Preparing for Take Off

3 months to go …

Graduation June 2012!

Graduation June 2012!

As this is my first blog entry I’ll start with a little about myself: I’m a first year PhD student with the School of Chemistry here in St Andrews having completed my undergraduate degree here in June 2012. My main research focus is on non-classical crystal growth mechanisms and so I spend a lot of time studying crystals via Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) and Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM). There are other analytical techniques I use as well, of course, but those are my particular areas of expertise.

The most important thing to know in regards to my research is that I have been given an amazing opportunity. Come September 1st 2013 I will be packing up my things and moving half way across the world to Shanghai, China, to complete the second year of my PhD at Fudan University.

As you can imagine, I’m insanely excited about this. Ever since I heard the news that we had secured the funding and I was definitely going, I have spent most of my days trying (and for the most part failing) to force myself to focus on my research whilst daydreaming about Shanghai and the exciting new opportunities/situations that will present themselves to me over there.

I love to travel, have a real thirst for it in fact. I can’t stay in the same place too long without getting very uncomfortable itchy feet. As a result it may have seemed an odd choice to stay on at St Andrews to do my PhD when I could have applied to any university in the UK or even in the world! But St Andrews has a fantastic knack of quenching my travel thirst at the exact time I need it to, this is not the first time I have upped sticks and moved continent while I’ve been a student here. In 2010 I moved to Phoenix, USA, and worked for a nanotechnology company called SDC Materials for 10 months. The degree I was studying included a year in industry and I was determined to do it abroad so I found and contacted the CEO of this company myself. I had an amazing 10 months out there, fully funded by SDC, all the while knowing that if something were to go wrong, or the internship to fall through, I had the security and support of the University of St Andrews behind me.

Visiting the Grand Canyon during my year in Arizona

Visiting the Grand Canyon during my year in Arizona

Now, through St Andrews, I am once again being given the chance to have a (fully funded) year abroad! I honestly can’t believe how fortunate I’ve been.

This time I have my supervisor, Professor Wuzong Zhou, to thank as he discovered the opportunity to apply for funding through The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills of the British Government (BIS). BIS fund up to 20 partnerships between UK and Chinese universities each year to allow an exchange of PhD students, helping to boost relationships between the universities and also to give the students the chance to experience science and research abroad. As he has collaborated with them many times in the past, Prof. Zhou has a good relationship with Fudan University and so both St Andrews and Fudan agreed to apply as partner universities for this exchange scheme.

So, 3 months to go and I’m starting to get nervous. Initially the excitement of it blocked all nerves and worries from my mind, I mean, what is there to worry about, right? I’ve done this whole moving abroad on my own malarkey before … but wait … this time I won’t speak the language, 12 months is a very long time to be very far away from friends and family, I’ve never even visited China before and the culture shock will be extreme as not only will the country be different but I’ll be moving from a small coastal town to a giant sprawling city. I’m bound to be out of my depth within hours of arrival! … Ok, so there are a few things to panic about. Fortunately there are far more things to be excited about so any time the nerves do creep up on me I will simply have to put them to one side and focus on everything I could (and will) gain from this experience.

To start with, I’ve taken an evening language course in Chinese. That way I’ll at least have the basics covered by the time I move out there. As long as I can give directions to a taxi driver, say hello to someone (without accidentally insulting their mother) and ask where the nearest bathroom is I should be ok! I’ve also just started an online lecture course titled “Science, Technology and Society in China” which will give an insight into how science has developed in China over the last couple of decades and should be a pretty interesting background study for my own scientific research over there.

Preparing for China - Trying to learn some Chinese!

Preparing for China – Trying to learn some Chinese!

Besides these courses I’ve spent hours researching the visa application process to make sure I don’t mess any of it up but thankfully it seems (relative to the USA visa application) to be a pretty simple process! The only down side is that I’m required to get a ‘Foreign Physical Examination’ … apparently since I’m going to be in China for over 6 months I need to be checked for everything from leprosy to paranoid psychosis. It’ll be ok if I’m only a little bit mental, right?

This blog will be an outlet for me to talk about the situations I find myself in when I’m in China, how the university and research differ from what you find here in St Andrews and how I’m adjusting to living in a country so rich in culture but so different from the UK.

I’ll aim to update the blog each month in China, perhaps more frequently if something exciting happens, and if anyone would like advice on travelling abroad, setting up an exchange or arranging an industrial placement etc feel free to get in touch! I’d be very happy to help!


Until then, zàijiàn!


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