Today someone asked me “is it required for you to do a year abroad before your Ph.D.?” and I answered “No.” Then I thought to myself, that’s a great idea, and said “it should be!”
When people (here in Belgium) realize that I’m not officially a Ph.D. student, but I have my Master’s degree, and the work I’m doing isn’t related to my dissertation (because I haven’t started my Ph.D. yet), they become confused.
Why are you in Belgium and what exactly are you doing? They seem puzzled by my choosing to come here since there’s no “end goal” tied to an academic program. Also, the Fulbright isn’t well known here and most people use the BAEF for their Ph.D. or Post-Doc training. Furthermore, international travel is standardized, so perhaps the appeal of moving abroad is lost.
On a cultural note, Belgians can be painfully bureaucratic. They have rules and follow them to the T, no matter how inefficient or ridiculous they are. If you don’t fit into their perfectly defined box, be prepared to deal with a life-time of hassle accompanied by an inexhaustible list of questions. I am completely out of that box.
So for those wondering, here’s my line of thinking:
I’m equally as motivated about my research as if I were a Ph.D. student because the work I do is important, whether or not it’s for my dissertation.
The time will pass whether I start my Ph.D. in 2017 or 2018, so I’m taking advantage of these opportunities now. That’s the kicker y’all…I am living in Europe for free. Honestly, I can think of nothing that I’d rather be doing than what I’m doing now (except maybe touring with Beyonce as her back up dancer).
I understand that it’s not feasible, and maybe not desirable, for everyone to move to a new country for 1 year, but I do wish that international exchange were embedded into our academic programs: a required 6 week or 6 month study abroad to learn a new technique, or a collaboration on an international research project, etc. I met a young woman in a Ph.D. program where it was required for her to study in another country for 6 months. She ended up working in a lab at Yale during that time. I think that’s an excellent idea and great exposure for all parties involved.
For a brief moment I considered telling people that I was a Ph.D. student to avoid the flurry of questions I receive when I say that I’m not a Ph.D. student. But I realize that it’s good to give the complicated answer in order to highlight the roads less or never traveled.
No, I’m not a Ph.D. student. Yes, I am doing doctoral level work. Yes, my research can count towards my dissertation but maybe it won’t. No, I don’t know which lab I’m joining because I haven’t completed my rotations.
I’m here because I want to be. I’m doing research because I want to continue bettering myself as a scientist and help society. The reason I applied for a Fulbright was because it embodied all of the things I’ve always wanted to do. Before I graduated I spent the past year telling people “I want to live abroad, preferably doing research to help others but I’ll flip burgers if that will allow me to financially support myself. I want to live like a local, submerge myself in a new culture and grow from this experience.” Bam… dassa Fulbright.
The prestige is dope and all, but fact of the matter is, I’m here because this is genuinely what I want to do.
As a wise mentor once told me “stay true to yourself and good things will continue to come your way.”
What am I doing in Belgium? Living my best life ;0)