Success Stories: Tiago Alves, on being bilingual and meeting scientists for the first time

Native Scientist
Native Scientist
Published in
6 min readJul 19, 2021


“Success Stories” is a series of interviews from the Native Scientist community: scientists, teachers and pupils who have participated in our activities. In March, we talked to Tiago Alves, once a pupil at a Native Schools workshop, now a physicist in the making.

My name is Tiago and I am bilingual. Both my parents are Portuguese. I was born in London, where I have pretty much lived my whole life. I am currently doing a Master’s in Physics at Imperial College London. My hope for the future is to go into research, do a PhD and join the field of particle physics.

My daily life in these times of pandemic mainly consists of having lectures in the morning, and then working on my dissertation project in the evenings. For my project in accelerated physics, I am using my knowledge of particle physics to help one of my professors design an accelerator.

I have always been a fanatic for football, as most Portuguese people are. More watching than playing. I like to cycle and that is my typical way of getting around London. I also enjoy cooking, especially now during the pandemic. It is something that I have been trying to perfect as best as I can, although it does not always work out.

I fluently speak Portuguese and English. I would say I am more fluent in English than in Portuguese. I was brought up speaking Portuguese only, and it was when I started school that a 50:50 split between Portuguese and English happened. I can also speak basic to intermediate levels of Spanish. Growing up in the UK, you get the choice between French and Spanish in school.

I think that sometimes I take for granted the fact that I’m bilingual. My life would be so much different if I only knew one language, and I’m happy I am the way I am. Whenever I am with my parents, I only speak Portuguese. One of the things they have always wanted was for me to be able to speak Portuguese. They were both born in Portugal and they wanted their children to be able to speak with their grandparents.

I think having two languages on my CV will be a unique selling point in the job market when I eventually decide to approach it. Also, fluently speaking Portuguese and Spanish brings me depth as a person. The ability to use these languages in both personal and professional settings really captures the kind of person that I want to be. Just with English, Spanish and Portuguese I’m pretty much able to communicate with between 60 to 70% of the world, considering the number of speakers of at least one of the three languages. This is immense!

One day, the Portuguese school I attended decided to host a workshop from Native Scientist [which brings international scientists into school classrooms]. I was 15–16 years old and I already had the idea of doing science when I grew up, but I still didn’t know which area I wanted to pursue as a career concretely. Those scientists came in and they showed us these fantastic experiments and explained to us, speaking in Portuguese, how they thought that being bilingual was a benefit. Not only to their professional lives, to communicate with others, but also in a personal setting, and how we should not waste the possibility that came with this heritage.

Science was always one of the subjects that I was most interested in, but at the time, I did not really consider it until having more conversations with one of the scientists, Tatiana, because she was in physics [Tatiana Correia is a co-founder of Native Scientist]. When I told her I was interested in physics, she offered to coach me, and so throughout the beginning of my degree in physics, she helped me find the right directions to have conversations with some of the professors — which at the time I did not know how to do. Many years later, I’m still in science and trying to figure out where I want to go and how I want to go.

Photo by Tra Nguyen on Unsplash

Having those “native scientists” there that day, it kind of allowed me to understand that the science that you see on TV is not the science that you actually get in real life. This was also the first time that I properly interacted with scientists at the forefront of their research. One thing that all those scientists had in common was that not only were they excited about the work they were doing, but they were also excited to share with others. More than anything, I think that’s what those scientists taught me: it’s about finding something you enjoy doing and wanting to share that with the world. I love getting to the nitty gritty, to the deep end of what science is, and then to be able to share that with someone who might not necessarily know as much. I think that’s what got me interested not in science but in wanting to be a scientist

The passion and joy of those scientists about doing what they were doing beat anything they were talking about that day, as much as their science was very interesting. One thing I’ve always noticed is that scientists tend to be very humble. It’s not necessarily about what they have done for the scientific community or for the world, but what they have accomplished as a collective. I don’t want to be the scientist who discovered the biggest thing in the world, I want to be someone who helped contributing towards science, who is able to provide that extra bit of information. It’s just about making a contribution.

I’m the first generation in my family to have gone to university. From what they told us at the time, the majority of those scientists were as well. I think that fact gave me a certain confidence. Just because my parents didn’t go to university that didn’t mean that I couldn’t. It gave me the confidence to believe that what I wanted to do was possible. There were times at school when I did feel like I was falling behind, mainly because a lot of the kids at my school spoke English both in a personal setting and in a professional setting at school, that had always made me feel inadequate, but in science and in maths it felt like all of us started from the same level. I think a lot of my inspiration came from seeing how happy those scientists were to be there and to just say “look, I’m working on this and I find this really interesting”. I hope that one day, I can actually be what those scientists were for me, I really hope I can be there for someone else.

My parents worked hard to give me the life that I’m able to live at the moment, they were the ones who gave me the possibility of going to university and they have always pushed me to work harder and harder and harder, and I do not think that I’d be here without them. What those scientists gave me was the confidence to say “Look, I’m Portuguese. I am also a first-generation university student, and I’m doing the research that I chose to do.” Science was always something that I wanted to do, but I think that day gave me the little boost that I needed.

About Native Scientist: Native Scientist is an award-winning European-wide non-profit organisation that promotes cultural diversity in science, education and society. Native Scientist provides science and language workshops, science communication training, and bespoke projects for various institutions, including schools, universities and embassies. The work developed connects pupils with scientists to foster science and language literacy through role modelling and science and language integrated learning. Founded in 2013, their work reaches over 1,200 pupils a year and they count with a network of over 1,000 international scientists.



Native Scientist
Native Scientist

A non-profit organisation tackling educational disadvantage through science outreach, operating in several European countries.