Following your dreams...Is there a price to pay?


======= Date Modified 09 06 2008 16:06:37 =======
Hi everyone! I hope that someone who is or has been in my situation will be able to help. I'm looking for a PhD in Australia. I'm from Europe and just came back 3 weeks ago from a research exchange in Australia, and I loved life there so much (and the way they do research) that I want to go back for my PhD. I got some offers from potential supervisors, but at this point, nobody around me seems to understand what I'm doing. Family and friends think that I'm crazy, that I should stay in Europe, because going to the other side of the world for 4 years means missing a lot of things. I have a big family and we have very strong links, and they won't agree if I leave for such a long time. I don't know who to talk with about that. Maybe it's true that having spent 6 months in Australia living the perfect life doesn't mean that it will be the same for a PhD. Also, if I have 1 month of holiday per year, I will have to go home, so then I have no holidays left to enjoy in Australia, so I'm not sure if it will be worth to go there if I have to be locked in the lab...And also, I don't know if I could talk about this with my prospective supervisor/s in the application process. Please give me your opinion, I'm very confused.:-(


wow, that sounds an amazing opportunity! as for your family, the only advice i can give is to do what you want, rather than what other people want you to do.... my family would be really unhappy if i went away for 4 years, but if it was something i really wanted to do then i would probably do it anyway.

i think having spent 6 months over there already will have given you a good idea of what it will be like, and although it may not stay perfect for the whole 4 years of your phd i think 6 months is long enough to decide whether or not you could stay there long term. it is a big decision but if everything about seems right in terms of research topic, supervisors etc then you have to think about how much you would regret it if you didn't take the chance.

as for going home for holidays etc, maybe your family could visit you one year, then you could go home the next? then while they were in australia you could take time off and do some travelling/sightseeing with them? i know if i had a relative living in australia i'd be over there like a shot!


Yes, sometimes there is a price to pay. As many here can confirm, living a long way from home can be very, very hard at times. But would we do it anyway? Probably most will answer "yes".

But do also consider an extra option. How about doing a PhD here, and go to Australia for a year as a guest student? Or how about doing your PhD in Australia but choose a topic that will let you do part if it here?

However, trying to keep up good relations across a long distance can make it hard to really get new relations at the new place going. You just don't have time for it all. Although it's lots less far, I sometimes find that for me it has led to neglecting both the local and the distance relations. To some extent I feel as if I don't belong anywhere anymore. It's hard!


Thanks for the replies. Yes, I considered the option of asking for doing half or one year of the PhD in a EU country. But should I wait until I am admitted and I start my PhD or should I talk about it before with the potential supervisors, as a "condition"? How do supervisors react about this? I'm afraid they maybe think I'm too immature and recommend me to do the PhD at home, but it's not that.

For those in another country, do you enjoy life in the new country? Or it's just like the "work place"? Does anyone live more than 20-hour flight from home? How is it like?


Aussiegirl - as you can see from the posts, the prospect of doing a PhD is daunting ... my head would say NO but if you think you are up to it -go for it!
Sorry for the philosiphy (sic) but if you just realise a few things, you will be fine
1. There will be rough times, so don't be afraid to admit to yourself and to others if having a rough time and get help if needed. What I am saying in short, is that if you do go, make friends and live down there - don't just go for your PhD. It is a common trap i.e. you immerse yourself in the work and become blinkered.
2. Make sure any assumptions are cleared up (promises of funding are no good - make sure the cash is there ... also, is the project and your role and the role of any supervisor clear?)
3. Keep in touch - there are practical cheap means to do so. If heading, no doubt people will want to get you a few pressies - let it be known a Skype handset (and similar stuff) is got

If you feel that you can do it, go for it! I was very keen to travel and do the PhD at the same time, but didn't ... I do hope to make up for that when I get out on parol ... er ... graduate:p

Forgive and forget the rambling - it is 5.15 after all.


How would you feel if you didn't go for it? That's what my deciding thing was when I decided. I had always wanted to do a PhD but thought I could never afford it. When I was offered the chance to do a PhD I had a really difficult decision - I gave up a 10 year career, plenty of money, putting off kids and hoping my biology won't beat me. But the idea of not doing it was just too awful. I would kick myself for the rest of my life. Sometimes I kick myself now for doing it, but I know that really I would have regretted not doing it more. But that was after months of thinking.

I wouldn't give up all you have for something that just seems like a good idea. Really think every aspect through. I'd also think through the consequences of staying out in Australia after you finish, as imho that's pretty likely. So I wouldn't do it based on thinking it'll only be 3 years. It might be, but I'd prepare for it being a permanent emigration too.

Re the family thing, it depends what you mean by family. If it is husband and kids, then I don't think the advice to do what you like is appropriate. If parents, siblings and such-like then yes it applies a little more, they will still be here when/if you get, but still you don't want to destroy relationships. I'd be surprised if it would but it depends on the family, so only you know that.

