News - January 30, 2014

‘My supervisor turned out to be heavily pregnant’

Who? Aafke Nijhuis, MSc Nutrition & Health
What? Four-month internship at the University of San Francisco Quito
Where? Quito, Ecuador

‘My internship got off to a good start: when I arrived on a Sunday evening I was told straightaway that I had to teach 12 Ecuadorean students the relevant interviewing techniques the next day. So in spite of massive jetlag I had to prepare it all that night.

My internship involved helping a PhD student with her research on the causes of chronic undernutrition among young children. At our first meeting I saw that she was heavily pregnant and I immediately wondered how she would be able to supervise me for the next four months. But OK, just get on with it.

The work was pretty stressful: we worked fourteen-hour days, interviewing mothers with me sitting in a corner of the classroom to monitor the process. The only thing was, I didn’t speak Spanish so I couldn’t read the data in the interviews. I gradually learned Spanish with a dictionary next to the data. The students were all interviewing at the same time in that one classroom, so it was quite chaotic. Mothers were breastfeeding during their interviews and kids were running around. Sometimes the mothers did not turn up and then the students had to go to their homes, because they had to record a fixed number of interviews per day.

This chaos went on for three weeks. Then it got even worse. My supervisor’s pregnancy developed complications and her delivery was difficult too, possibly as a result of the tremendous amount of stress from the research. So we had to manage without a supervisor for the rest of the time, and figure out for ourselves how we should enter and analyse the data. We managed it in the end, thanks to a lot of skyping and emailing with my supervisor in the Netherlands.

Alongside my internship I travelled as much as I could in Ecuador. Every morning from my room I could see Cotopaxi, a volcano of 5897 metres. I just had to climb it and after my internship I got an opportunity to do so. But then I fell sick at the basecamp. Vomiting continuously, I carried on, but one hour before reaching the top I realized it was probably sensible to turn back. I got to Quito under my own steam but then I had to be admitted to hospital. Luckily I only needed to be on a drip for one night. The problem turned out to be a parasite.’