The hemisphere differentiation effect

Despite what the title suggests, this blog post is not an episode title of The Big Bang Theory. Instead, ponder this: what perspective can we gain when contrasting the academic calendars of the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere?…


I have realised that being a Joint PhD student does wonders for a little bit of perspective.

I am currently in Coventry: a city in the West Midlands of England and part of Warwickshire. Yet, I have completed half of my PhD in Melbourne: a city in the East of Australia, part of the State of Victoria, known as the Kulin Nation to its traditional owners.

How did I accomplish this feat? In 2012, the University of Warwick and Monash University announced the Monash Warwick Alliance, a partnership that was renewed for five more years at the end of 2016. I remember hearing about news of the Alliance by a Monash Professor (shout-out to Dr Stewart King!) at a Conference in 2012, and I genuinely gasped with excitement! But then, there came the waiting-game. So, let’s just fast-forward to 2015 when I finally managed to be admitted to the Joint PhD program after different applications, desperately retrieving online information, one scholarship rejection and then finally an award, a cavalcade of emails, visits to the Graduate Research office, phone calls by my supervisors to various university offices and departments to ensure we had all the relevant details (forever thankful to Deane and Sarah!), and just a general sense of confusion.

Anyway… I am in England now, and just last week I wrote a blog post about how over here we were in the middle of the joyful and celebratory Summer Graduation Week! However, this week I am receiving Monash emails about the start of Semester 2, following Facebook updates on how my Australian friends are ready to start teaching their lectures and tutorials this week, and liking Instagram posts which reflect on the latest O Week moments. Just yesterday, the Monash Postgraduate Association sent a newsletter welcoming the recently-enrolled postgraduates to Monash (and more overarching information to the rest of us).

It is not surprising that there is such a disparate timeframe in academic calendars. After all, we all want to experience a good and long Summer Break (even if PhD students are researching their way through all the sunny days). It makes sense that most universities in the Northern Hemisphere begin Semester or Term 1 between August and September, with the academic year ending around May and June of the following year. Hello Northern Summer between June and September! Conversely, most universities in the Southern Hemisphere start their academic year around February and it all comes to an end around November. Good day Southern Summer between December and the end of February!

So, what is the connection I am trying to make? Having my feet on both sides of the pond increases my awareness of the cyclical nature of Higher Education. Now, I know that not all PhD students begin their studies at the start of a semester or a term (that’s a blog post for another day due to the lack of support and orientation one may experience when starting a PhD on a random date). However, the disparate starts and ends have reminded me that just like one day I was the excitable Postgraduate receiving a welcome email, one day I shall be the excited Doctor toasting after my graduation. There will be lots of obstacles, celebrations, delays, achievements, rants and laughs in between, but just like it took me some time to get into the PhD program that I wanted (and at a point I really thought I would never reach the light at the end of that tunnel), my PhD journey will be done and dusted at some point – even if that seems unfathomable at times and even if I end up having to extend my thesis submission date slightly.

What are your thoughts on the ups and downs of the PhD cycle? Do you remember how excited you were on your first day? If you’ve graduated, do you have any advice on how to handle the not-so-fun-waiting-game and see-it-all-through-stage? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.

Until next time!

Sofia (@mextexausuk)


Image: globe-world-classroom-geography-477765/muellers/CC0 1.0

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