Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ask CJ: graduate programs in Europe?

A fairly common question, one asked by a beloved reader of the blog:
Do you have any other information about international chemistry or chemical engineering programs that are options for American students?  It's something that sounds really interesting to me... 
And by international I don't mean just Europe, I'm really interested in the options across the globe.  
I frankly have no idea. It seems to me that most American Ph.D. chemists do their tour in Europe during their post-doctoral fellowships; that's what Derek Lowe did. The issue, of course, is that your new network may now be more across Europe than in the United States (if you're an American, that is.)

I think that it is common enough, but apart from ETH-Zurich (and the like), I don't know where it is common for Americans to go in Europe for graduate studies in chemistry. Readers?

I would also be interested in hearing about chemists who have done graduate programs in Japan -- I know that there are some, I believe.

Readers, what am I missing? 

20 comments:

  1. Max Planck Institutes in Germany are a good option

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  2. I think at PhD level, getting funding as a non-EU student isn't exactly straightforward - at least in the UK. There is funding, but you'd need to be pretty proactive about finding scholarships etc. you can apply for. (And would need to be competitive for these kinds of things.) I knew a few Americans who studied at Cambridge under Gates scholarships, for example.

    For Japan there's some sort of JSPS summer scheme for grad students from all over the world. Would be an option for getting abroad without committing to long term study there.

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  3. Definitely mention the ACS international center. Lots of info there- http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/global/international-center/programs-by-country.html

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  4. Not chemistry, but I have a good friend who is in the midst of completing a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. Her lab has people from the US, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Japan and Mexico among other locations. She is funded by KI, but the Institute for International Education is a good resource. -- http://www.iie.org/

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  5. Most, if not all, Australian unis have some sort of international student scholarship at the same rate as the standard domestic student scholarship.

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    1. Doing lab research in Australia sucks - my colleague who did his PhD in Perth would allow 4-6 weeks for Sigma-Aldrich deliveries. Singapore has similar problem. (Everything pretty much goes by a boat, then it has to clear customs...) That also means - things that absolutely must be frozen the whole time - frozen cells - get shipped by air for exorbitant price, in that case the cost of shipping exceeds the cost of the material.

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    2. Australia is a good option, for a PhD make sure the scholarship covers both tuition and a living stipend. Look into Fulbright scholarships as well.
      I've done research in Perth and Melbourne and not experienced anything like the lengthy lead times milkshake mentions. The chemicals I order from S-A ship overnight, biologicals I don't know.

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  6. Honestly, you may want to do a European Master's before a PhD, at least in many EU countries. US Bachelor's degrees are broad rather than sharply orientated.
    It took my explaining the US education system to my brother (Master's student in mathematical sciences in UK) for him to understand exactly why the American postgrads he works with didn't have understanding of things he took for granted having learnt. I have observed this many times in chemistry too. Unless you somehow have a greater knowledge of your field than your graduating class, you could well struggle a little with an EU PhD. That said, your lab skills could well be more finely developed than those of your colleagues.

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  7. "but apart from ETH-Zurich (and the like), I don't know where it is common for Americans to go in Europe for graduate studies in chemistry."

    Why would you want to go to some place that is full of other Americans? Anyways, more seriously since other good options (Karolinska and Max Planck) have been mentioned before, you should take a look at the Weizmann Institute as it is English language for the PhD, and I think Technion might be as well, but I'm not too sure. ETH is also not the only place in Switzerland and the University of Zurich could be a good place to do a PhD. An English language research institute that just opened in Japan is OIST (Okinawa) and they have a lot of money for expansion and research. They are now mostly biological, but are planning to get a big chemistry program going in the Fall of 2015. Singapore is too hot, and milkshake mentioned the shipping problems, but they have two good universities now (Nanyang and NUS).

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    1. The heat is a problem in Singapore, and the humidity is even worse. As mentioned above, the delivery of chemicals takes ages, I have never experienced stuff being delivered with less than a month of waiting. On the bright side, it's pretty easy to get a scholarship for a PhD. Aside from NTU and NUS, there are also research instutites run by A*STAR, which offfer much, much better lab conditions than the universities.

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  8. While I didn’t do my graduate studies in Japan, I did do my post-doc at Kyoto University and now work for a Japanese chemical firm. From my perspective

    1: There are plenty of options to study in Japan as either a post-doc or graduate student, or undergraduate student, and a number of funding opportunities from both the Japanese and US side for both long-term and short-term stays. If you are serious about studying in Japan, it is certainly possible, and applying for graduate school in Japan really isn’t all that different than in the US. At most major universities, you can apply in English. If you are an undergrad, the odds are that the professor whom you are working with (you are working in someone’s lab, right?) has some Japanese colleagues whose groups you might be interested in joining. Talk to your professor, and he or she will probably hook you up. From my experience, most Japanese chemistry professors would be happy about having an American or European student join their group and would help guide you through the application process and secure funding. You will be an odd duck, though. 90% of your fellow students will be Japanese, and 9% will be other Asians. You will stand out like a sore thumb, but you will be treated well.

