The biggest lesson after my first month as the Neuffer Fellow: self-trust

Walking to the Exchange Place building in Downtown Boston, I knew I might feel emotional. It was early February and I had already spent several months anticipating this moment, preparing myself for the magnitude of the experience I was about to have. But I did not expect, upon seeing the Boston Globe logo overlooking the lobby, that my eyes would instantly water. The newsroom has been home for some of the greatest journalists that ever lived, including Elizabeth Neuffer herself. And there I was, at the bottom of the stairway, halfway across the world from my home country of Brazil, starting to live the unimaginable.

The 2023 Neuffer Fellow Gabriela Sá Pessoa in central Boston, in front of The Boston Globe plaque

I needed to catch my breath before walking up the stairs. I took off my coat—my best friend in this chilling Boston winter—and sat on the sofa. As I waited, a dozen reporters I admire came to mind, and I couldn’t help but wonder what they would do in my position. Should I text a friend for advice? As I was typing, one answer crossed my mind: “Stop—you are here, so trust the ones who trusted you with this fellowship.”

That was the moment I realized that I would certainly fear other things while I am here, just as I have feared other things before. “What if I’m lame?” I worried while filling out the online application last year, when the idea of being here was way beyond my imagination. To all these thoughts, the answer is trust. Just trust. Trust the ones who trusted you with this fellowship, and trust yourself.

I am sharing this because the application for next year’s fellowship is now open, and there could be a woman out there doubting herself. Let me tell you: I felt the same way. But, first, there is no such thing as being a “lame” applicant. Secondly, you will find support and respect in the IWMF every step of the way, from the interviews to the meetings with MIT and The Globe.

From my first month in the fellowship, I can tell that this program is unique in combining both academic and professional experience. While challenging, it is exciting to see how each part of the fellowship comes together, allowing us to connect the in-depth scientific approach of MIT to improving public debate through our journalism.

I am no less amazed by MIT. The campus is stunning, combining modern architecture with classical buildings, and academic life is vibrant, with an engaged and inspiring community of brilliant minds. The people I have met at the Center of International Studies—where I have my own office!—have jaw-dropping careers. Every conversation and every class I have at MIT is life-changing.

Choosing which classes to enroll in this semester was not easy, but I ultimately settled on courses in data visualization and creative writing, where I have been experimenting with fiction and poetry in English.

The most mind-blowing course has been “Safeguarding the future” with professors Michael Specter and Kevin Esvelt. In this class, we discuss challenges for humanity, such as climate change, artificial intelligence, biosecurity, and nuclear energy, and think about solutions. Some of these ideas are helping me frame my pitches to The Globe. In fact, I am working on my first editorial piece this week! I will write more about that experience in my next blog post. Stay tuned!

Rear view of the Stata building at MIT, designed by Frank Gehry, one of the world’s greatest architects