Will relocate anywhere (including Mars) for a great career!

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Will relocate anywhere (including Mars) for a great career!

Postby JSL » Sat Oct 27, 2012 9:50 pm

I am a U.S. scientist nearing the end of my Ph.D. (molecular biology). I have enjoyed the grad school experience, but like most everyone else, I see the writing on the wall regarding the challenges in finding a good, stable career as an independent scientist.

I am going through the agonizing decisions of career direction (academia, industry, teaching, research, none of the above?) as well as location.

For this post, the basic question is simple: what country (or planet) do you foresee having the best opportunities for a scientific career in the next few decades? (U.S. is an acceptable answer if you think government / economic / science policies will change for the better - but I don't want this to turn into a political discussion).

I have lived in the U.S. all my life, appreciate the opportunities I have had here, but am also very eager to spend some time elsewhere. The foremost reason for relocation would be for the scientific opportunities, but I would also like to live somewhere that would feel different and exciting (exposure to new cultures, outdoor recreational activities, possibly learning a new language as well).

Some places I am particularly considering:
New Zealand / Australia
South Africa
England / Scotland

If you happen to live in one of the above-mentioned countries, what is your opinion of the science opportunities (funding, job security, etc.)?

If you have re-located from the U.S. to another country (either temporarily or permanently), could you comment on your experience?

For a fresh Ph.D., do you have any suggestions for types of positions to look for abroad (academic PD, industry PD, teaching?). I realize I will face tough hurdles for certain positions (because of travel expenses for interviewing, work permit, etc.) while others might be more feasible.

I have done some searching for articles about scientific careers abroad, but a lot were published before the global recession. For example, Singapore showed a lot of potential for biotech jobs in the 2000s and seems very receptive to recruiting foreign talent, but has the optimism considerably waned? Are the career options just as bleak, if not worse, everywhere else in the world?

I greatly appreciate any comments / suggestions you might be able to provide.

P.S. I'm serious about Mars as well! I have considered becoming an astronaut, which seems almost as feasible as having a good scientific career these days...
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Re: Will relocate anywhere (including Mars) for a great care

Postby Ana » Sun Oct 28, 2012 11:48 am

I cannot comment much on the scientific situation on those countries and I think no one can really tell how it will be 5-10 years down the road. In addition to that you will probably need to revisit your career several times and there is no way you can know what will happen to you. Insitutions close, economy is volatile, life changes... Also keep in mind that people's experiences are very personal so for some going to country X might have been a terrible choice while for others it was a great life experience.

What I can tell is that the best time in your career to have the experience of living in another country is clearly the postdoc and the easiest positions to go abroad are postdoc positions. I think it is a great experience and would recommend it to anyone that plans to do a postdoc.
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Re: Will relocate anywhere (including Mars) for a great care

Postby PG » Mon Oct 29, 2012 12:38 am

Europe is a bit mixed at the moment. One one hand the many countries, the european parlament and other official EU groups are trying to outbid each other regarding how much money they will spend in RnD during the coming years on the other hand very little of that money has actually been spent or will be spent during the coming 1-2 years so at this point it is more a possibility rather than something real.

My view is that the labour market within RnD has improved compared to 2-3 years ago but it is still not great.

Singapore has an ongoing major commitment to support RnD both in academia and industry and they are also very willing to recruit from outside the country. In addition to supporting their existing RnD infrastructure they are also making active contact with companies in other countries offering attractive packages if the company would be willing to establish an RnD site in Singapore.
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Re: Will relocate anywhere (including Mars) for a great care

Postby JSL » Mon Oct 29, 2012 2:08 am

Thanks for the info. I'm glad to hear that postdoc can be a great time to go abroad because I feel like this is exactly the right time in my life to do something like that. I'll take a look at the various fellowship options.

For anyone else interested in this topic, I also came across this article ( ... s.r1100106). Singapore and Australia both seem like interesting countries to consider.
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Re: Will relocate anywhere (including Mars) for a great care

Postby JGL » Thu Nov 01, 2012 8:34 pm

This is only hearsay, but I've heard good things about Australia. A handful of people I have met had good luck finding TT positions there, plus Australia's economy is projected to do well in near future.
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Re: Will relocate anywhere (including Mars) for a great care

Postby A.S. » Mon Nov 05, 2012 12:58 pm

I agree that postdoc is a good time. I moved from US to UK for a TT position, which took a lot of thought to try out a new culture for a long-term position. I can only answer from my experience of the academic side.

My experience of UK academics is that it is more collaborative than in the US, and at least some Universities actually reward collaboration (as opposed to the impression I got in the States, where they said they wanted it, but then tenure depended on getting your own grants and writing non-collaborative papers). There are fewer resources, which might contribute this--I think my University was happy for me to get 'part of' a big multi-university grant, which means that I have access to much more resources than at our institution alone.