    2: Study Japanese before you go, taking at least your university’s 101 and 102 classes if you can. From my experience, those who come to Japan knowing nothing more than “sushi” and “ninja” leave knowing little more, even after years. It is simply too foreign a language from an English perspective to learn by bootstrap. A grounding in the basics gives you a foundation from which to build and will rapidly accelerate your learning. Note that if you are a grad student, your university probably would let you take or audit such classes for free (that’s what I did for the 101/102/201/202 sequence).

    3: Your colleagues will speak English, but communication will always be an issue. You’ll also be somewhat dependant on Japanese to handle issues like ordering chemicals, fixing equipment, or dealing with bureaucracy that you normally would be easy to handle on your own. It is probably my biggest frustration working here, even though my Japanese is getting tolerable. It causes otherwise simple things to suck up a lot of your time.

    4: The above makes it a bit harder to do really great science in Japan, even though the facilities and knowledge base are comparable to the US. However, you will become a better collaborator, and carve yourself out a pretty rare (and potentially lucrative) niche. If your goal is tenure at an R1, I would consider coming to Japan for grad school to be a pretty risky bet (a post-doc, less so, and a short-term stint a plus in any case). On the other hand, if you are looking towards industry, experience in Japan is a huge plus and will open a lot of doors for you. It has been a key factor in every job and assignment I have ever had in the corporate world and has paid for itself in spades.

    5: While there will be plenty of days you miss home or want to pound your head on the wall due to stupid issues at work, overall, you will enjoy the experience of living abroad. It changes you for the better. Oh, and it will be really easy to meet single people your own age that are interested in making foreign friends. Just saying…

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    1. One more point: The Japanese immigration system is utterly, absurdly easy and will almost never be an issue, unlike the Kafkaesque nightmare that is USCIS. Japanese immigration is fast, cheap, polite, and your Japanese employer or school will take care of most of the already minimal paperwork. Just don't overstay or break the law.

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  9. In Germany, there is the possibility to apply for PhD position in the frame of "Graduiertenkollegs", which you will find at almost every university. These are mostly funded by DFG (German Science Foundation) and offer fellowship, courses, meetings etc.
    But be aware, as a native english speaker, everybody will give you manuscripts for corrections.

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  10. Let's not forget about EMBL, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. They offer fully funded PhD scholarships at their various outstations throughout Europe.

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  11. Note- if you are planning/hoping to ultimately come back home, working in distant locales increases the cost for labs/companies in bringing you in to interview for your next postion.

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  12. Currently doing my postdoc at the Weizmann Institute in Israel (Rehovot, near Tel Aviv), also spent a summer before grad school at the Technion, in Haifa. With regard to Graduate studies here, Weizmann's official language is English, and as far as I can tell, that's the language for the classes you'll have to take. Technion's classes are in Hebrew, and though they make accommodations for non-native speakers, it can be challenging if you don't learn the language. Can't speak for any other graduate programs in the country. Also not familiar with how funding works here exactly when it comes to PhD studies.

    As for postdoc-ing, as an American, you can apply for Fulbright (though it doesn't save your advisor money - it's a supplement to your pay, if I have that right), or for a Marie Curie Fellowship. If you're Canadian or did your PhD at a Canadian institution, you can apply to the Azrieli Foundation (or NSERC, if you did your PhD at a Canadian school).

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    1. To add, it appears that the Technion now has an English language graduate program as well:
      http://chemtech.technion.ac.il/chemtech-program/chemtech-program-details/

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  13. There are tens of universities in Germany, Spain, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland etc. looking for Ph.D. students. I applied several Ph.D. positions in Europe that were listed on Naturejobs. Some PI's got back to me. Some did not. But, it looks like the best thing to do is to get a masters degree first to go for a Ph.D. in Europe. They usually look for people with more research experience and higher degrees than B.S..

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  14. There's already some good information here about programs, but there is one VERY IMPORTANT piece of information all students should know. If you are a student in the US and are carrying student loan debt, they will not continue to be deferred if you attend a university that has not received the blessing of the US Department of Education. That means if you aren't attending a school in the US or one of the handful of universities in the UK, then you'll have to start paying your student loans or put them in forbearance. I'm going through this right now. I'm doing my PhD at Kyoto University, and it's been a fight with my student loan servicers. They don't care how much documentation you can provide to prove that you really are a full time student, unless the university has been granted that six digit number by the Dept of Ed, you can forget it. I was just talking about this with a professor that was visiting us. She did her PhD in Ireland, and she went through the same fight.

    So, just keep this in mind. There was no way I was passing up my opportunity no matter the consequences. They will get their money eventually because I believe in paying my debt, but right now, this is where I'm supposed to be.

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    1. Be sure to write your congresspeople about that issue. Bringing it to their attention is the only way fixes for such sillyness find their way into proposed bills. Also, you'd be surprised what can happen sometimes if someone in your congressperson's staff decides to call someone over at DoE.

      Best of luck at Kyoto U. I certainly enjoyed my time there.

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