Doing a PhD Abroad
A Doctor of Philosophy degree, abbreviated as PhD Degree, is the highest academic degree. It was formerly considered as a prerequisite for a professor’s position in a university. Over the years, the meaning of the term PhD has undergone humungous changes. Now the PhD degree has much wider career opportunities outside of academia, which is evident from the fact that many of those possessing a doctorate degree, PhD degree do not hold academic teaching posts. With the boom in the medical and IT sectors, a number of pharmaceutical and IT companies are now investing heavily in Research & Development (R&D) functions. Doctoral graduates or PhD Degree holders in other fields such as humanities, management is in demand in NGOs and research firms. The PhD degree is considered ‘magnus opus’ by most of the doctoral degree aspirants. Many people choose to pursue a PhD degree owing to several factors such as prior experience, specific interests, peer & societal pressure, fulfilling others’ expectations, etc. However, in reality, one needs to have clear and concrete reasons for pursuing it. It is not about new discoveries; rather it focuses on painstakingly conducting detailed investigation of past discoveries. It demonstrates one’s research competence involving strong academic background, mastery of the subject, capacity for independent research, discipline and the ability to interpreting the results connecting it with a broader discourse.
Ph.D. qualification in almost every subject of arts, sciences, and engineering is being sought by the majority of present day students generation due to high unemployment rates with lower qualifications as well as their pursuit for higher academic careers and exploration in the subject. In an industrial and privatization era nowadays, both the industry and academic communities require researchers to switch between fields as and when required. There is the number of opportunities for pursuing Ph.D. in universities and institutes of higher learning in any country with and without financial assistance. Even with all available opportunities related to admissions and financial assistance to pursue the Ph.D. qualification in home universities/institutes, many of the students aspire to look for doing Ph.D. from abroad. This article highlights the reasons, precautions and ways of doing Ph.D. from abroad with a hope that it will help the prospective readers who are eagerly looking for such avenues.
Why go abroad?
Doing a Ph.D. abroad is a very common idea that students and their guardians have after finishing graduate studies. Many of the universities abroad are well established, well equipped with powerful tools and techniques that empower the graduate student to conduct an extensive research in the field of his/her interest. The desire to study abroad may also be driven by limitations on opportunities at home. If you’re interested in studying abroad, your decision about where to go could be influenced by the type to research you want to do with better resources for Ph.D. students and research but also to learn about another culture, and meet new people. Opinions vary on whether studying abroad enhances students’ career prospects. In the past, time abroad showed initiative, but in the current climate, promotion is more likely to be based on publications, the topic of specialization and excellent references. The international experience could tip the balance in an otherwise even contest. Bangladesh or India might not provide you adequate resources and technology to specialize in a particular field. But your career goals of attaining a PhD degree in a specific field can be fulfilled abroad due to multitudinous options being available around the globe to suit your requirements.
Countries like United States of America, UK, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Netherland, Australia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia etc. are the ideal places to do the PhD, considering the big choice of the most distinguished universities and research institutes in the world. The process of admission, the eligibility requirements, various funding options and the length of the programme may vary from the country to country and university to university.
Some reasons to study abroad for Ph.D.degree are listed below:
- Duration of PhD course: Duration of Ph.D. programme: Though the duration of a doctoral programme depends strongly on the field in which it is taken, it normally takes anything between three and six years. The duration is generally more than most of the Indian universities but in comparison to all reputed universities/institutes in India. In UK and in other parts of Europe, the duration of a PhD course is quite short; generally 3-4 years in duration. In the US or in Sweden, the typical duration is 4-5 years, although there is no prescribed period in the US.
- Teaching opportunities: In the US, you get an opportunity to pursue teaching assistantship along with your Ph.D. degree. This provides relevant experience and also helps you manage your cost of living in the US. In UK, the Ph.D. course is primarily focused on research and no assistantship is offered to students.
- The research environment and advanced methods: A student gets exposed to new researches and technologies available in his/her field of interest necessary for mastering a subject in Ph.D. degree. For instance, Germany is the hub of the automotive industry in the world. Hence, a student interested in this field should ideally prefer German universities to pursue his/her Ph.D. degree, as it will provide an ideal industrial environment to research in this field.
- Academics with different perspectives: You can get an opportunity to be in touch with researchers and academics that have specialized in related fields and have published their research. You can network with professors based on your research interests.
- Enhancement of career opportunities: Universities look for professionals with the understanding of global perspectives along with an expertise in a particular field. Considering the recent trends, even in the corporate sector, companies recognize the value of PhDs which has resulted in many employment opportunities in the Research & Development segment.
- Pre-requisite for a Ph.D. Degree: each university establishes general guidelines that a student must follow to earn a Ph.D. degree, and each college or department within a university sets specific standards by which it measures mastery of a subject. Usually, in preparing for Ph.D. work in a given field, a student must earn both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree (or their equivalent) in that field or in a closely related field. To demonstrate complete mastery of the subject, a student may be required to complete additional graduate-level courses, maintain a high-grade average, or take a battery of special examinations. In many institutions, students must do all three.
- First, select the area in which you would like to do research and then the country. Once you’ve decided to explore going abroad for your Ph.D., talk to your undergraduate lecturers and course supervisors about where the good labs are. Science is international and they are likely to have contacts in other countries. Then, chose a project and supervisor.
- After you’ve got some idea of what the lab and university you want to study at, contact the international office of the host institution. The international office usually deals with applications, visas, language requirements, housing, and funding.
