After such a long lockdown around the world, I finally made my way to University of Exeter (UoE) thanks to a joint PhD program between Tsinghua University (THU) and UoE partly funded by China Scholarship Council. After 2 months here, I found some difference in terms of research compared to China (Note: these are very personal ideas based on my short time here).
The most surprising point is that the PhD students here are mostly self-funded. Most of them would apply for funding such as NERC to support their PhD program like fieldtrip and meetings. Then the supervisors and university usually won’t give money to the students. However, in China, there are few opportunities for us to apply for any funding. It’s mainly the supervisor’s job to get the grant and pay PhD students for living expenses on top of the government allowance.
The way we start PhD is quite different as well. Here people need to write a proposal and design their PhD research before PhD application. They usually have a clear picture about what they want to achieve. Probably some of them have work experience in these areas, for example, R in my group worked in Kew before and M in WWF. Whereas, most of PhD students only need to attend an interview in China. Take undergraduate for example, they normally apply for 3-year master or direct 5-year PhD programme at the end of junior year. If GPA is not high enough, there’s a highly competitive exam which millions of people work day and night for. Thus, most of PhD students don’t know what their PhD program is about at the beginning and usually do what supervisor assigns.
As for research atmosphere, I’d say it’s light and comfortable here. It’s totally our choice to decide to work from home or at the office. No one works late, at least not at the office. This makes me feel under no pressure. I work because I like, not because someone tells me to. As for daily routine, they have some breaks, such as coffee time and weekly cake. We would bring lunch and have it all together at common room, chatting about everything.
Even the tricky and delicate relationship between students and professors in some Chinese groups is equal and harmonious here. During a lunch time, I mistook a professor as a PhD student or postdoc, because she told us her bidding for a house and trip in Columbia. Later I saw her go back to her office with title on the door. Before I came here, I thought the supportive and understanding environments in LPICEA is quite unique in China. However, I found that it’s actually quite normal here. I’m so lucky and glad to be surrounded and trained in this way in LPICEA.
All of these grow on me gradually… I enjoy walking through the steep lane surrounded by large trees and blossoms towards the office, drinks at pub after work, tranquility of long night at my cozy place.