I don't want to sound negative, doing a PhD was a great decision for me, and I'd love for others to do one too. But I did want to be honest. I wouldn't have done it if it meant moving home, that would have meant uprooting my husband too. So you really need to think it through for you.


Thanks Alice. What I mean by family, are parents, grandparents etc and also my close friends. I've done it before, always short-term, using every opportunity my uni had for going on exchange, but always knowing that I was going to come back. I'm 24 and single, I left a boyfriend time ago because I wanted to see the world. And I did, I've travelled so much but still depending economically on my parents, so I need to start my PhD soon and be self-sufficient. But I'm afraid, that the only world I will see will be the campus:). I know a PhD is a big commitment and for a long time, but I don't see me doing anything else. The idea of working as a research assistant doesn't appeal to me, if I do research, I want it to have a meaning for me, to think about what I'm doing and why, not only perform experiments that my boss has planned.


There are two parts to this - going overseas, and going to do a PhD. I lived and worked overseas for most of 10 years and met my husband (from the west coast US) during that time. That was mainly N & S Africa - but I never went home more than once/year, and the longest was 18 months. There is a big difference between being worried your family will miss you and being worried you will miss your family too much. Our families didn't like it (husband's family are still not happy he isn't in the US) but we really wanted to be overseas - we were very driven. I guess I'm saying it depends how badly you want it.

The other part  is doing a PhD overseas. If you see it as like an overseas job, then it's the same kind of experience. I've never worked the hours I did overseas and never inted to again. So long hours don't need to stop you making friends and doing stuff locally. The holiday thing is a royal pain. We still have that problem as so much of our time and money is spent going to my in-laws in the US and I would LOVE to have a 'real' holiday in the other direction. This is a common expatriate problem. But you don't need to come back for a whole month if you think 2-3 weeks is enough. And get them to visit you.

As for telling your supervisor - I would think carefully about your potential projects and work out in your own mind how best to work in some time in europe (I have given some thought to doing the reverse - it's not uncommon - if travel is your thing then you work it into everything you do). If you know your project is the type that will really benefit from that then your chances of a supervisor agreeing must be better. As to when to mention it, I'm not sure. For example, I want a part-time postdoc but I won't specify that until I'm offered a post (if ever!).


Alice - I had to do this PhD here in order to stay with my husband - that's a different level of family committment to my mind. I wouldn't have moved away (although I know plenty who did).


I say, Go for it. If you don't like it you CAN always go home again! I moved to the UK to finish off my PhD, and while its been an up and down experience to be away from family and hometown, I would not trade it for the world. Its rare in life to get experiences like that, so take it, run with it and go. I have to say that the hardest part of my PhD work has been the being away from home and family factor, not the actual research work itself, if that gives any perspective on where I am coming from! You will find ways to enjoy where you are, there are conferences, for instance that give a built in chance to travel, there are weekends, and so on, and your supervisor might be flexible in the amount of holidays you can take. Go for it. Australia's a wonderful country, and my philosophy has been that I would rather regret what I did, than what I didn't do. It gets infinitely harder as you get older to get the freedom to be in another country--if you get married, or have a S/O or family, family obligations, etc. etc, etc.. Not to say it cannot be done, of course, but your home and family will be there for you. Three years is not forever.


Quote From aussiegirl:

... using every opportunity my uni had for going on exchange... But I'm afraid, that the only world I will see will be the campus:)... but I don't see me doing anything else.

The three sentences I have quoted from you stick out from me. It says to me you like travel,so that's in favour of going to Oz. On the other hand, you're afraid of not seeing the wider world. Imo, working for years before doing my PhD is valuable. There are all sorts of problems I see on here that don't phase me, as I have more life-experience I suppose (that sounds glib, but there something to be taken from it). And I use so much of what I have done before in what I do now. And I value it in a different way. In an ideal world, I would tell people to do something else before doing a PhD, it's easy to get trapped and avoid going into the 'real world' but you can't control when opportunities happen. In an ideal world, I would have started my PhD about 3 years earlier, but 3 years before that i wouldn't have been in the position to do it, so hey ho. I don't regret a thing. The ideal world doesn't exist so you need to take what you have at the time. And lastly, you can't see yourself doing anything else. Me neither. It's what I always wanted to do, and I feel so lucky to be doing it. But there's the caveat of do you know if you haven't tried other things, but then that goes back to the opportunities not always being there at the right time.
Whatever you decide though, that is the right decision. Who knows what could have happened on the other paths you could have taken, there is no point thinking what if, as you can never know where the other path would have led.
Hope that is useful. Obviously it's all just my opinions which are nonsense anyway outside of my head


I should start this by saying that I have ended up back in the place that I grew up to do my PhD so not sure how valid my opinion is but here goes.

