Some of you may be aware that I’ve just moved from the UK to the USA for a 6-month research placement at the University of Pittsburgh. Moving abroad as a PhD student can be very overwhelming, especially as no one really tells you what to do or what to expect particularly regarding the actual moving process! So, I thought I’d use this blog to give some helpful and practical tips on the process.
- Talk to the current students, especially students who’ve experienced moving
Chatting to the current students in the lab before I started the moving process was one has one of the most helpful things I’ve done. Not only were they able to give me more of an idea about the lab culture and how things are run on a daily basis, but most importantly they were able to give me tips on what areas to live in, how to find accommodation and what to expect when I arrived in Pittsburgh!
- Finding the right accommodation
Personally, I found trying to find accommodation one of the most challenging (and stressful) things about my move. I was moving at a time between semesters so there wasn’t that much housing available. Plus, all the studio flats in the city I was moving too were super expensive, didn’t have furniture and there were not many places that did 6-month leases! However, check with the University you’re moving to as they may have official Facebook pages for off campus housing, or graduate housing where people may sublet their apartments to other students. Also, like I mentioned in number 1 talk to students in the lab, ask if they know anyone who’s looking for a housemate or ask them to post in these official University groups for you (this is what I did and I was very lucky as I found a perfect place, with a lovely roommate!)
- Finding furniture
When I was looking at places to live everywhere in the US seemed to be unfurnished, which was confusing to me as most student places in the UK are furnished. However, I was later informed that the this was not odd and most places are indeed unfurnished in the US – which obviously meant another thing I had to sort out when I arrived. However, Facebook market place can be a very helpful place to find cheap furniture. Additionally, check out those University Facebook pages devoted to housing as lots of students also sell furniture on there when moving out. If you’re still not able to find anything I’d recommend seeing if there is an Ikea nearby. If you’ve a roommate (and they don’t mind) you could order it to be delivered before you get there, or order it to be delivered on your first couple of days there – plus Ikea can be very student friendly price wise! And, anything you buy you can always resell when you leave!
- Find a mobile supplier (quickly)
Phone charges when abroad can be VERY expensive and your bill can rack up pretty quickly. Most UK suppliers will charge a set amount per day, which seems reasonable at the time but after one week of using your phone and then seeing an extra £40 on your phone bill it is definitely something that will make you find a new network faster! Wherever you move to you’re likely to be able to find a local sim. However, make sure you do your research before you arrive so you can get this sorted quickly. In some cases, you can even order the sim before you arrive and even before you set off travelling, this way you’ll have the sim card as soon as you get to your new country (but make sure that your phone is unlocked). If you want information on how to avoid extra charges/know what your phone company charge for international use of your mobile check out this helpful webpage.
Banking can be a little tricky – as you need an address before you can get an account. However, if you can open up a local bank account it could save you lots of money especially because most UK banks not only charge you for an international payment, but they also charge the recipient! If you’re able to get a Monzo account they don’t charge for transactions aboard. If you’re unable to set up a bank account for whatever reason there are other ways to transfer money internationally including wise and paypal which I’ve used a number of times and both have been good.
- Always be up to date on your visa status
This is a very important one. Keeping up with your visa status (wherever you are in the world) is super important! You will probably have an office for international students at your university who will keep you updated on what you need to do when you arrive and what you need to do whilst you are in the country to keep up with your status – but ultimately, it’s up to you to know what you need to do! If you plan on travelling internationally, make sure you’re allowed to do this and make sure you have the right documentation for this to ensure you can get back into the country. Basically, any questions or queries make sure to get in touch with the office for international students (or whatever it may be called at your prospective University)
- Speak with your prospective supervisor early on
I knew I was going to do a 6-month placement from the beginning of my PhD so this gave me lots of time to get to know my prospective supervisor. We scheduled a number of meetings to chat about the work I may do there and our lab groups also met at a conference prior to my move. Meeting in person definitely helped make the move easier but the virtual meetings were also very beneficial. By getting to know my supervisor before I moved it allowed me to get an idea of the expectations of the new lab, develop some ideas for my research project and helped me settle in much quicker once I arrived. If you have the chance, I would highly recommend doing this.
- Get in touch with the admin team at your prospective university
The admin team at your new university are going to be your new best friend when you first arrive. Especially regarding important things like getting a university computer and email account. Even if they don’t have the answers, they will likely know who to put you in touch with if you have very specific questions. And once you arrive, they are also likely to be the ones to help you with practical things like getting an ID card and getting access to buildings (so you can do those important experiments that you’ve travelled thousands of miles to do).
- Ask for help, people are more willing to help than you think
When moving abroad you’re going to need a little help, and that is totally okay. It’s easy to think that by asking others for help you may be bothering people but most people will be very happy to help (especially people who’ve also experienced a similar move!). So, if you have any questions or concerns, ask your lab mates, ask your supervisors, ask people at your university! Because the quicker you get the small things sorted, the quicker you can start to feel more settled and get on with enjoying your time in your new country!
- Give yourself time to settle in
I think it’s important to remember that moving abroad can be a very stressful and overwhelming experience. Everything is new, the place, the food, the rules etc and it’s definitely a lot to take in. So, one-piece of advice that I think is really important is give yourself some time to settle (if your placement allows this). For me, this meant I tried not to plan too much into my first two weeks. I gave myself a whole week to sort out my phone, my accommodation, my furniture, and getting to know my new neighbourhood. In my second week I started to come into the lab, and take part in lab meetings, observe experiments and complete essential training. By taking things a little slower at the start it’s allowed me to feel less stressed and get settled quicker. And now, I’m ready to really get stuck into my placement!
Beth Eyre is a PhD Student at The University of Sheffield, researching Neurovascular and cognitive function in preclinical models of Alzheimer’s disease. Beth has a background in psychology, where she gained her degree from the University of Leeds. Inside and outside the lab, Beth loves sharing her science and we are delighted to have her contributing as a regular blogger with Dementia Researcher, sharing her work and discussing her career.