Moving Ecology: A snapshot of the international academic

Many scientists move multiple times throughout their careers, sometimes beginning with leaving home for university, or perhaps for a Ph.D., postdoc, or position at a university, governmental organization, or industry. These moves may be domestic, but are also oftentimes international. The experiences resulting from relocation can have both positive and negative aspects, but are often necessary in order to establish oneself as a scientist.

Changing institutions throughout one’s career is often seen as an essential step to ensure professional development, personal growth, and to broaden research perspectives. There are many benefits associated with living and conducting research in a variety of places. Researchers are able to experience different approaches to research and network with new colleagues, all while potentially ‘ticking off’ the boxes necessary for long-term employment, such as publishing research and teaching.

Anna collecting data on bats in Guy Fawkes River National Park in Australia.
Anna collecting data on bats in Guy Fawkes River National Park in Australia.

But living abroad isn’t always easy – or wanted. A shrinking job market in academia may sometimes “force” scientists to ‘move where the job is’, leaving little room for choice when relocating. There are visa applications, potentially large upfront costs (especially for graduate students whose moving expenses are likely not covered), cultural differences or language barriers that may be difficult to navigate, and personal relationships or family costs (emotional and financial), amongst others. For some academics, there is also the added stress of the “two-body problem” when both partners need to find opportunities in the same location.

Blog Editors Anna Doty and Hugo Saiz both have experience living abroad, covering a range of countries in almost every continent, including South Africa, Australia, Spain, France, Switzerland, Argentina and United States (Arkansas, California and Illinois). Each of these geographic areas presented new opportunities and hurdles. For example, in Australia, Anna was never afraid of being on her own in the field.

“I rarely ever saw other people at field sites, and much to the surprise of folks not from Australia, I rarely saw deadly creatures (personally, I am more nervous about encountering a mountain lion than any snake or spider found in Australia!).”

Hugo looking for hidden boxwood seedlings in Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park.
Hugo looking for hidden boxwood seedlings in Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park.

On the other hand, Hugo had to watch out when going to his office because of the presence of “Chagas” vectors in the gardens of the institute. 

Apart from research duties, both enjoyed local specialties such as fried pickles in Arkansas or any French ‘patisserie’, experienced different cultures and landscapes, and made friends along the way.

Hugo and Anna decided to ask some of their fellow ecologists what their experiences have been like moving abroad, sometimes resulting in permanent international relocation. They wanted to know if their peers experienced anything unexpected, such as a major differences in research practices or difficult cultural hurdles, and how moving has shaped their perspectives as scientists. In this series we share the experiences of other ‘globetrotters’ in ecological sciences, who have traveled all over the world during their research career.

Posts from the Moving Ecology Series will be published soon! For more international perspectives, read our series on Getting Your PhD Around the World.

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