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Q&A: Career and gender advice

It’s time for a (long overdue) Q&A again! Some time ago (I’m sorry it took so long for me to write this post!), I received the following email (I left out some details that could point to the identity of the writer):

I have just found your blog and I am starting to read. I don’t know exactly why, by I want to directly write to you a message.
I am from XXX and from this academical year I am PhD student on my University . But the true is I have always dreamed to do the PhD but abroad. But after this one year hear I am really worry about the future, the work possibility or since career. I haven’t got any foreign trainee or something like that, so I don’t know how it looks there, maybe in Country X the possibility after the PhD especially for the woman aren’t good? I want to go abroad because I think it is batter for my language and experience, I don’t have a husband or kids:P so I can travel, during this year my family have needed me closer, that the reason I have stayed here, but know I want to go ahead.
Do you have any advices? What do you think about PhD for woman, after finished it? Its possible to combine it in the future with child, family so on?? (On my University I know the women=the mums = the good sciences, but I see that for men a lot of things are easily and they can achieve more in the shortest time…. but on the other hand I am used to say, impossible is nothing;))
How is your feelings?

Let me break down this message into a number of sub-questions:

1. Should I go abroad for my PhD?

I’m quite a fan of going around to different places, as I’ve studied in 3 different countries. Quite some time ago, I’ve written a post about why you should consider to study abroad.

But does that necessarily mean you have to spend you entire PhD in another country? Since you have indicated that your family needed your closer this year, you’ve made -I think- a good decision in staying close to them. Imagine if you’d be abroad, spending most of your time trying to Skype home, and freaking out every time they don’t pick up the phone because you’re fearing the worst?

There’s many other ways in which you can have an experience abroad, outside of your home university during your PhD. You can visit a lab or research group you work with abroad, for a few months. You can try to attend a good number of conferences to build you international network. You can try to learn as much as possible from international members in your thesis committee. You can attend a specialized course at another university. You can go for a summer school abroad.

2. I’m afraid the possibilities for a career with a PhD in my home country are not good.

It can be difficult everywhere, if you think along the traditional lines of PhD – postdoc – tenure track – professorship. It gets even more difficult if you are tied to a certain geographic region, and if you’d have a partner who is also trying to follow this path.

Nonetheless, when I wrote my post about finding a job after the PhD, I got quite a number of reactions from people who went into different career paths outside of academia, enthusiastically sharing how they are enjoying their new career, and how they benefit from their PhD training even though they did not stay in academia.

More important than anything else with regard to the career prospects after your PhD: make sure you enjoy the journey of your PhD. Make sure you revel in the fun of science, and enjoy the learning process. What comes next, well, in the end, who knows? I don’t think you should do a PhD because you want to become a professor. I think a better reason is because you simply love what you are doing. If you ride on that wave, who knows on which shore you’ll wash upon…

3. How can you combine a career in science with a family?

I didn’t take time in between my degrees to go to industry, but studied one degree after another, and graduated relatively young. At the moment my “family” consists of a husband and a cat, and both are pretty easy to look after 😉

However, I don’t think a career in science and/or academia is harder to combine with a family than any other career, provided that you work full-time. Some universities in some countries may be more forward-thinking in helping out parents (for example, having affordable day-care at the university), but for most young parents, it’s quite a puzzle to solve.

Even though it might sound challenging, there are plenty of great academics out there who are showing that it is possible to combine their career and family. One of my favorite blogs is ran by Dr. Golash-Boza, who successfully combines her academic career and family (and so much more). Blogs like hers make me wonder if those professors who (claim to) work up to 120 hours a week are any more productive than somebody who works 40 (or a bit more)… From my own experience, I’ve learned that I need to mix things up and divide my attention to non-work-related topics (such as blogging) to keep a clear mind and avoid having my thoughts running in circles.

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