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A PhD supervisor/programme chair's perspective on going abroad

Associate Professor Marianne Hammershøj, Department of Food Science, Aarhus University

In a PhD study period, many elements contribute to the complexity of being educated as a scientist; doing research, writing scientific papers, completing courses, passing the qualification exam, teaching, disseminating, collaborating with other partners, and acting according to guidelines for responsible conduct of research.  These pieces make the puzzle of a scientist, who is expected to act on both the national and international scene. For a young scientist, the international scene can be entered by publishing peer-reviewed papers, participating in conferences and, not least, by going for a stay abroad during the PhD study period.

As a PhD student, it is very important to participate in active research environments, and this includes stays at other research institutions, and if possible mainly foreign institutions.

As a programme head and supervisor of PhD students, I highly recommend and encourage PhD students to go abroad, mainly for two reasons. First, the experience of being in a different environment is a revelation that makes you generate ideas and new ways of regarding your own research, where you develop both as a scientist and as a person. Second, the opportunity to work with specific analytical equipment and other scientists offers the PhD project new angles and opportunities to both lift the scientific level and also establish contacts which often last for a long time, even after the PhD study has been finalized. This benefits the PhD student, the supervisors and Aarhus University. Familiarization with another research environment can also be a good experience if you want to work abroad after your PhD study programme.

There are of course many things to consider before going abroad. For the PhD student, the major challenges are often how to get financing for the stay abroad, which may not be a part of the PhD project budget, and how to manage family life while broad. These issues are manageable, especially by exchange of experience with other PhD students who have been abroad, and with the support from supervisors, the PhD programme committee and the GSTS.

In the Food Science PhD programme, the majority of PhD students go abroad for 3-6 months, and the destinations are mainly the Netherlands, Belgium, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden and Australia. The students return from their stay abroad with benefits of new focus, positive impressions and knowledge gained that they use directly in their education.

(During my own PhD studies, I went to the Food Physics Group at Wageningen Agricultural University for ½ a year in 1997-1998. There, I stayed at a student dorm together with Dutch, French and Irish students. The stay abroad resulted directly in a scientific paper, discussion for my PhD thesis, further collaboration on an EU-Cost Action, and investment in new equipment back home at AU).

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