By Jo

For my blogging debut I thought I would share some of my experiences with moving to the other side of the world to start my PhD – the good the bad and the ugly (but mainly the good). A year on into my studies is probably a good time to write this as I’ve been here long enough to become settled but haven’t yet been over come by the demon thesis.

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Figure 1 – My first encounter with the Australian residents – a water dragon (the ugly?).

Firstly, why did I decide to make the move from sunny Leicester, UK to wet and windy Canberra, Australia*? Well, at some point in my life I wanted to live abroad and I’ve always wanted to study for a PhD – so why not kill two birds with one stone? After mentioning this to my master’s project supervisor, he pointed me towards the Research School of Earth Science, ANU, where he also studied for his PhD. I looked into it and made contact with my potential supervisor, Hrvoje Tkalčić – it was pretty strange having an interview at 11pm due to the time difference! So after submitting my application, waiting a few months, and a few more, I was accepted, found somewhere to live, and the next thing I knew I arrived in Canberra in the middle of a 40 °C heat wave. The first thing that crossed my mind was “what have I done, how will I cope with this heat!?” Turns out I needn’t have worried, the body is very good at adapting to, for the most, perfect weather. My supervisor, Hrvoje, kindly greeted me at the airport, we went to grab some lunch and I was introduced to some of the Australian residents (figure 1).

Figure 2 - my academic family (I unwisely chose this photo day the day to wear my Star Wars t-shirt which now is on the internet for evermore)
Figure 2 – my excellent academic “family” (I unwisely chose this photo day the day to wear my Star Wars t-shirt which is now on the internet for evermore)

In my opinion, if you want to move abroad, doing it for your PhD is a great time. In many cases, especially if you come straight from an undergrad/masters like me, you have very little tying you down and stopping you moving. When you arrive, you will also have the support of an academic institution around you in case anything goes wrong or you need advice or financial support. Your research group turns into your academic “family” so you always have people to hang out with or talk to if you have any concerns. Mine were great at making me feel settled and answering my many research and non- research related questions (figure 2).

Living abroad also gives you that extra push to become fully independent. In my case during my undergrad I was living a 40 min drive from home, so was home most weekends (even with the occasional load of washing – sorry Dad!). Living on the other side of the world means you can’t do that. Even you have a problem during the day where it would be nice to hear the advice of a family member, you can’t even phone as they will be sleeping – so you learn to solve things yourself, and if I were to be very cliché about it, become an actual adult (maybe)!

FIgure 3 - team "Subductors" (get it?) arise victorious in their gruelling triathlon!
FIgure 3 – team “Subductors” (get it?) arise victorious from their gruelling triathlon!

Now onto the (not so) bad. These are very Canberra specific and are probably more like minor grievances – those of you who have spent the last year with me probably know exactly what I’m going to say here! Number 1 – the temperature inside houses. Canberra gets very cold winters (down to -8 at night) and none of the houses are insulated which quite frankly, baffles me. However this is not a reason not to move to Canberra, I just enjoy a good shameless rant. Number two – the public transport system – not so great in Canberra. However I have solved this problem with spending far too much money buying a bike – Canberra really is great for biking, and anything outdoorsy in general. In fact, in the last year I have done outdoor things I would have never even thought I could do, for example, climbing, rogaining and entering triathlons and even winning one as part of a team! (Figure 3)

So a year on, I can honestly say moving abroad has been one of the best decisions of my life. You just have to remember that even though you are very far away you are only a flight from home** – it’s crazy how small the world really is.

* was that right?

** or two in my case!  This is advice I was given before I moved and it really is so true.  Travel may be expensive but it really is easy to just jump on a plane.