Testimonials. The life of a researcher abroad is not a long, quiet river


The Times Higher Education notes that “the pressure on academics to be internationally mobile is greater than ever, but the excitement of new things is often offset by strains on personal lives.” The British site specializing in higher education therefore met several academics who have moved abroad for their work and asked them how they had this experience.

Briton Claire Donovan is a lecturer-researcher at the University of Greenwich and spent several years in Australia, as did her fellow citizen Jenny Pickerill, professor of environmental geography at the University of Sheffield. The first was surprised by “the extent of the cultural shock and the loneliness” of the first months. She gradually became aware of the richness that this experience brought her, both to shift her European-centric outlook and to develop her international professional network. Jenny Pickerill experienced the same initial shock, but loved her time in Australia, so returning to the UK was difficult, despite better job opportunities. Today, she says she worries about the pressure on academics to “uproot their lives repeatedly and move across the world,” which often leads to big personal problems.

Expatriation: a privilege or a sacrifice

For some, like biochemist Lynn Kamerlin, who was raised and worked in several countries, mobility is almost a way of life. Now a teacher at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States, she notes that “each country in which [she] has worked has taught [her] new things, broadened [her] horizons, [her] exposed to new cultures and made [her] a better scientist”. However, “being able to move so frequently is a privilege, both financially and personally”, and can be impossible or very complicated for people with young children, for example.

It was precisely for personal reasons that David Baumeister, a philosophy researcher at the University of Stuttgart, left the United States. He actually wanted his partner to be able to pursue her career and get closer to her in-laws, who help the couple with childcare, while enjoying a good quality of life. But to do this, he had to give up “a dream position” in Pittsburgh.

Change your outlook on the world

Saikat Majumdar, novelist and critic, is professor of English and creative writing at Ashoka University, New Delhi, after spending several years in Canada and the United States. This allowed him to confront racist stereotypes: “In southern Ontario, […] people had a hard time believing that I was actually a young English teacher rather than the owner of the grocery store from the neighborhood. But upon moving to Stanford University a few years later, everything changed again as South Asian men in Palo Alto were seen a priori as Indian Institute of Technology alumni subsisting exclusively on coffee and bars. energy companies while obsessing about how to raise money for their AI start-up.” Sometimes the experience is the opposite and forces you to confront your own prejudices or to feel more comfortable in a more mixed environment. This is what Indian Srila Roy experienced when she became a professor of sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand, in South Africa. For the first time since the start of her career in the UK, she was no longer “the only person of color in [s]our department – far from it”.

This article is originally published on courrierinternational.com


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