Finishing your PhD in another country

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to grab your laptop, research, notes, books and all other belongings and move across the world for the last year of your PhD? Anna Darling is here to share with us some reflections about her L.A. relocation story…


After I met and married my husband who lives in the US, and moved to Los Angeles to be with him, it dawned on me that along with leaving behind my apartment, family and friends in Melbourne, I was also leaving behind my university.

When you move to a new country, your professional links will change – they won’t necessarily break, although some may – but even with e-mail communication and Skype, your professional relationships will not be the same.

I did not immediately realise, however, that moving countries would also greatly affect the experience of finishing my PhD. Although I could access the library online and never be stranded without access to articles and e-books, I couldn’t just walk into a university library that I knew so well. I couldn’t physically take the stacks with me.

The feeling of isolation is already very prevalent in the PhD-writing-universe. What isn’t so widely discussed, I believe, is how this feeling of isolation magnifies exponentially when you are writing your PhD in a different country, and are physically away from your professional networks and colleagues.

Although I can freely walk on any campus in Los Angeles and join a library at several universities as a ‘regular’ person, I don’t have the same academic status here as I did in Melbourne. I don’t know the academics here yet and I have to start building my physical professional network from scratch.

The description of the US government for someone like me is quite apt and reflective of my general confusion as I adjust to living here: non-resident alien. The sense of automatic not-quite-rejection-but-not-not-rejection in the two words ‘non’ and ‘alien’ make me feel a bit miffed. Los Angeles is also a sprawling city – you will need a car to go anywhere here, and as someone who comes from the ‘village-y’ Melbourne, the access to good coffee shops to write for a couple of hours within walking distance, is challenging. Although this particular challenge may be applicable to Los Angeles and not, say New York, I feel that the underpinning sense of isolation from your university, faculty and colleagues when you move to another country needs to be discussed.

For me, the challenge of being away from my university has meant using ‘very L.A.’ techniques of cultivating confidence. I am constantly amazed at how people thrive in this city – if something is not going the way they want, they try and try again in different ways. I have to say that being in Melbourne has been a little bit of a cocoon for me and being surrounded by academics who have taken an interest in me has been utterly encouraging. However, being in Los Angeles has forced me to come up with creative ways to think about job opportunities and networking. I have become far more confident than I ever thought possible in talking to people – because you never know where a conversation may lead. I guess this could be true of any networking opportunity, but so far, I have met great people here, who have become great friends, and who one day could become great colleagues too.

I wonder how many university students live in Los Angeles and are writing/finishing their PhDs. The discourse of acting, writing and performing music and generally hustling in the creative spheres, can overtake other discourses of challenges – namely, academics working away on their PhDs in relative anonymity.

Don’t stay anonymous. I would like to hear from you – whoever you are. Are you in Los Angeles or another city in the US, or a different country altogether? What is your story of adapting to your new, current city?

Have you completed any part of your PhD abroad? Do you have any advice on creating networks away from home and your university? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.


Anna Grace Darling is finishing her PhD in Indigenous Education in sunny LA, can’t remember the last time she baked anything although she loves baking, and is developing an (unhealthy?) addiction to reality TV shows (while also secretly thinking up articles about Los Angeles and its TV and cinema-scapes!). You can contact her at


Images: sunset-street-los-angeles-2679260MaxxGirrCC0 1.0

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