- It is also important to find out from the international office whether your degree or qualification allows you to study for a Ph.D. at the host university. The international office can usually look into this for you.
- Another factor that you may have to consider is how long it will take to get a Ph.D., as this can differ among countries.
- Check the popular websites, books, articles and journals (in your area of study), check for the latest trends and discoveries and find out what the various popular research areas are. This study will also give you a fair idea about the industry needs and the viability of the research. It will also give you a slight idea of whether you are going to get a job at the end of your doctoral studies.
- Once students are admitted, the international student adviser deal with any problems they might have, whether it be the relationship, financial, academic, immigration, or homesickness. Don’t hesitate to consult with the problem you are facing.
Majority of the universities that have extensive research activities support the students with a stipend and tuition scholarship during the doctoral studies. Such a facility reduces the financial burden. There are various funding plans with regards to the amount or the length of time that a Ph.D. student can avail for financial support. The funding options are intended to help the students meet their cost of studies partially or fully. Before applying to the universities abroad, one should know the exact nature of these funding options available. Some universities for some specific research programmes may limit the total number of years for which the financial support can be provided. They may even provide financial assistance for travel to scientific conferences, as per the need of the research programme. It’s the universal norm that Assistantship, Scholarships or Financial Aid are given to meritorious students. To avail any kind of financial assistance at an international academic level, one has to prove one’s capability among the others. Sometimes professionals can get a chance to work in the industry and simultaneously study for a doctorate part-time which in most occasions is completely funded by the employer. In this case, the employer makes sure that the right candidate is selected for this research work, wherein s/he will have to collaborate with the research institute and their team of researchers. Doctoral students not only get a chance to work on real-world applications but also frequently interact with the company scientists and visit their laboratories as a part of their doctoral studies.
Ph.D. students are funded in a number of different ways. Some students will finance themselves, whereas some are funded by their own government or scholarships like DAAD, Commonwealth Scholarship & Fellowship Plan, Fulbright Program for Foreign Students, Welcome Trust 4-year fellowship and Overseas Research Scholarships. Scholarships are also available through international agencies such as the United Nations and European Commission, and you can ask your host university about institutional scholarships. You can also write to some professor having Ph.D. openings in research projects with them and you can come to know this through their advertisements in science magazines or on internet job portals like tiptop jobs (http://www.tiptopjob.com). Research assistantships, where students spend a few hours each week preparing and teaching in undergraduate lab courses, are another way to funding your Ph.D. University’s international office can tell you whether you are eligible to apply for research assistantships; policies vary among countries and even among institutions within the same country.
The process of enrolling for a Ph.D. abroad
- Take the standardized Tests (GRE/GMAT/TOEFL/IELTS)
- Find professors in universities of your choice whose research interests match yours. Network with such professors and discuss your goals and research interests with an objective to get their approval and recommendation. Once you receive a positive response from the professors, you can decide the universities you intend to apply for Ph.D. to and commence the application process accordingly.
- Fill in the application form for Ph.D. degree completely.
- Research Experience shows the overall development of the student in varied interests. Community Service however not essential, but can help a lot. Display your ability and experience in management, organization and working with teams
- Prepare your recommendation letters, SOP/essays and resume highlighting your academic excellence, research interests and credentials and your objective for pursuing a Ph.D. degree from abroad. In certain universities, you would have to submit a detailed research proposal as well.
- Prepare your financial documents.
- Visa is the most crucial of all. You need to be very careful as a small neglect can lead to visa rejection.
- Doctoral studies will require a great level of patience, perseverance and immense hard work. Before venturing to pursue a PhD in home country or abroad, you must ponder on the fact that do you have the passion — ‘a burning desire’ for research and also do you have any research topic in your mind that always motivated your curiosity.
- Choosing an able mentor and university is the most important aspect of your PhD study. While there are many good professors around, your strategy should be to choose the one that is interested in your line of work. Align your thesis subject and requirements carefully with those of a professor whose interests lie in the same direction and then approach him/her. The more homework you do the better for you as the chances of getting an ideal mentor. Ensure that the university or department you are applying to specialize in your stream.
- Studying abroad might be a financial challenge. It is one of the best opportunities though to apply to a scholarship you can be proud of. Applying for a scholarship can be an administrative hassle, but don’t feel held back by this. The benefits (being able to study abroad) are much more worth than the time and energy it takes you to fill out the lengthy applications.
- Choose something ‘manageable’! If your topic is difficult to get hard data or material to study, then your proposal may prove more difficult.
- Once you’ve followed the above, present your ideas to peers who are working in the same field. It is always good to listen to them and take their advice.
- Consult your professor or advisor if the proposed topic is worth researching! Please know that selecting a good advisor is absolutely important in completing the research and finally getting the PhD.
- Last, but not the least, be flexible! While doing the research (quantitative and qualitative, both) some of the aspects may have to be changed as you progress. Accept the facts and make necessary changes as you proceed instead of experiencing a deadlock ahead!
- When you get in trouble far from your family and friends, there is no way to go and lean on their shoulders. Instead, it’s time to grow up and deal with your problems, failures and setbacks yourself. After a stay abroad, you will have fresh ideas, friends with different background and you will have grown as an individual. You’ll come home and realize that you are the one that changed.
- However, if this is not the case, then it is probably more advisable to pursue higher studies locally and make the best use of the opportunity. It is definitely possible to do world-class research in Bangladesh/India, and a lot of people are already doing it. We just need to expand this community from hundreds to thousands.
Acknowledgment: The use of information retrieved through various references/sources of the internet in this article is highly acknowledged.