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samman1994

US vs. International PhD Programs

Question

Hello everyone,

I am looking to apply for my PhD in Biochemistry soon and I had a general question regarding international schools. I am currently located in the US, and have gone to school here my whole life. Now that I am done with my BS, I'm looking at potentially going to schools outside of the US (preferably start at English speaking countries like Canada, Australia, or the UK). However, I have no information to how schools abroad work vs. the US, or how other schools in non-english speaking countries work (I wouldn't be opposed to going for a PhD at say China or Japan, or even some European countries too). Is the application process different? Do I need additional testing outside the GRE (i.e. I know international students that want to come to the US need to take the TOEFL)? Can I do a PhD program abroad if I do not speak the national language of the country? How does it work financially (I know US pays PhD students a stipend, is that the case outside the US? Any answers from anyone who has done Masters or PhD work abroad would be appreciated, thank you! 

Edit: Also, if anyone has reccomendations to specific countries to look for or avoid that would be nice too (i.e. I know Japan has a great protein Biochemistry program, but focus in most Middle Eastern countries is Synthetic Chemistry and not Biochemistry). 

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4 answers to this question

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Currently, I'm studying abroad in Berlin in an M.A. program. I would highly suggest looking at universities in Germany. A lot of natural science programs are primarily in English, there is no tuition fee (usually a semester fee for public transport and such), a lot of Germans speak fairly decent English, and it is a great place to visit the rest of Europe. The one catch is that you cannot really work in the EU as a student which means you have to rely on a scholarship or savings.

As for the application process, it is fairly similar to the USA. Normally, you need a SOP, written reference letters, transcripts, and usually a special item that is dedicated to your field of study (for me it was a writing sample). The language aspect depends on the program. Some programs will require some sort of knowledge in the national language. However, if the program is primarily in English, then you will need to prove English competency which would not be an issue.

The one big difference between the American system and European system is the combined M.A. and PhD. In Europe, most PhD programs require a Master's degree before you can apply. The system is a bit split here. Therefore, I would look at M.A. programs solely and test the waters abroad that way. Jumping straight into a PhD, in Europe, requires you to be personally able to complete PhD work within 3 years (some programs are 4 years).

From my personal experience, I'm glad I went the M.A. then PhD route because it allowed me to travel Europe, become almost fluent in one language and start a second one, study in my specialization region, and allow me to develop my ideas for my PhD more thoroughly. It was a bit daunting and intimidating my first month in Germany, but after a little while you will get the hang of it and become acquainted with your colleagues. In all, a move abroad for a graduate degree will be challenging, but after a couple months you will find it very rewarding and helpful within your development as an academic.

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Thank you for the reply. My main issue is primarily with money. In America, you get a stipend for your PhD program, so no need for loans or scholarships (I do not know how PhD programs work in Germany). Usually this involves some TAing in the school as well as your program. Masters programs don't have this, so you have to pay for your own tuition and housing, etc. Now I believe in Germany, both programs (tuition wise) are free, so that shouldn't matter; however, living, food, and transportation are not. So I wouldn't be able to afford a Masters there, or here. That being said, the inability to have a combined (MA and PhD) program does pose a serious issue in this case. There is no way I could finish a PhD in 3 years with no MA degree, which may be a reason why they would reject me outright. By the way, I have not really been able to find resources for PhD programs for international programs. Do you have any resources that I could look at, that you yourself may have used?

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@samman1994 The resource aspect depends on the country in which you want to study. https://www.findamasters.com/ is a good site for schools in the UK, Ireland, and English programs on the continent (but they rarely appear). If you are looking in Germany, https://www.daad.de/en/ is a good starting point. Ultimately, it comes down to the country and language, so I would start by googling "international graduate programs in France" (substitute France for whatever country you want to search). From there, then you should be able to find a bunch of websites that are dedicated to programs in that specific country.

As for financing yourself, scholarships are hard to come by for North American students (at least in Germany). However, if you study on the continent, then you have a major skill which is easily monetized - native English speaker. Over the past year, I have been an English freelancer. Essentially, I grade, edit and proofread English papers, teach English classes, babysit children, and give tours around Berlin (granted I am B2 German so I do both). This is enough to cover my rent and health insurance costs for the month, but not enough to cover the food side of things.

The cost side is a fairly daunting one. I was lucky enough to have saved enough money during my undergraduate career to live off of savings and the odd-jobs I do on the weekends. However, Berlin is currently the cheapest West European capital to live in; and European in general, but a few Balkan cities are extremely cheap. In general, this means you need to have a lifeline back in the USA. In order to get a visa, most students need to demonstrate that they have help from a relative if the student does not have a scholarship or loan package.

Do not get discouraged, though. It is hard to do a Master's program and even harder in another language. If you are up for a challenge and adventure, then I say go for it. Of course, do your research and plan it beforehand, but a Master's program abroad looks great on a future CV; plus you will get plenty of time to take a weekend trip to other European and even North African cities.

Edited by Tigla

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Hi Tigla,

Well a PhD is the primary goal, and from 1st hand experience, a PhD along with a second job (outside of school jobs), rarely go together. I will still look into what kind of financial programs they have. I don't really have a preferance (US or Europe), at the end of the day, research is what matters most to me.  Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions! 

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