My wife and I are taking our 3 young children from a small country town in northern Utah where we currently live, and moving to Copenhagen, Denmark, a large metropolis on the other side of the world. While there, I will be pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Copenhagen, while the rest of my family explores Danish (as well as European) culture. This blog is intended to chronicle our adventures living outside the United States. We hope to include: what captivates us and baffles us as foreigners, as well as our triumphs and failures; mostly for our own remembrance, but also for others to keep track of what we are up to. I start my research February 1, 2012, we’ll move sometime in January; so the first few month of this blog will mostly be preparation updates (Warning: it may seem boring at first, stick with us, we hope it will get more interesting once we get there). We intend to post often so we hope you'll add us to your reader, and we look forward to your comments of advice or encouragement.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
So how this all came about, in brief. I finished my Master of Science in May of 2010. Leading up to this we thought finding a job after graduation would be easy; I felt like I had good experience and a good education; however, things did not go quite a smoothly as we would have hoped. I applied for a lot of jobs which resulted in a few interviews, but with the market the way it is the competition for each job was pretty intense (I know for some basic-entry level jobs I applied for, I was competing with PhD graduates and researchers with many year experience). Also I found my education was fairly specific, which limited the number of good jobs I was qualified for. On May 10th a USDA scientist, with whom I collaborate with on several projects, forwarded a notification about possible PhD scholarships at the University of Copenhagen (KU). At first I was not really interested, I had a few other job leads I was hoping would work out and had never really considered moving to Denmark. As time went on, and the other jobs I was hoping for did not really pan-out I started reconsidering applying for the scholarship. I hadn’t really ever seriously considered doing a PhD, not because I was tired of school, but more I was tired of trying to support my family of 5 on a student’s income. However, a year after graduation I was beginning to realize that a Master degree in Biology was not as useful as I’d hoped; it was not enough education to lead a research project, but it meant that a company would be expected to pay me more to do a job that they could probably train someone with less educations to do; I felt stuck in the middle. I was confident that if I was given a chance, even as a lab technician, that I would be able to prove my worth and move up in a company; getting the chance was the hard part.
I decide to go ahead and apply for the PhD position at KU. This position was open to anyone in the world and at KU they view PhD students as faculty, they are given a good salary, and research funding; so I figured that I did not have much of a chance but it couldn’t hurt to apply. While visiting my parents in Florida at the beginning of July, I was surprised to receive an email requesting an interview via Skype at the end of July. The interview was to take place at 9am my time (5pm Danish time) on a Tuesday. I did the best I could to prepare for the interview, arrived early to work, logged on to Skype and made sure the camera and audio worked. At 9am the interview started with 3 professors at KU, I had previously met 2 of them at scientific meeting and they remembered me a little. About 3 minutes into the interview the video froze on my screen and I could do nothing to get it working again. They said that their feed of me was still working so we just continued the interview; it was somewhat disconcerting to know that they could see me but not to be able to see them or even really know which of the 3 was talking. The interview lasted about 30min, I felt kind of meh about how it went, I could have probably done better. A few weeks later my boss, Don, received a request for a “letter of recommendation”, he wrote a really nice letter, commenting to me after he sent it (jokingly) that he had not realized I walked on water until he reread what he’d wrote (as my major professor he was interested in my success and liked the idea of me doing a PhD). Three or four weeks afterwards, Don went to a Scientific meeting in Canada and was able to talk with them, they thanked him for the letter and said that I had interviewed well, but so had many of the candidates for the position and that they did not make the final decision, but that it was up to the Dean of the College. A few more weeks passed and I had not heard anything (this was beyond when I thought they had said that they would have informed me of their decision). I wasn’t too hopeful at this point, and was applying for every science job I could find.
On August 31 I received an informal email stating that I had been select for this position and that I should expect a formal letter within a few days. This was a pretty big shock; I had a lot of mixed feelings. First of all I was excited and honored to have been selected, but at the same time moving to Denmark
was is a little bit scary. It would mean taking my wife and kids away from everyone and everything they know, and moving to a big expensive city on the other side of the world. Everything would be different, the people, the language, the food, the customs. The program lasts for 3 years, so not super long, but still long enough for a lot of growing up to happen. My wife had the same mixed feelings, scared and excited. We spent several days talking about it, looking in to different questions we had, praying and fasting about what we should do. In the end we really feel good about going. We realize that it is going to be hard to leave our family and friends behind. We know that there is chance we may end up regretting our decision to go (I doubt it though, my wife and I generally make the best of what every situation we’re in), it is almost for sure that if we didn’t go we would regret it. The job I currently have ends at the end of this year, so I would have to find some other form of income (is McDonalds hiring?), and I don’t think I could find another opportunity to get a PhD and have a decent income while I did it. In three years I will possibly be in the same situation that I am and now, looking for an industry job in the USA; but hopefully my increased experience, education and network (I plan to focus on this a lot) will provide a few more opportunities. Not to mention what a great opportunity it will be for our family to have the experience of living in a foreign country and traveling Europe.