International Postdoc: What to Ask Yourself

These questions stem from some of the frank conversations I should have had before starting an international position. There is no “correct” motivation to taking an international postdoctoral position. When considering any move, you need to be honest with yourself and identify your priorities. These questions are designed to help you think about the potential move and how it will impact your personal life. Some of these are philosophical questions, while some are more practical. None of these questions have a right or a wrong answer.

Finally, some of these questions will likely extend to any position where you may experience a cultural shift. My sister moved to Texas from the Midwest, and said she has experienced culture shock, sometimes equal to my own.

These questions are not in any particular order, so one good place to start might be to prioritize them for yourself. Let me know in the comments if you have additional questions to add to the list, or personal experiences being an international postdoc.

  1. Quality of Life –
    • Does this location offer the quality of life I am used to? –AND– Does this location offer a quality of life that I need?
    • The first part of this exercise is to identify the pieces of your current life that you cannot live without, or livability. You need to prioritize and contrast how each location scores based on your list. Livability includes things like:
      • Safety and crime
      • Access to medical care
      • Public transportation access & cost
      • Climate
      • Walk-ability of city
      • Social and Religious tolerance
      • Environmental issues (like smog) and access to nature
      • Quality and design of architecture
      • Economic conditions
      • Diversity
  1. Social Support Network –
    • Do you have a social support network in place that can support you across your transition, either in your home country or destination?
    • Will some of your social support network be coming with you? Friends, family? Do you expect them to need support during this transition?
    • Is there infrastructure in place to help you adapt to the new social environment at your destination university? Are you the type of person to utilize these programs?
    • Will being physically distant from some family members and friends cause issues in your relationships? What are your feelings about this potential source of strain?
  2. Family Challenges –
    • If you have a spouse or significant other, will they be making the journey with you? Are they excited by the opportunity or hesitant?
    • Will the country recognize your marriage? Does this have an impact on securing visas for your significant other or children?
    • If you have children, will they be making the journey with you? How do you think they will adapt to the change?
    • Are your parents supportive of the move? Do you have elderly parents for whom you are a primary caregiver?  Will they be able to come with you?
  3. Personal Hurdles –
    • Do you have a disability or a chronic illness that is going to impact your transition? Are the established medical treatments you are receiving available in the location you hope to move? Is the standard level of care similar?
    • Do you follow a specific diet due to religious or ethical reasons? Does this location have the infrastructure to continue this diet?
  4. Financial Limitations —
    • Many countries require a minimum amount of money to be in your bank account before you can immigrate. Will the university be able to help you secure these funds, or can you supply them on your own?
    • What is the stability of the exchange rate between your home country and potential destination?
    • Do you have any financial obligations in your home country that will remain during your postdoc, like a mortgage, student loan payments? Do you have the ability to maintain these payments?
    • If you are supporting dependents or family, will the offered salary be sufficient for you to maintain your quality of life?
    • If you are unable to start work immediately, do you have an emergency fund to tide you over until your first paycheck? When will your first paycheck be issued?
    • If you lose your funding source, or are terminated from your position, how long do you have to secure a new position or leave the country?  (Thanks to Rinjikou for the suggested question!)
  5. Language Barriers —
    • Are you comfortable speaking the language of the country and university?
    • If you are not, is there a requirement to speak in the language of the country or university for your work and social life?
  6. Cultural Barriers –
    • Are you a social or racial minority in the potential designation city? Is there a culture or history of intolerance within this city?
    • Are there religious organizations for you to continue your chosen spiritual lifestyle? If not, is there a community that follows the same religion as you?
  7. Coping with Stress –
    • Are you the type of person who has a difficult time dealing with change?
    • How different is the culture compared to your home country? How do you think you will react to a different culture?
    • Have you experienced homesickness before? Were you able to cope with homesickness, or did it affect your ability to enjoy your new surroundings?
    • If your plan for moving falls apart, how is this going to impact you? Do you have a backup plan?
  8. Long Term Prospects –
    • What is the timeframe you expect to be out of your home country?
    • Do you expect to return to your home country?
    • If you make the move, do you want it to be permanent? If so, are there ways to improve your chances of permanent residency during your postdoctoral position?
    • Is this the right country for long-term immigration?
  9. What is your motivation for taking an international postdoc?
    • I purposely left this open ended, you need to identify what is important to you!

This is the second posting in a series about being an international postdoc. If you are looking for questions to ask in your interviews, you can find them in my first article “International PostDoc: What to Ask”.


NEXT WEEK… Some of my personal experiences as an international postdoc.

4 thoughts on “International Postdoc: What to Ask Yourself

    • Lauren Drogos says:

      If you had asked me before my move, I would have held an opinion similar to yours. Because of that, I actually expected this comment. Not all of these questions are directly from my experience, but also from watching and talking other international postdocs.

      Even if Canada is similar in culture, there are differences. Because I didnt expect to encounter cultural hiccups, I was mentally unprepared for both my behavior and thoughts. Also, just like any other international postdoc I still have my work visa and limitations to navigate. For example, I am not allowed to teach for pay on my visa. The Canadian government does not differentiate myself from any other person in the country on a work visa.


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