Wednesday, 4 October 2017

PhD Advice: Going on placement

During the course of a PhD most students will have the opportunity to go on placement in industry or in another academic research facility. The perks of working in a well-established research group with international collaborators means that this placement may well be far outside your little bubble you call home. This can be as exciting as it is daunting and I should know-having just completed a 5 week placement in Austria and as I write this I am sitting in a fairly air-conned office in New Jersey. Considering I have lived and studied in Glasgow my entire life it is fair to say I understand the fear and excitement going on placement can bring so I thought I would draw upon my experiences to share a little advice.

1. Get organised.

Make sure you know where you are staying, how to get there and of course know why it is you are going. Don’t be afraid to speak up about the type of accommodation you want to live in. I was offered a hotel for the 5 weeks I was staying on Austria but I knew I wanted the option to cook food for myself. I done my own search and found a suitable place that fit my needs-it is you that has to stay there after all not the person organising your visit. However if they say the place you are living in isn’t a very good area-listen to them because they are probably correct.

2. Check for financial help

Placements can last up to 3 months and sometimes even longer which can be very costly. I had bills to pay at home and still had to buy food and travel for 5 weeks in Austria. I knew that because I had a kitchen the amount I needed to spend would be a minimum however I did end up spending a lot of money-it adds up! And not getting that back until I got home took a toll on my bank balance. However most universities offer an advance so you aren’t out of pocket. I didn’t use this but if you are worried about money it is something to think about.

3. Don’t be afraid to go it alone

Okay so this is technically my mantra for life! I have always been an independent person but even I was terrified about travelling to a foreign country on my own for 5 weeks. The few days running up to my scheduled day of departure I was sick with nerves, excitement and possibly a slight hangover after a crazy farewell celebration-one in which I left my keys in the office and was locked out of my flat! How was I going to cope in Austria on my own!? But you adapt! I grew in confidence and even went to bars and street festivals on my own…maybe a few times too many! What I am saying is-don’t worry so much. You will make friends with fellow researchers easily. Maybe even pick up a minor stalker...but that’s a story for another time!

4. Learn the language

This seems an obvious thing for travelling to any foreign country but even if you-like me-are not linguistically inclined try to learn some of the basics. I tried learning as much German as possible before going and to be perfectly honest I forgot most of it as soon as I reached Austria but a little goes a long way. If in doubt though-Google translate! I had to work with a machine that did not translate into English and trying to overcome this was a bit of a challenge but thankfully there was enough help on hand.

5. Enjoy it!

Probably the most obvious and important piece of advice I can give! My supervisor told me that even if my work didn’t go as planned and I came home with no data; as long as I enjoyed my experience then it was worth it. I freaking loved my time in Austria! I travelled and ate my way through as much of the country as possible and I encourage everyone else going on placement to do the same! As the youths say ‘you only live once’ and these opportunities don’t come every day so make the most of it when you can! My phone is jam packed with beautiful photos and memories than will stay with me long after I complete my PhD and I can’t ask for anything more than that.

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