is a very funny period, I know them a little better and they know me a little better and often, at the end of the class we even talk about other things and we create a close relationship. And so we adapt to each other.
- What kind of ice-breakers do you use? Games?
- Yes. One of the games I do is with handmade cards. For each theme, I have two sets of cards, each one has a different colour but in both of them the same pharmacology concepts have been written. It's a game kind of like Tabu. The cards are distributed, half of the students receive cards of one colour and the other half of the other colour. Each student is left with a card and depending on the colour he may have to explain the concept on that card or he may have to guess the concept that is being explained. They are allowed to make graphs, diagrams and explain the concept, but not read what is written on the card. During this exercise I can quickly see which students are following the contents and which are having more difficulties. The students are very fond of this game, they review the contents and don't feel so assessed. Of course I'm assessing, but it's a different experience. I can see where they have the most difficulties and they are absorbing from each other. Moments of this nature narrow the student / professor relationship because these activities are done together, I also participate, I help and I give tips. I think it's funny and they like it. They really cherish these moments.
- Do you feel that it is something that has evolved, the student/professor relationship?
- Yes, I think so. From what I can observe, it seems that professors have, in general, a good relationship with students and students with professors. Of course, those who have more time invested in teaching have another willingness to think about activities that allow greater proximity to the students.
- Was it different in your time?
- Much different. Some classes were very unappealing. However, my degree was in Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Lisbon School of Pharmacy, which had and I think still has, a very significant laboratory component allowing a very close proximity to the professors. In addition, the number of students admitted each year was reduced, which facilitated interaction.
- How did this initiative to organise candidate's day come up? How did it happen?
- Dr. Luis Pereira, at the request of the Director, invited me to participate in this event as coordinator. Of course I accepted. Although I am the coordinator, I feel that I was the one who learnt the most from the experienced and previously trained organising team. I admit that at first I did not have the faintest idea of what it would take. At first, when I received the invitation, I immediately started having ideas for the event, but after reflecting, I felt it was wiser to keep the format of previous editions to understand the contours of the event. I had never organised "candidate's day". I did not know what the logistics were, I did not know the people on the team and so I let the team guide me. Still, we made some changes, namely, we increased the number of students participating, we collected the testimony of students from our school and also, we refreshed the brand image of the event (Logo). This edition was equally important because we extended the participation to the candidates of the Degree in Sciences of Nutrition. Next year, if invited again, with a different understanding, I will suggest other activities.
- What importance do you see in this event, Candidate's Day for the students?
- It's very important. Unless they are the children of faculty or alumni, or have siblings or friends in College, candidates are not aware of what awaits them at FMUL and sometimes they have a misconception. And from what I hear, the students think we are very stiff, very old, very narrow-minded (laughs). ). In-house professionals are of great quality, the professors are fantastic, the doctors and investigators are extraordinary. We are not squared, nor are we narrow-minded, and I think it is important to debunk that so that we do not feed into preconceived ideas. "Well, I'm going to Medical School but I'm not going to Santa Maria because Santa Maria is very closed, tight and old-fashioned". And in this sense, I think it is important for the students to realise that we have dynamic teams here, that the professors are accessible and that the education is of excellent quality. There's commitment from everyone: Professor António Vaz Carneiro remained casual. Even before the interventions, he immediately started bantering with the students and interacting with everyone. Professor Fausto Pinto, Director of the Faculty, spared time to be with the students, that is amazing! Moreover, the President of the Pedagogical Council, Professor Joaquim Ferreira, despite his many tasks, made himself available to accompany the students. Not to mention, the Coordinator of the course of nutrition, Professor Catarina Guerreiro, Professor Emília Valadas and Professor Susana Fernandes. These people spared time to be there and introduce students to our Faculty. Something that impressed me a lot was the joy with which FMUL students accepted to participate in the event. Their testimonies were amazing. I recall one of the students touching on an aspect that is commonly heard "outside": that the students here are very competitive and mean to each other. That is not true. They are easy to work with and who help each other, but who are demanding and challenging, as any good student should be..