I also like the culture -- people tend to take weekends and evenings off, for one. I've found colleagues more accepting of family responsibilities and outside interests.

As for the future, the UK appears to be following the US with a bit of a lag. Funding is getting harder to come by. PhD funding is especially difficult to get, which might have the hoped-for loosening of the job market. Although immigration is getting tougher, so it may be harder to break in as well.

I also know several academics in or from Germany (friends and former students): the consensus appears to be that it is a good place to train (PhD or postdoc), but that career prospects are limited. Many young academics tend to get serial temporary positions, including thingns like "junior group leader", where you are effectively your own PI, but without the future of a TT position.
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Re: Will relocate anywhere (including Mars) for a great career!

Postby RGM » Sat Mar 09, 2013 8:14 pm

Somehow I missed this one. I know personally from my friend who is a postdoc in Switzerland (the most expensive country to live in for Europe) that life as a postdoc in Switzerland is far superior to life as a postdoc in the USA. The Swiss government affords postdocs things that no school does here in the USA.

On the flip side, I know of someone that did a postdoc in England and didn't like it at all, nor did the person like the scientific industrial setting in big pharma in Europe. The hierarchy is different in Europe than USA for sure in terms of research.

I know someone that did postdoc in Japan and loved it.

SO I think when you speak to people, the key questions to ask them when they say I loved it or hated it etc, is to ask what/why makes them say that. That's the real story.

In short, after your PhD, the best way to see Europe is to live there.
"Some men see things as they are and say why, I dream things that never were and say why not"
"If you think research is expensive, try disease." - Mary Lasker
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Re: Will relocate anywhere (including Mars) for a great career!

Postby H.R » Sun Mar 17, 2013 2:06 pm

"finding a good stable career..."

Critical that you find a good career, which in my opinion is defined as doing something one truly enjoys and has a passion and talents for. But regarding your use of the term "stable," you'd best be advised to forgoe any hopes of stability in the sciences (outside of a tenure track faculty slot). Go take a look at the US Bureau of Labor Statistics on average job tenure in the USA and note that scientists, in my opinion, don't fare any better than the average American when it comes to job stability. Employers have no loyalty to their employees and conditions change in biopharma with every breath.

Expecting job stability/security was one of my biggest mistakes. With that expectation, I was profoundly disillusioned when I was forced into frequent job changes. Now that I expect it, and more importantly, plan for it, I am all the happier and satisfied. It also fuels my drive to continually network, no matter how comfortable I may feel in a particular job.
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Re: Will relocate anywhere (including Mars) for a great career!

Postby Duffy P. » Sun Mar 17, 2013 3:51 pm

I guess the original poster has long since flown, but here are my thoughts on the subject.

Wanting to learn another language during the postdoc experience is very noble. In practise, can you really handle attending academic seminars in another language? Arriving at a place with zero knowledge of the language and spontaneously being expected to do all your socialising in that language? I write this as someone who lived in a few european countries: unless you really enjoy the hard slog of language learning, and are quite resilient to the effects of long-term social isolation, I recommend going either to the UK or a smaller country, such as Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, where the natives speak good english and do not expect you to become fluent in their language overnight. If you want to go to one of the big countries (Germany, France, etc) they will have a much higher expectation that you become fluent in their language, and fluent quickly, which is a hell of a lot of work (and, depending on the financial situation of the institution at which you work, can also be very expensive). Doing a postdoc is not really conducive to spending an extra 12 hours a week on language learning, so you should only do this if you're going to enjoy it. And if you go to somewhere like Germany, aim for one of the bigger cities, where there is a higher concentration of foreign workers and where the natives also have a better average training in English. Do your research as to how international a particular town is before agreeing to move there - it makes a big difference to how enjoyable life will be.

As for the other things, I guess it's very field-dependent but my observation for specialised areas of physical sciences such as astronomy, is that there are more job opportunities in the US than in Europe. It would have been much easier for me to find a job in the US than it has been in Europe. But I prefer to work in Europe because here it's perfectly ok (and normal) not to work on evenings and weekends, and (depending on the country) you get 5-8 weeks of paid holiday per year. In other words, there's a better life-work balance.
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Re: Will relocate anywhere (including Mars) for a great career!

Postby Carl P. » Thu Mar 21, 2013 10:28 pm

Maybe you can do what the astronauts are planning to do and line your spaceship with feces and liquid waste. Just a joke! That is a good strategy with today's job market. Employers will definitely be attracted to your ability to relocate anywhere for a position with an overwhelming number of people trying to secure employment that does not require them to move.
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