I love my family but I would never make my decisions about my career based on what my family wanted! Selfish? Perhaps...However, if I had wanted to move to Oz and my boyfriend hadn't, that would have mattered.

Go for it.



Hi, this is a bit late since you first posted your question but anyway...I left home at 19, have studied away from my city, country and continent, and today 4 years later am starting my PhD. I am an only child and despite my love for my parents and family, they have loved me enough to let me go away, and I find it quite easy to follow my dreams. My subject is such that its not an academic discipline in my country and I know that I shall probably never return. There are many who settle abroad, but most dont say it clearly from the start, or dont know it. I know it, my family does and thats it.

So, you see, these are issues that differ so much even across a forum thread, you can imagine what happens in the whole of the world. My question to you is different. In your post it was Australia that was the main thing. But a person who wants to do a PhD will need to have some particular academic-related motivations. Whats your passionate area of interest? Who are the people you think would be great for u to follow these interests? Which departments do you find the most suited for all this? That should lead you to your destination, not the other way round. Of course, if there are post-marital family commitments then other things in geography get a priority.

Your case seems similar to mine. I came to the UK because here was the place where I could work with the greatest intelectual resonance with the best supervisor, doing my DPhil at a fantastic seat of learning not just in the UK but in the world, not because I love the UK (which I definitely do). Funding is another concern. But leaving all of these things aside, putting a place you find perfect as the sole criterion to decide where you want to do your D.Phil (which is a huge academic commitment)....I find that a bit intriguing...If in your entire post you werent talking of a D.Phil but a taught masters or a diploma, I wouldnt even have raised these questions.

A DPhil is an intellectual commitment, a commitment of time, energy and money for academic/professional/strategic reasons. Make the choice with care. Love for a particular geography/culture can be one of the factors but definitely not the sole important one, and perhaps not important enough to plunge you into confusion.

i guess you, like me are very early into your twenties and dont have marital ccommitments...hence I thought the POV may ring well...



in the end it's your life, not your parents' or grandparents'. you've got to be happy with your decisions, that's the most important thing of all. your parents will get over it after a while. you don't want to be kicking yourself in 10 years time because you conformed to your relatives' wishes and demands on how you are supposed to live your life. my parents had 3 daughters in 3 different countries and used their "homes away from home" regularly. they're quite dissappointed i've moved away from the netherlands to england because now they can't stay there any more... now 2 of us girls are living in england and that's way more boring!


I guess I need to explain myself a little bit more, so everyone can understand completely my situation. Please don't get me wrong, I always knew I wanted to do a PhD. I finished my degree in biology, I did a masters by research (all in Barcelona) and during all those years there was an increasing interest inside me for seeing the world and living new experiences. During my undergrad studies I did short trips (one month of summer research at uni in Brazil, 3 weeks to the USA...etc). When I finished the degree I was already in research in the department of biochemistry of my uni, and my supervisor suggested that the topic could turn into a masters thesis, so I did it. During the master's year, I realised 2 things: that if I was going to do PhD I needed to be really really sure before committing, and that I wanted to see the world (again). So I managed to go on "exchange" for 6 months to a lab in Australia, hoping that things would become "clear", and by the time I got back, I would see which path I wanted to follow. Of course, life in Australia was amazing, and I realised how "low" was the research level in Spain. I was impressed in the scientific level and in the personal level. So I thought Australia was the perfect place for me, so as soon as I got on the flight back home (with the biggest sadness I ever experienced) I started to think about ways for going back. Regarding the topic, I was always fascinated by cancer biology, which is a very broad topic with infinite approaches, so you can study it in almost every uni in the world. But the consequences of going abroad were a little bit scary. Because I saw a lot of sides of biology that never appealed to me. I worked and lived on a diving boat for a week, and, as Alice says, in the "ideal world", I would become a marine biologist right now and dive the Great Barrier Reef earning $8000 a month (and they call it a "job"!). I was fascinated by a world that I didn't even know that existed before. And like this, I could tell you heaps of examples...Instead of going clear, I went more and more confusing...And I'm sure that, the more I see, the less I know. That's why I love travelling so much. But this is not the question right now. I'm 24 and I can't be supported by my parents anymore. I need to earn my own money, to feel my independence. In an ideal world, I would be rich, I would take 1 or 2 years off and travel the world. But I can't. I know a lot of people go around the world and support themselves picking fuit and waitressing. But again, my family would never agree with that, and I didn't study a degree and a masters for nothing. If your question is, if am I especially and absolutely passionated about a particular research topic that I know it would mean my whole life in the future, the answer is not. And if it sounds more appealing to study the migration of humpback whales rather than being 24/7 between 4 white walls of a lab, I would say maybe. But the ideal world doesn't exist. I've heard heaps of people complaining about the PhD life. But I like lab work, I like research, and this is what I've been doing for the past years, so doing anything else would mean going backwards, I guess. And I like challenging myself, and at the end, that's what this is about, isn't it?