Moreover, "candidate's day" should be a motivational day for the 12th graders, who are in a difficult phase of great tension. I believe that some of them have doubts if they are able to reach the end of the journey successfully and when they are welcomed at FMUL, they receive an injection of energy. It seems to me that students are increasingly interested in knowing the characteristics of the faculties they will attend. They are more demanding. In my time, I do not remember choosing the faculty by the structure of the course or by its professors. There were fewer options, we chose the course we wanted. Nowadays is different, students know how the courses are structured, they know the professors, they know the research works developed in the institutions. For example, some of the candidates knew that the Integrated Master's in Medicine is composed of modules. Such details lead me to believe that future students seek quality in teaching.
- What other activities are important to do with students?
There is an activity that will happen on October 23rd, BeyondMed which is very interesting and should have great involvement from both professors and students. It will consist of a moment of reflection on medical education, which intends to include all professionals involved in the process: students, professors (pre-clinical and clinical), doctors and researchers. The team involved in the organisation represents various fields and the recipients are the same. It's organised by everyone and for everyone. It's very interesting. Each year has a different theme and there are various activities around this theme in order to improve medical education. This year we want to further strengthen the relations between the various parties involved, especially among professors. This interaction is instrumental in responding to the demands of knowledge integration and quality of teaching.
- Where do you get inspiration for these games / approaches?
Inspiration comes from putting myself in their shoes, thinking about the way I would like them to teach me and from reflections on my performance. Although I sometimes ask myself if I am doing very childish activities for the students, I always end up doing them anyway, because I believe they provide relaxing and stimulating moments. The most important thing is the feedback, which is always positive, as you can see from the surveys that I have done over the years: "Positive points - class dynamics", another, "Very interesting classes to replicate with other professors, excellent methodology ”, “Dynamic classes and not at all dull, the different ways in which classes are taught that allow students to improve their learning." They usually prefer the games, because they find them entertaining and learn in a different way. Games- content consolidation”.
- Is this methodology, in your opinion, the best way to consolidate knowledge?
When the students arrive at TP classes, they have already gone through the theoretical classes where the concepts were taught. Usually, they have the idea that pharmacology is very hard because they have a lot to memorise. The professors have to be able to show them that it isn't so, that the key is to understand, that is our function. The truth is that these activities work very well, especially in the TP classes, pity we do not have TP classes for all the subjects. But each teacher has their own strategies.
- What characteristics do you look for in the students you teach? What do you consider to be a good student?
I find joy in teaching everyone, but the ones that give me the most joy, are the students who show interest and who strive. For example, student workers, which we often think will be less committed... I have tremendous admiration for these students. Contrary to what one may think, they are usually very focused, organise themselves very well and have the contents well thought out. But in general, our students are very good and live up to expectations. In my opinion, a good student, is one who knows how to take advantage of the opportunities that are given to him, in different educational moments. One who can ask questions, and even stand by a different point of view. Those are the good students.
- How do you view your responsibility as a professor?
As a professor, I study a lot and worry about every class I teach. Every year I review the latest books and articles. Constant updating is required. I reflect a lot in the preparation phase of a lesson. Training people for a professional activity is of extreme responsibility, we cannot be negligent. This worries me a lot. We are training future doctors.
One of the things that worried me most when I first joined this institution was that I was not a doctor at a medical school. Professors are very exposed. In a theoretical class, we're in a way protected, but if the lesson is well taught we're in an exposure situation, in which the student can and should ask any questions that he or she desires. When I started teaching, quite young, I was very scared of not being able to answer the questions properly. At that time, I was studying more than the students at the exams season (laughs), and I was probably more nervous than them too. But I always felt well equipped with the knowledge needed to teach pharmacology. As the years went by, the knowledge and exchange of experiences with other teachers helped me to grow as a professor. I was lucky with the team I was integrated in, in pharmacology we have monthly meetings in which we discuss several topics including the content taught, the problems and clinical cases of TP classes. In conclusion, we train each other, both clinically and preclinically, so that we are all well prepared to teach each class.
Now, after 15 years of teaching at our school, I have no problem answering, "I don't know". It's impossible to know everything. Saying "I don't know" is a responsible attitude and opens the door to interaction, because when this response arises, we usually seek the answer together, that fosters student-professor interaction.